Recovering from an eating disorder can be a very slow process and can sometimes take many months or years. Each stage will bring its own triumphs and challenges to the person with the eating disorder and to the people caring for them.
Here are seven tips to help you manage your role as a carer:
1. Learn as much as you can
Obtaining the right information and education about eating disorders can help you manage and care for someone more easily. The more you are able to learn, the better you will be able to understand what is happening to the person you are caring for.
You may want to:
- Learn more about the particular type of eating disorder being confronted
- Familiarise yourself with the stages of change that are experienced by someone living with an eating disorder
- Develop an understanding of the different treatment options and approaches available
You should keep in mind that you don’t have to do all of this on your own and that there is information available to provide you with the skills and coping mechanisms to help you throughout this difficult time.
2. Remember who the person is
Remember, the person you care for is not their illness, nor are they only ‘about’ their eating disorder. Do not let the eating disorder take over the person’s identity.
- A helpful technique can be to think about the eating disorder as separate from the person you are caring for or that what is happening is the culmination of two, different things (e.g. a person + an eating disorder)
- You can also remind yourself that the person you care for is still your son, daughter, friend, sister, brother, grandchild, mother or father, and that the eating disorder is something that is happening to them
3. Communicate openly
Communication is important in fostering treatment and recovery. You should communicate regularly with the person you are caring for and avoid showing or expressing judgment, criticism or negativity.
- Encourage and allow the person to express how they are feeling (even when they don’t feel good) and let them know their thoughts and feelings are valid. You should also avoid focusing on food or body shape/image and instead try to discuss the feelings that are evident ‘beneath’ the illness
- Paying attention to the person’s non-verbal reactions, body language and other behaviours can also give you much insight into how they are feeling
4. Be patient
It is crucial to remember that recovery takes time and patience and there is no ‘quick fix’ for an eating disorder.
- People with eating disorders can experience a range of different and conflicting emotions all at one time. This can be very hard for them to manage and it can be just as hard for you and others in your support network to handle, so being patient throughout this time is critical
- The path to recovery involves many emotions and setbacks and it can be a long journey. It is important to be as calm and patient as possible throughout the recovery process and to remain as supportive as you can
- If you find this challenging, try to focus on the more positive aspects of the experience and/or the long-term goal of recovery. You should also make sure that you take time for yourself as a carer (see below) so that you don’t feel as if you can’t cope yourself
5. Stay positive
Caring for someone with an eating disorder can be very challenging. You can stay positive by drawing attention to the positive attributes of the person you are looking after and talking about things that they enjoy or are good at.
- It is a good idea to find opportunities to involve the person you are caring for in things they enjoy, such as sport, entertainment or other hobbies; these are activities that can be completed together and that promote positivity
- You can also practice positive communication by explaining that you are proud of them or highlighting the things you love about them
- Reminding the person of their life outside of their illness can also help them realise there is more to their identity than their eating disorder
6. Make time for yourself
Prioritising regular ‘time outs’ for yourself can restore your energy and help you be better equipped to deal with the person you care for.
- Take small breaks to help you stay relaxed, calm and patient during the treatment phase. It also means that your own mental, psychological and physical health continues to be cared for throughout this difficult time
- You should aim to make time for yourself to do the things that you enjoy, such as visiting friends, going for walks, doing some exercise, reading a book or watching a film. The better you care for yourself, the more you will be able to help the person you are caring for
7. Seek support
Seeking professional support can reduce the amount of stress you carry and improve your capacity to care for someone with an eating disorder. Community based organisations and respite centres are equipped with specifically trained professionals who can assist you with skills based support, support for your physical and psychological well being, help with employment and also provide information booklets, brochures, peer support groups and networks.