Recovery is a hard road to walk alone. Ensure that you’re doing your very best to support your loved one in recovery with these three tips.
Recovery from an eating disorder takes a lot of hard work, and it isn’t something that most of us can go through alone. Having friends, family, and other loved ones on our side through the recovery process can make the difference between struggling through recovery and thriving beyond it.
It can be difficult though in our diet-culture world to know exactly the best way to support someone struggling with an eating disorder. Messaging surrounds us every single day that actually encourages disordered thinking about food and our bodies, and it can feel nearly impossible to recover in a world that arguably is struggling with its very own eating disorder on a larger, community level.
But hope is not lost. Those working within the eating disorder community are often well-attuned to what support helps someone recover, and what kinds of behavior might hamper or harm someone’s recovery.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to support your loved one through this experience, be sure to read the following tips. Something to remember as you read: try not to become too defensive if some of these tips seem to be calling your own behavior and mindset into question. We all grew up in and were socialized in diet culture, and we all have food and body hang-ups that need to be dismantled and interrogated. If your main priority is supporting your loved one, it’s important that you push through the discomfort and recognize that your own defensiveness is an indicator that there may be work to be done within yourself in these areas of life.
Interrogate your own ideas regarding food and body
As mentioned above, we all live within diet culture. This means that we live in a world that pathologizes fatness, favors thin bodies, categorizes foods into “good” and “bad” lists depending on the latest nutrition research soundbite that it released, and, in a more general sense, skews our perception of how we feed ourselves and how we view our bodies in the world. These ideas are pervasive and often go unnoticed in most people’s lives.
When someone you care about struggles with an eating disorder, however, the different ways that you view food and your body, and how these views might be skewed, can come into clear focus. Perhaps your loved one is learning to grapple with their feared foods or is challenging thoughts related to their negative self-image. This process is likely to spark your own internal dialogue regarding how you view food and your body. In order to support your loved one, allow this process to unfold. Don’t put your own food and body issues onto the person recovering by either attempting to refute the existence and consequences of diet culture, or by leaning on them as you continue to learn new things about how you view food and your body. Continue the work on your own, hopefully with your own therapist to guide you, and you will be doing so much to help support your loved one through their own recovery. When the eating disorder voice feeds them cognitive distortions about what they are allowed to eat or how their body looks, you will have done the internal work to recognize these distortions, and you will likely feel better able to offer insight and guidance.
Please note that your loved one’s treatment team is their to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to helping your loved one down the path of recovery; you should never feel as if you are responsible for guiding your loved one to recovery. Recovery is only effective long-term, however, if the person struggling with the disorder is able to operate within the world, outside of treatment, in a way that doesn’t pull them back into their eating disorder. Who we surround ourselves with, and the mentality that our closest friends and family have, can have a huge impact on someone’s ability to maintain their recovered mindset.
Remove the diet mentality from your day-to-day life
Once you have interrogated your own internal diet-mentality, it’s time to make some changes in your life. Instead of just noticing when diet thoughts or disordered thoughts around food and body arise, start to challenge them.
There are a few ways to begin challenging and removing diet mentality and diet talk from your life. First, learn more about Health at Every Size ®, a movement dedicated to eradicating weight stigma and making health an option for people of all sizes. This movement does a lot to call out diet culture in our world, and by extension, to call out thought patterns or myths that directly contribute to disordered eating and eating disorders.
Secondly, remove magazines, books, and other items in your home or in your life that promote diet culture. This can include diet books, celebrity magazines, or even special cups and containers that you have used for your own dieting attempts. This kind of dieting paraphernalia jeopardizes your loved one’s recovery, and every effort should be made to remove them from their environment.
Lastly, be cognizant of the way that you speak about food and your own and others’ bodies. Your loved one needs to know that they are worthy, no matter what they eat or how their body looks. If you continue to disparage your own eating patterns or body in their presence, or the eating habits and bodies of others, they will not believe you are a safe person to go to in their recovery.
Trust your loved one’s treatment team
Above all, trust your loved one’s treatment team. As eating disorder specialists, it’s important to follow their guidance. These tips given here are general suggestions, but the best tips you can receive will be from your loved one’s treatment team. In collaboration with your loved one, they will best be able to let you know what kinds of environments or experiences might jeopardize your loved one’s recovery.
Remember though, that doesn’t mean you cannot question your loved one’s recovery team! Depending on your relationship with this loved one looks like, it might be completely appropriate to inquire more about what might be helping or harming your loved one.
If you’re interested in learning more about eating disorders and recovery, check out these articles:
Recovering from an Eating Disorder: The Transition Between Acute Care and Recovery
How Does Bulimia Affect the Family Dynamic?
Success After Treatment” Expectations After Treatment
Eight Ways to Help Your Friend in Eating Disorder Recovery
About the Author
Ashley M. Seruya is a social work student, virtual assistant, and content creator specializing in eating disorder recovery, Health at Every Size, and weight stigma. Learn more about her work at ashleymseruya.com or on her Instagram at @cozibae.