Dealing with Eating Disorders:
Tips for Family and Friends

When your family member begins treatment for an eating disorder, it’s only natural that you want to see results. But it is important to remember that recovery is a long process, and you may not notice a change right away. Along the way there are good days and bad days, and victories and setbacks. We offer these tips for coping at home:

  • Be positive and supportive. People with eating disorders often have very low self-esteem and believe they are worthless. They need to know you love them and that they are important to you.
  • Try not to spend time focusing on their eating disorder behavior. Instead, try talking to them about how they feel inside.
  • Teach children to communicate with assertiveness. Your children need to be able to resist inappropriate messages from their peers, media, and other adults regarding thinness and weight.
  • Do not demand weight gain or berate your family member for having an eating disorder. Although it may be difficult, do not become directly involved with the person’s weight once in treatment.
  • In conflicts about decisions, parents should not retreat from their own positions out of fear that their child will become increasingly ill. Clear, kind, and decisive communication is needed.
  • Honest affection should be expressed toward the child or adolescent. Verbal and physical expressions of affection are necessary for recovery.
  • A dialogue between parents and child on personal issues other than food and weight should be developed.
  • Do not allow the person with an eating disorder to shop or cook for the family. This nurturing role allows this person to deny the need for food by feeding others.
  • Communication with the treatment team is important. Discuss the type and progress of treatment with the team. Do not hesitate to call your family member’s doctor or therapist. (Keep in mind that if the patient is an adult, the team may withhold personal information from anyone not authorized by the patient.)
  • You may feel confused about why this person has an eating disorder, what to do next, or how to talk to them. The best way to deal with the confusion is to educate yourself about eating disorders. Read books, talk to a professional, or talk with other families.
  • Many people find themselves feeling guilty because they somehow feel responsible for their family member developing an eating disorder. Blaming yourself will not help the person, and it will only make you feel worse. It’s best to accept that there is a problem and start working toward helping the person and yourself during the recovery process.
  • Get support for yourself. You may feel helpless, angry, or hopeless. Don’t try to deal with it alone. Find a friend, therapist, or a support group where you can talk openly and receive support from others.