Eating Disorder Recovery - What family can do to help.
If you are recovering from an eating disorder and your family wants to know how they can help? Here are some tips.
Commonly, when you start working through any kind of disordered eating and begin sharing that journey with those around you, people want to know how they can help - whether it be a partner, parent, friend, colleague, etc. It can be overwhelming and confusing at the beginning of your recovery to know what it is you need from other people. Questions come up such as “How do I explain this to my _____”(mom, dad, partner, best friend, etc.)? Bringing in your support system to a few therapy sessions can be really helpful. Your therapist can help facilitate that conversation, as well as explain things in a way that makes sense to everyone who is on board to help you.
Below are a list of some common themes among eating disorder / disordered eating recovery. Everyone is different and has different needs, so feel free to adjust the suggestions to your current situation, needs and wants.
An Eating Disorder Recovery Guide for Loved Ones
1. Do Not Comment on Food.
Have a conversation with your support people about not commenting on food. Often, people will make comments about food when they know you are in eating disorder recovery because they see it as being helpful and supportive, when in reality it can cause a lot of harm and be triggering. The best thing a support person can do is not talk about food, and engage in light hearted, fun conversations during meal time.
2. Do Not Comment on Weight.
It is important for your support system not to make comments about weight gain or weight loss. Most people struggling with disordered eating feel insecure about the way they look, and having other people comment or focus on it can be harmful - even when they think they have good intentions.
3. Do Not Refer to Food as “Healthy/Unhealthy” or “Good/Bad”.
Sometimes people who are struggling with an eating disorder have rigid rules around food. This can result in their concept of "health goods" becoming too narrow, to the point where they feel extreme guilt after eating anything that they view as being "unhealthy" or "bad" or "junk food". Diet culture is the biggest contributor to this, with so many foods being given moral value - being labeled as “bad” or "unhealthy". It gets to be confusing very quickly. In recovery, Ww want to counter-condition the thinking around food so that all foods fit. It’s important that no one else in the home makes comments on their own food consumption, or talks about calories.
4. Do Not Talk About Your Diet or Weight Loss.
The topic of dieting or weight loss can be very triggering for anyone in recovery. Often, those in recovery have a chronic history of dieting and wanting to lose weight/be thin. Hearing other people talk about their weight loss and diet plan can be very upset and cause extreme harm during recovery.
5. Put in Extra Effort to Spend Time Quality Time and Have Fun Together.
Do something fun together such as doing an activity (painting, yoga, poetry), go to coffee together, take the dog for a walk or to the part, go shopping. One of the largest components of eating disorder recovery is being able to nourish other things that the individual values in life and is important to them. Explore relationships, hobbies and other interests.
6. Understand Recovery Can Be a Long Road, That is Not Linear.
The road during eating disorder recovery can be challenging, with a lot of ups and downs. An eating disorder does not develop overnight, which means it doesn't go away overnight either. It is not linear. There may be several days where you feel strong and enlightened during recovery, and there may be other days where you have a lapse. This process is complicated, but it is normal.
7. Check In.
Ask how people are doing during recovery. Just knowing that someone is checking in to see how recovery is going can feel helpful, supportive and caring. If you are noticing someone in recovery isolating, acting increasingly anxious, or being more quiet - ask how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help.
Eating disorder recovery is extremely challenging, and you want to ensure you are building a solid, supporting network of people to help you throughout the process. There will be times where you want to give up and revert back to old habits. Having supportive people to turn to and reach out to for help is a key component during recovery.