I appreciate the opportunity that I have to share some information which might be helpful for the family members of someone who is effected with an eating disorder.
“It’s not about the food“. As a parent, or caring friend or family members, it might be logical for you see the solution to this problem as simply… “Eat”. Your solution is created with the assumption that, “If the person would just eat, everything would be just fine.” You might even feel compelled to be the “Food Police”, and monitor their food intake, thinking that this will help to resolve the matter. This logic does not contribute to a healthy resolution, and quite honestly can exacerbate the issue.
So, if food is not the issue… what is it? Eating Disorders are not all the same, and do not fit nicely into one underlying cause. But there are common emotions or conditions in almost every case. Stress, anxiety, pressure, and feeling that their life is not under their control are some characteristics of most patients. The pressure of insisting that someone eat, when the root cause is stress and pressure, can result in making things worse.
Some patients express the feeling of their life being out of control, and by controlling their relationship with food, it gives them the satisfaction they are looking for. Hummm… are you seeing a new side of things?
Anxiety and depression are painful, and temporary relief can be found by a patient through binge eating. That euphoria is short-lived, and is replaced by guilt and the need to purge what they have just consumed. “Wow… I hadn’t even thought of that”.
I invite all of you to reconsider your “logical” thinking when it comes to dealing with someone who is experiencing an eating disorder. The solution is not in the food. Take time to understand their world. Listen with your non-judgmental ears. What kind of life is this person describing to you? Remember, perception is reality to them. Your role is to be a listener, and not the problem solver.
As the patient develops trust in their ability to truly talk about their feelings, you will be able to see the whole picture. Try to understand things as they see them. If after listening, for an extended time, you feel the need to help, do not tell them your solution, rather be a support team member. If the underlying cause is anxiety, spend time with them doing things that reduce their anxiety. If it’s the feeling of losing control of their life, let them be involved in making big decisions, rather than telling them what and when to do things.
Lastly… Understand that eating disorders are an illness. Can you expect someone with a cold to simply stop sneezing, and… “enough with the runny nose”? When the cold is resolved, the sneezing and runny nose will stop… So too can a patient resume a normal relationship with food.
Medical professionals are essential in dealing with this as well. Medication, talk therapy, as well as out-patient programs can be the key to turning the corner towards a healthy resolution.
There is additional information on-line at:
For patients, might I add, a big part of recovery is finding someone to work with that can help you identify your underlying challenges, and empower you to take control of your pathway back. If you do not feel listened to, or understood, continue looking until you find that person or group. YOU… can do this!! The answers are out there. Take control, and go find them.