Watching someone that you love being active in their eating disorder is devastating. It’s so painful to watch your mother, sister, wife or girlfriend (or husband, father, brother or son) either restrict their food, or binge on foods that are unhealthy for them, or to know that they’re purging in the bathroom after they’ve eaten. It’s painful and upsetting and scary.
You might find yourself becoming very angry at the person whom you love when you see them taking such poor care of themselves. It’s important to find compassion for the person who has the eating disorder when you choose to talk to them about it.
1.)Although you might feel angry, please try to understand that this is a serious problem that she/he has. They would certainly stop if they could.
2.)When you talk to them, don’t be attacking. If you come at the person and say things like, “you really need to be eating more,” or “you have to take better care of yourself,” or “I want you to stop purging now,” you’re going to create a face off and a defensive stance. The person is going to be forced to defend themselves against this attack. Instead, talk to them using I statements. For example:
“I have noticed lately that you look very, very thin, and I’m worried. I haven’t seen you eat at all in several weeks. It’s really hard for me to watch this because I love you so much and I’m terrified that I’m going to lose you. I just don’t know what I would do without you. Is there anything I can do to support you? Would you be willing to do some family counseling with me with an eating disorder specialist? Or can we go see a nutritionist together and perhaps I can help you go shopping? I just really love you and want you to be healthy.”
Really contact your own feelings of fear rather than anger in order to get a conversation going.
3.)Don’t try to fix the person. Don’t try to take food away from them or force food on them. Don’t refuse to eat if they’re not eating. Don’t make comments about what they are or are not eating.
4.)Don’t be afraid to talk openly and honestly about how their eating is affecting you.
5.)Remember that this is a very hard topic and the person who you confront will most likely feel embarrassed and ashamed. You don’t want to shame them into recovery. In fact, this can often backfire. Let them know how much you love them and want to be there for them and you’re not going to let them go through this alone.
6.)Understand that recovery takes time, don’t expect them to see a therapist once and then all of a sudden to be cured. Be patient and if you can, try to be an active participant in their recovery.
7.)If this person is completely unreceptive to you, don’t push or get angry. Get help for yourself. You need support when you love someone with an active eating disorder. You might want to check out Al-anon or Codependents Anonymous or seek therapy or a support group for family members of people with EDs.
8.)Even though you might feel angry and frustrated (that’s so normal) don’t give up on someone you love. Let them know that you love them and you will be there for them when they are ready.
Recovery from eating disorders is hard. But watching someone struggle is downright painful. You feel helpless and scared and depressed. Please try to get love and support for yourself as well.
Some further reading and resources: