When Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder
"Do's" and "Don'ts" for Friends and Family
- remove yourself from the problem and allow the sufferer to make choices about her behavior unencumbered by power struggles and control battles
- accept your limitations!
- accept the other person's right to an independent life
- allow each each household member to decide individually what he or she will or will not eat
- be willing to negotiate household chores involving food
- hold the eating-disordered person is responsible for her behavior whenever it affects others
- take charge
- purchase (or avoid purchasing) food solely to accommodate the eating-disordered person
- force family members to eat or restrict what can be eaten
- make mealtimes a battleground
- monitor someone else's behavior for them (even if you are invited to)
- be the "food police"
- use money to control another person's eating behavior
- anticipate someone else's needs
- make eating out a battle of wills
- play therapist
- offer advice or opinions
- comment about someone's weight and looks
Positive Strategies for Parents
The following "rules" are presented in the book Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives & Strategies for Family & Friends. Siegel, M., Brisman, J. & Weinshel, M., 1997. New York, NY: Hamper Collins, which you can find in our collection of recommended books.
Rule #1: Accept your limitations. Encourage your loved one to get professional help.
Rule #2: Accept the other person's right to an independent life. Don't take charge.
Rule #3: Don't purchase (or avoid purchasing) food solely to accommodate the eating-disordered person.
Rule #4: Each household member decides individually what he or she will or will not eat. No one should be forced to eat anything or be restricted in what can be eaten.
Rule #5: Don't make mealtimes a battleground. Keep discussion about food issues to a minimum.
Rule #6: Be willing to negotiate household chores involving food.
Rule #7: The person with the eating disorder is responsible for their behavior whenever it affects others.
Rule #8: Do not monitor someone else's behavior for them (even if you are invited to).
Rule #9: Do not use money to control another person's eating behavior.
Rule #10: Do not anticipate someone else's needs.
Rule #11: Don't make eating out a battle of the wills.
Rule #12: Do not play therapist.
Rule #13: Do not comment about, someone's weight and looks.
Rule #14 Seek support for yourself.
How Parents Can Help
Parents can help their daughters by doing the following:
- Do not treat this problem as just an academic issue, but rather recognize the emotional roots of anorexia and bulimia.
- Be open to feedback from teachers, counselors and others who can help.
- Educate yourself on the causes, impacts, and treatments of eating disorders through literature, books, seminars, and the Internet.
- Talk to your daughter about what is underneath the disordered eating behavior; don't just focus on the eating patterns.
- Recognize the need for proper assessment, dietary counseling, medical consultation and therapy treatments and options.
- Get involved in a parent support group.
- Talk about the issues and possible solutions to eating disorders with the whole family.
- Don't be fooled by a daughter's attempts to minimize and ignore the real problem, be firm about the need for recovery while being sensitive to not forcing the issues.
- Be a good role model around food, take care of yourself, don't blame yourself, and be patient.
- Recognize that recovery takes time and do not place unrealistic demands for a quick fix of your daughter's eating disorder.
Additional Resources for Friends and Family
What can you do if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, body image issues, depression, and low self-esteem?
One of the first things to do is to take care of yourself either by finding a good therapist or a local support group. You can read the book, "Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Families and Friends" by Michele Siegel, PhD, Judith Brisman, PhD, and Margot Weinshel, MSW. This is an excellent book and will be a tremendous support in helping you learn appropriate ways of dealing with your loved one.
Another excellent book is "Overcoming Binge Eating" by Dr. Christopher Fairburn. This book is excellent for anyone struggling with weight issues and binge eating.
For referrals, you can visit www.edreferral.com (including referrals for free treatment offered by certain facilities that have received government grant money). You can also find referrals at www.something-fishy.org.