I recently wrote an article for Recovery Warriors titled 14 Things Your Loved One With an Eating Disorder Wants You To Know (but is afraid to tell you).
I was honestly shocked at how quickly and how many times it was shared. I couldn’t believe so many people related to it and passed it on.
When I wrote it, I believed I was doing so for the loved ones of those battling eating disorders. But as the comments and shares came in I realized I actually had written it for those who are fighting the eating disorders.
One comment from a loved one shifted my perspective and it dawned on me I had more to write. This is truly written for those loved ones who stand by the warriors in the fight for their lives. I understand that loved ones want to help but often have no idea how.
Here are 10 more things you need to know
1. Know that it is not your fault
Eating disorders are complex, multifaceted, and never caused by one single factor. They are a combination of genetics and environments. And while comments, actions, and behaviors may influence or affect the development of an eating disorder, the person who develops one most likely is genetically predisposed. Most importantly, blame and guilt do nothing to help the journey through recovery.
2. If you want to know how they are doing, please ask your loved one directly how they are FEELING
While focusing on food and weight is never helpful, focusing on emotions can be extremely healing. Asking your loved one what they fear, what they hope for, how their day was, what was challenging, and where did they shine today are just a few examples.
3. Focus on other attributes and emotions, NOT their weight/size
Instead of telling your loved one how great they look now that they have gained weight or saying things like, “You look so much healthier” try to focus on other qualities besides weight.
Perhaps their skin is brighter or their hair is healthier, or they appear happier. Taking the focus off of size and weight can be extremely helpful for your loved one who is very likely struggling to accept their new body shape/size.
4. Ask your loved one what they need
And realize that what a person needs may differ at various times. Just like at times you may wish to be left alone, other times you may crave connection. Checking in with them periodically and asking what they need can be priceless.
5. Listen. I mean really LISTEN to your loved one
Listen openly and without judgement knowing you can’t change or fix things anything them. But you can listen and offer love, support, and empathy.
Let them know that as awful and difficult as this is, they are not alone. Let them know you believe in them. And if your loved one tells you they are fine, but they appear sad, tearful, and isolating, perhaps ask again.
6. Educate yourself on health
Understand that science simply does not support the use of diets for weight loss nor does it suggest higher weights are unhealthy. Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon is an excellent place to start.
7. Explore your own relationship with weight and body image
Be honest with yourself. Read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. If you are sending a message that you are not ok if your own body is not a certain shape or size, be honest with yourself.
While you are not the cause of your loved one’s eating disorder, your relationship with your own body very likely has impacted theirs.
8. Explore your own weight biases
This one may be difficult. But get really honest with yourself. Do you judge others or comment about them based on their size? Have you ever found yourself saying things such as, “she shouldn’t be wearing that”, etc.
What assumptions to do you make when you see someone in a larger body? If you truly want your loved one to believe that their weight does not affect how you feel about them, then show them this is true by not judging others by their weight.
9. Know that you are a valuable and vital part of your loved one’s journey through recovery
Just the fact that you are reading this article shows that you are invested in learning as much as you can to support your loved one. They are blessed to have you.