How To Help a Loved One Seek Eating Disorder Treatment

Millions of people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder every year. In many cases, professional treatment is the most effective way to overcome harmful eating behaviors and achieve a healthier life. If someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, how can you help them seek treatment? How can you be a supportive presence? Here are a few tips that may help.

1. Educate Yourself

One of the best things you can do for your loved one is understand what they are going through. Without that knowledge, it can be difficult to help them seek the appropriate treatment. Read books and articles about eating disorders or find an educational documentary. If your loved one is open to discussing their experience, provide a listening ear. Let them do the talking and learn as much as you can from their perspective.


2. Be Supportive

People suffering from eating disorders are as diverse as any other group and have different ideas of what it means to be supported. For some, being supportive means actively checking in on them and providing a shoulder to lean on. They may even want you to accompany them on their initial visit to a center for emotional support. Others may want you to respect their space and give them time to work through things on their own.

3. Use “I” Statements

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the word “you” can make people defensive. If your loved one agrees to speak with you, or you find that you must initiate a conversation, stick to “I” statements. This way, you turn the focus on what you have seen, versus what they have done or not done. Note that even with the best intentions, some people may still take offense. There is no perfect way to discuss a sensitive topic like an eating disorder.

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4. Prepare for Negative Emotions

Even if initial treatment and therapy goes well, recovery will not happen overnight. Counselors may ask your loved one to address certain stressors or causes of their eating disorder, which can be emotional painful to do. This can lead to sadness, depression, anger and even lashing out as they progress through the healing process. Be prepared for their negative emotions, as well as your own.

5. Focus on Non-Physical Characteristics

If you live with your loved one or see them regularly, self-restraint is especially important. Eating disorders tend to stem from body image concerns, so it is best to avoid discussions about appearance. This is true even when your loved one is not the target, because they could easily see the remarks made about someone else as a reflection of themselves.Validate your loved one through compliments on non-physical aspects, such as their kindness, intelligence, creativity, determination or progress.

While eating disorder treatment is an effective way to overcome harmful behaviors, it is not an easy process to begin. If someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, it can be difficult to know how to help them seek treatment.

“However, your continued support can help your loved one down the path to recovery and toward the achievement of long-term wellness.”


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Dan Gellman is the Director of High Focus Centers, a provider of eating disorder treatment, outpatient rehab, and psychiatric treatment programs in New Jersey. For 20 years, High Focus Centers has provided holistic, evidence-based treatment to help clients achieve long-term wellness.

Crystal CampoverdeComment