Tips for Living with a Loved One Who has an Eating Disorder

1. Eating disorders and body image obsessions have tremendous power over your loved one. She isn’t trying to hurt you, and she isn’t being resistant or stubborn out of spite. These are her own survival techniques and at times will overpower her logic and will. Recognize the disease’s power and don’t take her obsessions personally.
2. Be compassionate. She feels deep pain that she can only articulate through her body. Hopefully, in time she will have words for her emotions.
3. Your loved one and her illness are not the same thing. Remember the person who is covered up by these obsessions--she is still the person you love. Help her to recognize herself as well.
4. Help her to see that there is more to her, you, and life than food, weight, and appearance. Talk about other issues. Don’t let the eating and body obsessions dominate your interactions and conversations.
5. Admit your own anger, frustration, and helplessness. Talk to others in similar circumstances. Join a support group for family members or spouses of people suffering from body image and eating problems. Read supportive books and visit support groups online for help and encouragement.
6. Consider getting help for yourself. You will feel overwhelmed, discouraged, tired and angry at times. Working with a professional can help you to manage these feelings and deal with them constructively.
7. You are her loved one, not her treatment team. No matter how much you love her, you cannot turn her problems around alone. Resist the impulse to battle over weight, food, and exercise. Help her to find a therapist, dietitian, physician, and/or treatment program so she has professional help guiding her.
8. Ask how you can help, and listen for the answer. At times, you can only be in the background, conveying love and support. Other times, she may need more direct help from you. This may be confusing, but she needs to be in charge of how you help her.
9. These problems don’t disappear overnight, no matter how hard someone works in therapy or how good a treatment program is. Recovery is a long, winding road with lots of bumps and potholes. Don’t expect her to be perfect in her recovery. Help her to take one day at a time--you do the same!
10. Logic doesn’t work; love does. Endless debates about food, health, exercise, or weight do more harm than good. Helping her to feel that she is loved and that life is worth living will do more than a thousand reasoned arguments. Some women who have recovered believe that the love of their significant other is what made them hope and believe that they could survive without the life preserver of their eating disorders and body obsessions.

From The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect, © Margo Maine, PhD, FAED & Joe Kelly

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