For many parents, the idea of discovering their child is suffering from an eating disorder is terrifying. Some will go into denial, hoping it is “just a phase,” others will become angry and try to force their child to eat. Here I am going to look at some useful tips for family members. It is important to remember that these tips can apply to anyone with an eating disorder – and it can affect anyone regardless of gender, age or education.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that any eating disorder is about control. The eating behaviours are one of the symptoms, but often whatever takes place is developed as a coping strategy. This is why eating disorders most commonly develop during adolescent years, because this is a time where the person is probably ready for a level of independence they are not yet able to achieve. Controlling the manner in which they eat is a way of saying “I choose what happens to me.” Therefore, when considering sitting down and talking about what is going on, it is important to remember not to focus on the food alone – ask the person how they are feeling, what else is going on in their life, what do they want for the future?
Communication is key. As with any addiction, eating disorders are secretive by nature. Be open about any patterns you have witnessed occurring – burying your head in the sand is colluding with the person and sending them the message that their behaviour has gone unnoticed. That being said, try to remain as calm as possible. Addiction is an illness, not a choice – the person is in need of help and becoming confrontational will only push them away further.
Seeking professional help is vital. Being supportive of your loved one is hugely important, but this is not something you can fix. There is also the problem that you may be too close to the situation for the person to feel comfortable telling you the whole story – they may fear being honest will be held against them in future, or may want to protect you from hearing the reality of their situation. Reiterate that you will support them in finding professional help, you love them and you want to see them happy. However, do not back down if the person does not want you to make a fuss – having an eating disorder can be something that quickly leads to the person becoming desperately ill and so it is important that they get help sooner rather than later. Speak up as soon as a problem becomes evident, delaying will only make the situation graver.
If your loved one is suffering from an eating disorder and you want additional advice on how to help them, give us a call. We are happy to help.