As a parent, significant other, friend or family member, when you see your loved one struggling with an eating disorder it is often difficult to know how to help. What do you say? What actions do you take?
If you are a parent and your child is underage and under your control, you have great authority in how to help your loved one. Receiving adequate nutritional and psychiatric help is of utmost importance, and being a unified team (parent, nutritionist and doctor) will help your child get the most out of treatment. Attend sessions with your child to minimize miscommunications, and when she says she wants to stop treatment prematurely, be firm in sticking with the program. It may be difficult to tell your child that he or she must continue with a meal plan and behavioral therapy that causes her stress, but it is better to endure the process rather than leave the treatment. As a parent, you are also in control of the food your child eats. Make her breakfast, lunch and dinner according to the meal plan, and when she claims it’s not correct, you can defer to the nutritionist (“That’s what the nutritionist said to do. We can discuss it with her at the next appointment.”) for clarification. If she needs to feel some semblance of control, offer 2 choices for snacks, and have her pick one. At restaurants, give her 2-3 choices from the menu to choose from—eating out can be quite anxiety producing, so reduce that stress by eliminating some of the guess work. There are a number of ways to help your loved one, and every person is different in how he responds to treatment. Below are additional tips on how to best aid your loved one through treatment.
Never discuss his/her weight or appearance. If he/she brings it up, change the subject.
Talk about other activities or topics besides weight, diet and appearance.
Don’t diet or overexercise yourself. Focus on making healthy eating/activity behaviors for life.
Eat with your children.
Make lifestyle changes fun. Make cooking fun and interesting - allow child to participate in meal planning/preparation. Make physical activity fun and a family event. Find activities that your child likes and will be likely to continue.
Eat breakfast and pack nutritious lunches. Children who eat breakfast perform better in school and help kids stay on track with the meal plan.
Attend sessions with the nutritionist and psychiatrist.
Keep in close contact with the treatment team.
Give random words of encouragement (“You’re doing great!”).
Limit rationalizing with your loved one. Stick with objective statements regarding treatment (“Once you reach your goal weight then you can exercise.”) rather than subjective statements (“You seem better because you are a bit heavier. Go ahead and go for that jog.”).
Cover mirrors to prevent negative body talk or comparisons.
Make lifestyle changes a family affair. All activity/food plans suggested for your child are good (healthy) for the whole family.
Keep a positive attitude. Make positive statements instead of negative statements. Focus on what TO do rather than what not to do.
Every 3rd Monday of the month there is a free support group at Kaiser Medical Center (1010 Pensacola St Honolulu, HI 96814) for those suffering from an eating disorder and their family and friends. Come to the group and get feedback and support from others.