The claws of an eating disorder often extend further than the individual afflicted with the disease; family members and loved ones find their lives in upheaval as well. When you find out that a loved one is battling an eating disorder, the best way to proceed can be a confusing and murky. How do you communicate? How do you approach issues such as food and self-image? What actions can you take for yourself?
To begin with, full honesty must be the foundation of your relationship. Forming a pact or contract can help keep emotions at bay when trying to promote an air of transparency. While it’s important for the one who is struggling to express their needs and desires with you, you must also find a nonjudgmental way to express how the other person’s behavior affects you. Employing clarity and simplicity when discussing your feelings is usually the most effective method. Try keeping yourself as the subject of your sentences, articulating, “I feel…” in a neutral tone instead of stating what you see as the facts shaded with the tone of your emotions.
Food and self-image are probably the most volatile grounds in recovery. During meals, try to refrain from discussing eating disorders. Meals should be a gateway to life outside of an eating disorder. During other times, however, encourage your loved one to process recent difficulties or episodes, either with you or in a journal, as quickly as possible. Also, be attentive to the types of compliments you give. Discussing appearance, even in a way that seems only positive to you, can ultimately do more harm than good.
Lastly, examine what role you might play in the problem. To truly understand the impact of your words and actions, you will have to not only develop your listening skills, but also seek out information on eating disorders and related issues. If you understand what specific pressures might have contributed, you will have a clearer picture of how to help. If you are having trouble getting your loved one to begin therapy, you may want to consider getting professional help for yourself. Besides being a great outlet for your own stress, this step could be a very clear statement that you recognize a problem.
Eating Disorder Recovery is certainly a difficult world, but with vigilance, patience, and persistence, you can navigate your way to a sustainable, healthy lifestyle together.