Caring for a loved one with an eating disorder can be exhausting but we know how much the help and support of a carer supports recovery and this is invaluable. You might often feel like giving up or feel frustrated that your loved one doesn’t seem to getting any better but persevering and just being there makes a big difference to the person battling the eating disorder. They often feel like giving up themselves but someone else having hope for them gives them hope too.
Looking after you is key and taking time and having a break is vital. This isn’t being selfish or walking away. It’s recharging your batteries so that you can be strong for your loved one. Often on the ward, we would have families cancel their holidays or their plans but the carer continuing with a normal life as much as possible can actually be really helpful. The person with the eating disorder seeing normality and knowing that there is a life outside of the illness is really important.
You can also ask your loved one to help you to understand what they are feeling by getting them to write down things you do or say that are helpful (and the unhelpful too). It’s so common to hear the sufferer being told “you look well” or “well done”, with the best of intentions but this is often really upsetting for the person with the eating disorder to hear. To them, they hear “you’ve gained so much weight and you have failed by giving in”. An alternative is to say “you are looking like you’ve got a bit more colour these days or your sparkle is coming back” and instead of well done, “I can see how hard that was for you or I know how much you are trying right now”. It’s often useful to be aware however that eating disorders are very complex and what you say to your loved one today that is helpful, can tomorrow be unhelpful. That’s why it helps to have an agreed list so that you can refer to this and remind your loved one of how you are trying to help.
Something we have learnt over the years is how much the sufferer and or carer, often blames themselves for the eating disorder. It is not theirs or your fault and nobody chooses to have an eating disorder. You can choose how you deal with it though and this can be a useful to refer to when someone doesn’t want to help themselves at times. It’s also not uncommon for the sufferer to really want to get better in one breath and in the next they are scared and don’t want to change. The eating disorder often gives them something which makes them feel powerful, a sense of control and an achievement. If you had these 3 positives in your life and someone tried to take them away, you would fight to keep them wouldn’t you. Just reminding the person with the eating disorder that you are not there to take their illness away but that you can see the negatives that it’s doing to them (perhaps list them), can be helpful. You can also write your loved one two letters. How you seen their life two years down the line in recovery (and what they are doing) and how you see them if they remain stuck in the grips of their eating disorder. These are often very powerful (& emotional) letters.