Recovery from an eating disorder and your family wants to know how they can help? Here’s some guidelines.
Often when you first start working through any kind of disordered eating your spouse, parents, friends and siblings want to know how they can help. It can a very confusing and overwhelming time when you are just starting your journey to recovery and often I get the question “How do I explain this to my _____”(mom, husband, wife, dad, best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend etc.)? Bringing in your family to a few therapy sessions can be very beneficial. Your therapist can help explain it in a way that makes sense to everyone, and this way everyone is on the same page
Below are a list of some common themes among binge eating, anorexia, orthoreixa and bulimia recovery. Each individual’s experience is different, so feel free to tailor the following suggestions to what you need, where you are currently at.
A Note for Adults in Recovery: It’s important to remember that often others want to help you but are unsure how to do so. It is your role to use a direct, educational tone with your loved ones so they know exactly what is helpful and what is not. The majority of the population knows very little about eating disorder recovery so educating the people you love and trust is the best first step. You can explain what triggers you (and that will continue to change throughout recovery) and what helps you.
A Note for Teens in Recovery: Your therapist and dietitian will be the one providing guidelines of what you’ll need throughout your journey in recovery to both your parents and yourself. It’s important that you also become aware of what is triggering you and let your therapist and parents know.
An Eating Disorder Recovery Guide for Loved Ones
Do Not Comment On What I’m Eating.
- Instruct your loved one to not comment on food. Often, family will comment on food when they know you are in eating disorder recovery because they see it as being helpful, when in reality this can do a lot of harm and be triggering. You are thinking about food enough as it is, you do not need anyone else to play the “food police” in your life. The best thing a loved one can do is not talk about food and have fun, light conversations during meal time.
Do Not Comment On My Weight.
- Do not make comments about weight gain or weight loss. Most people enter recovery feeling very insecure about the way they look and having others comment on it (even if they think they are giving a compliment about their weight) is not helpful.
Do Not Talk About Food as “Healthy/Unhealthy” or “Good/Bad” When I’m Around.
- Sometimes people enter recovery because their notion of “healthy food” has become way too narrow, to the point where they feel guilty after eating almost anything because they view it as unhealthy. Diet culture is the biggest contributor to this, with so many foods being labeled as “bad”, it becomes confusing and overwhelming quickly. We want to counter-condition the thinking around food so that all foods fit. It’s important that no one else in the house comments on what they are eating as good/bad or talks about calories. Let food just be food.
Do Not Talk To Me About Your Diet or Your Weight Loss.
- This can be very triggering for anyone in recovery. Often, they have a chronic history of dieting and wanting to lose weight. Hearing other people discuss their weight loss and diet plan can be very triggering.
Do Put in Some Extra Effort to Spend Time With Me and Have Fun Together.
- Do something fun together such as go to a paint nite party, get coffee together, take the dog to a dog park, read poetry together or go shopping. One of the biggest components of eating disorder recovery is being able to make space for other things you value in your life such as relationships, hobbies and other interests. Distraction can be a great coping mechanism your loved one can help with.
Please Understand Recovery Can Be a Long Road with Many Ups and Downs.
- The road in recovering from an eating disorder can be tumultuous. An eating disorder does not develop over night and it doesn’t go away over night either. It’s not linear, where you are suddenly recovered. It might look like several days in a row where you are feeling strong in your recovery, and suddenly you have a lapse. This is normal, expected and often with the right support team in place you can learn a lot from lapses and become that much better off in your recovery journey.
Do Ask How I’m Doing.
- Just knowing that someone is checking in to see how recovery is going can be extremely helpful. If you notice your loved on seems down, is isolating more, acting anxious or is more quiet during dinner it’s okay to ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
Eating disorder recovery is hard and you want to make sure you build a solid support system around you because there will be times where you want to give up and revert back to your old eating disorder behaviors. Having people to turn to and help you through this time will be so necessary.
About Danielle Swimm, LCPC: Danielle is an eating disorder therapist in Annapolis . She enjoys helping other work through their anxiety and find rest and relaxation while still achieving their goals. Her areas of concentration include eating disorders, anxiety, and body image improvement for adults and adolescents. She offers both in-office Annapolis counseling and online counseling.
Contact Danielle today to set up a phone consultation and start your recovery journey.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or mental health services. This is for educational purposes only and should be in used only in conjunction in working with a licensed mental health professional. If you are looking for a local professional feel free to use the contact tab to request an appointment or search Psychology Today for local therapists in your area.