Updated: Mar 15
Supporting a person with ED is a very scary and lonely place. The experience I’m going to share with you is not from your perspective however, it’s from an ED sufferer's view point. While I can see now that my parent’s intentions were only good, at the time I was in the clutches of anorexia there were things they said and did that I misconstrued as a personal attack.
so here is my 5 step guide to supporting your loved one and avoiding some of the battles you may be currently facing.
1. It’s not about the food.
It's difficult not to focus on the food when your loved one is obsessing about it day and night. The first thing to understand is that ED isn't really about food or weight, it's merely the expression of the internal battles they are facing. So commenting on what they have or haven't eaten or their weight, is unlikely to be well received, even if you mean well or are trying to express your concern. Now depending on the cause of the ED it may be that the person you love is trying to get some attention or support, but it may also be that they are trying to avoid particular attention. The cause may be so deep routed that your loved one never did, or no longer knows why they relied on ED to help them cope but one thing is certain, ED originates as a way to cope with unwanted feeling and emotions, the difficulty is, it then becomes a barrier to finding alternative ways to work through difficult feelings. Focussing on ED behaviours means the sufferer does not have to deal with other aspects of life that might be challenging. So remember, it's not about food and the person you love, although they are likely to wish they didn't have ED, might be reluctant to let it go.
2. Your loved one is not their ED.
It is difficult sometime to separate the person you love from the ED behaviours they display. ED can make people selfish, unreliable, erratic, controlling, manipulative and dishonest. It's really important when you are communicating with the person you love to express to them that you understand that these are the behaviours of their ED and it is not them you are angry or frustrated with, it is their ED
3. Focus on the positives.
A lot of people who suffer ED will feel a great deal of guilt and shame for the hurt they are causing you, sadly these difficult emotions can exacerbate the problem. Focus on any positive you can (Without making it about the food or the weight) So using phases like. "I really appreciate you coming to that family meal. I understand that it must have been very hard."As opposed to. "Thanks for coming to our family meal it's a shame you didn't eat anything." I cannot express how difficult things are when you have ED. Any positive, understanding statement will act as an emotional bridge between you and the person suffering. What this means is, if there is ever a time that medical intervention is required, they are more likely to trust you when you tell them you think it would be beneficial.
4. Progress isn’t linear.
It took me 5 years to maintain a healthy weight after my hospitalisation and another 5 years to get rid of my ED behaviours completely. There were many set backs along the way. Don't stress about the small set backs but encourage the person you love to understand that progress isn't linear and to be kind to themselves. Help them refocus on recovery and put any setbacks down as a learning opportunity for the future as opposed to a failure.
5. Get Support
When a person you love is suffering, you are suffering too. Their ED is likely to cause all kinds of strain on both of your relationships, physical health and mental well-being. My family are still scarred by my ED and the feelings of helplessness they endured. There are great charities like MIND and BEAT that offer support to parents. There are also forums on FACEBOOK so reach out. Please do not suffer alone.