How to Help a Loved One With an Eating Disorder
It can be really difficult to know how to help a loved one that is struggling with their relationship with food. You may be really worried about saying the wrong thing or upsetting them. You may also be really keen to help your loved one but just don't know what to do or say.
Here are 8 ways in which you can support a loved one that may be struggling with an eating disorder or that has an unhealthy relationship with food:
1. STAY AWAY FROM THE TOPICS OF WEIGHT, DIETS OR FOOD
Whilst your instinct may be to address the issues that you see head on and you may feel inclined to talk about your loved one's weight loss/gain or different eating habits, this can be unhelpful. This can be very triggering for your loved one and may cause them to withdraw from you. Instead, it is much more helpful to just comment that you "may have noticed changes in how they are and just wanted to check if they are okay". You may also want to ask your loved one how they are feeling and gently invite them to share what is on their mind. Even if your loved one brings up diets/weight/food, of course listen to them and acknowledge what they are sharing, but try not to add your own thoughts/input on the topic. Instead keep the focus on how your loved one is feeling.
2. ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEEK OUT PROFESSIONAL HELP
Eating disorder recovery rates are much higher, the earlier treatment is sought out. Rather than trying to suggest things that your loved one should do when it comes to their relationship with food, it is important that you instead encourage them to seek out professional help. Psychological treatment can be very effective at treating disordered eating patterns. You may be wondering how you could encourage your loved one to seek out help without talking about or focusing too much on food/weight/diets. You could gently suggest something such as "I have noticed that you haven't been yourself and thought that maybe we could look into getting some support for you. I have found this place that could help you to feel better. Should we perhaps explore this?".
3. GIVE THEM HOPE FOR RECOVERY
It can help for you to really convey the message to your loved one that they can and will feel better. With the right help and support, it is very possible for them to feel better. Again, in delivering this message it is important not to focus on weight/food but instead on how treatment could improve their mood, how they feel and allow them to do the things that they want to do/enjoy doing. Difficult times are things you can pass through with the right help and support.
4. SUGGEST THINGS FOR YOU BOTH TO DO THAT DON'T INVOLVE FOOD
A lot of social activities centre around food and this can be very challenging for someone who struggles with their relationship with food. Could you suggest doing things that don't involve food such as going to see a film or a show, going for a gentle walk in a park or going to an art gallery/museum? Doing things with your loved one that takes their mind off and focus off food can be very helpful.
5. JUST LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SHARE/ ASK OPEN QUESTIONS
There is so much value in you just providing that safe space for your loved one to share how they are feeling. Many of us, upon hearing that a loved one is struggling, want to go into problem solving mode and offer advice/solutions. However, the best thing that you can do is to just listen to what your loved one shares and then point them towards professional support. It can be counterproductive for you to try to offer advice but there is so much value in just providing that listening ear that they can open up to.
6. KEEP CHECKING IN ON THEM
If you know that your loved one is struggling with their relationship with food, it can be helpful to keep checking in on them to see how they are doing and how they are feeling. Whilst they may not initially be open to sharing their feelings or seeking out professional help, as time goes on, this may change.
7. TALK ABOUT OTHER TOPICS AND INTERESTS
When you are worried about someone, you may feel the need to just keep focusing on and asking them about the thing that you are worried about. However it can be helpful to actually distract your loved one by talking about and focusing on things other than how they are feeling/their relationship with food. Bringing the focus back onto things that your loved one is passionate about and finds joy in can actually further motivate them to want to go on that recovery journey with their relationship with food. They will want to feel better/recover so that they can go back to fully engaging with their passions and the things that bring them joy.
8. ASK YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT HELP/SUPPORT THEY NEED
One of the most helpful things you can do when a loved one is struggling with their relationship with food is to ask them what they most need from you. By encouraging that open dialogue and letting your loved one know that you are there for them in whatever way they most need you, you are doing the best you can to support them.
It can be really difficult to watch a loved one struggling with their relationship with food. Know however that there is so much value in you giving your loved one that safe space to talk about and share what they are feeling and may be experiencing. Whilst you may have the instinct to want to advise them on their food choices/weight etc. - know that this can be unhelpful and is best left to a professional. Instead just aim to be there for your loved one, encourage that they seek out professional support and try and distract them from their worries by planning other fun things that you can both do together.
Eating disorders and disordered eating can be effectively treated. If you are worried about a loved one and would like to help them access some support, please reach out to us at email@example.com to book in a free consultation.
“Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her suffering can be a big comfort.” ― Roy T. Bennett