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Families & Eating Disorders: How To Support Your Family Member

Eating Disorders and FamiliesSeeing a family member struggle with an eating disorder is far from easy. It’s taxing on both the individual and the family. But families need to realize that recovery is possible, but that it’s going to be a long road to get there.

Parents and siblings must be willing to take steps to deal with the behaviors of their loved one struggling with eating disorders. Here are some tips to help families who are struggling with coping.

Tips for Supporting Your Family Member

  1. Get Educated: Use this site and others to learn everything that you can about eating disorders, including the signs and the myths surrounding eating disorders.
  2. Understand the Function of Eating Disorders: For the most part, people with eating disorders often are using these disorders to mask a deeper issue.
  3. Become a Model for Your Loved One: Don’t ban any foods because “they’re bad”. Instead, embrace all foods, and have balanced eating and moderate exercise habits.
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Air Family Dirty Laundry: Talk about these issues, and strive to create a protective environment for the person. Also, create a culture that protects your family from toxic cultural messages about food, weight and shape.
  5. Learn the Treatment Steps: If your loved one is already in treatment, visit the facility and take a tour. Learn their processes for treating eating disorders. If the center has a way for family members to become involved, join in. Give the person as much support as you possibly can by giving them lots of encouragement, listening to their challenges and asking them how treatment is going. It is also helpful and supportive for you to eat meals with them while engaging in light conversation.
  6. Understand That This is a Slow Process: Recovery is not going to happen overnight. In fact, it may take several months, years or visits to an eating disorder recovery center. Be patient as there may be setbacks.
  7. Take Care of Yourself: People supporting their loved ones through this process may forget their own needs. Commit to taking care of yourself. Learn when you need to step in to assist, but also realize when it’s time to take a step back for your own health. You need to set boundaries and stick to them.

While it’s difficult for family members to watch this struggle, know that treatment works. But that it takes time.

Rachel Levi, LMFT, CEDS, F- IAEDPFounder/Clinical Director
Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment

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