Whether it is your son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father or very close friend; witnessing your loved one undergo treatment for their eating disorder can be a long challenging process with a surplus of mixed emotions. Successfully completing eating disorder treatment is a huge endeavor in the journey to recovery but what about after treatment? Will your loved one still struggle with negative body talk? Will your loved one still engage in unhealthy disordered eating behaviors? How involved should be in during your loved one’s aftercare? Expectations after treatment as a loved one can be difficult to define. Successfully completing eating disorder treatment can leave a lot of apprehension for the individual in recovery and even more so for the family members and loved ones supporting them.
Your loved one may relapse
Relapse rates can vary between 9-65% depending on the specific eating disorder and the seriousness of the eating disorder. In other words, eating disorder relapse does happen and can be a reality for your loved one, even after successfully completing treatment. Relapse should not be seen as a failure and as a friend or family member, you should continuously do everything you can to help your loved one re-enter recovery. As a loving supporter, you should inquire whether your loved ones have a relapse plan or any type of aftercare plan that includes a list of eating disorder program contacts and resources that can be quickly accessed in case a relapse does occur. Usually, an aftercare plan is communicated between the client and the treating therapist.
Your loved one will still need to attend therapy
After successfully completing eating disorder treatment, it is common and highly recommended that individuals continue to see a therapist on an outpatient basis and should also become involved in eating disorder support groups, whether online or in person. As a loved one, you can also attend these eating disorder support groups as a means for encouragement and education.
Be mindful of any signs or symptoms that suggest disordered eating
As a trusted family member or friend, you should hold your loved one accountable for their actions or words that may suggest they are engaging in harmful behaviors. Say “No” to behaviors that encourage disordered eating such as late night binging, excessive exercising or body shaming. If you witness your loved partaking in unhealthy behaviors it is important to address the situation in a kind manner and to avoid blame but start by saying, “ “I am worried about you because I see that you are engaging in some worrisome eating disorder behaviors”
Your loved one may need some time to acclimate
Acclimating back to daily life, which includes running errands, paying bills and getting back into the workplace, can take some time and adjustments but it is important to not control your loved one’s daily schedule or habits. Allow your loved one to be in charge of his or her routines of daily life, realizing that by giving up your control you’re setting the stage for your loved one to develop healthy self-control.
Be mindful of what not to say to your loved one
Learning what to not say or do is just as or more important than saying or doing the right thing. Avoid comments about weight, body shape and body changes whether it refers to weight loss of weight gain. Being able to use phrases such as, “I am happy that you are taking better care of yourself” is a great way to support your loved one. Be aware of your own weight and body comments since these can have a negative effect on your friend’s thoughts and perceptions about themselves. Avoid mentioning the financial costs associated with eating disorder treatment and do not change your daily routine because of your loved one.
Encourage your loved one to engage in social gatherings centered on food
Being able to interact at the dinner table, attend birthday and holiday parties and spend time at gatherings where food is involved is a very important part of a successful recovery. Encourage your loved one to be involved in preparing meals, sitting down for family dinners and to engage in social events where food will be present however do not expect them to be comfortable immediately in these settings.