Loyola University Maryland

Counseling Center

Eating Disorders

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Tips for Family Members and Friends

1.  Realize that you are in exceedingly difficult circumstances. Sometimes you may feel angry, frustrated, helpless, afraid, or powerless. Your loved one or friend may seem helpless at certain times and at other times stubborn and resistant. Naturally you might feel confused and distraught.

2.  Accept the fact that there are no quick, easy answers or cures to an eating disorder. Psychotherapists and physicians cannot work magic. If your loved one or friend is to recover, then he or she must make changes in attitudes and behaviors. Also, family and friends may have to be willing to make some attitude and behavior changes to accommodate your loved one's new insights and growth.

3.  Provide your loved one with support and encouragement but also take care of yourself. Do not sacrifice yourself for your loved one/friend.  You accomplish nothing except feeling emotionally drained and resentful. Make time for enjoyable activities and fun for the family—it sends an important message to the sufferer and gives the family and friends needed relief. Also continue interests and activities outside the family and encourage the person with the eating disorder to do the same.

4.  Give up the concept of blaming. It is not useful or realistic to blame either yourself or the person with the eating disorder. No one is at fault. Guilt and blame are immobilizing and get in the way of recovery. However, it is important to recognize that recovery is the responsibility of the person with the eating disorder. It is equally important to recognize that you have responsibility to become aware of the ways you may be enabling, facilitating or participating in the problem.

5.  Help your loved one or friend get into therapy. Learn as much about eating disorders as you can. Offer information to the person about eating disorder treatment programs. Offer to go with them to talk with a professional about your concerns. Do not hesitate out of fear that he or she will hate you or become increasingly ill. If he or she is over 18, you need to admit that you may have no control over whether she/he will or will not go into therapy. Only he or she can choose to be helped. You do, however, have control over how you participate in the problems. If a person is in acute medical danger, you may have to exercise responsibility and authority.

6.  Don't be overprotective or shield the person from the consequences of having an eating disorder. For example, if he or she is upset about school, relationships, or work, it is his/her responsibility to take care of the problem. Don't try to take care of it for him/her. Encourage the person with the eating disorder to take responsibility and allow them to participate in treatment decisions. Do not attempt to protect him/her by giving him/her the power to avoid situations that may be distressing. Experiencing and dealing with uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings and situations is part of life and adulthood.

7.  Develop dialogue with your child or friend about issues other than food, weight, appearance and achievement. Don't tie your caring to lectures about eating or demands about weight gain. Express honest love and affection to your loved one. He or she needs to know that she/he is appreciated for the person that she/he is, not for what she/he does.

8.  Avoid monitoring your child or friend's eating and weight gain. Such power struggles are futile battles and will only reinforce an adversarial relationship. Also, she/he will be less able to perceive you as caring if you engage in such battles. Eating and weight gain is his/her responsibility.

9.  Constructive communications is very important. Do not make statements like "You are ruining the whole family" or "Why are you doing this to us?" (See more on What Should I Say? page.)

10. Participate in family therapy or a family members/concerned persons support group to work through your feelings during this emotionally charged period. Don't isolate yourself. A support group or psychotherapy can help you deal with yourself in relationship to the eating disordered family member or friend. Recovery is a process. The duration varies depending upon the individual and the circumstances. Be kind to yourself.  Discover new and creative ways of nourishing yourselves and your families with food that will strengthen your inner resources and sustain you through the rough times.

How Flexible Are You?