Helping a Loved One With an Eating Disorder

Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center provides comprehensive care for women and girls who are struggling with eating disorders. Timberline Knolls delivers compassionate, comprehensive treatment so that the journey to healing from eating disorders can begin.

Learn More About Eating Disorders

Learn how to help a loved one suffering from an eating disorder

When a loved one struggles with an eating disorder, it is common to be confused, afraid, or even angry. Please understand that if you’ve been experiencing emotions such as these, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Eating disorders are complex challenges, and their effects are not limited to the girls and women who develop the disorders.

However, please don’t let your difficult emotions push you into a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. Girls and women who are living with eating disorders need effective professional help. You cannot cure your loved one – but you can play an essential role in ensuring that she gets the help that she needs.

If someone you care about has been struggling with an eating disorder, your best first step is to educate yourself. Much of the fear and frustration that you may be feeling may be related to not understanding what your loved one is experiencing. As you eliminate these unknowns, you’ll be much better prepared to provide meaningful support.

You may want to begin your research by focusing on the signs, symptoms, and effects of eating disorders. This can provide you with essential insights into what your loved one has been going through, and may help you understand what type of eating disorder she has developed.

Of course, your loved one will need to complete a thorough evaluation with a qualified professional in order to receive an accurate diagnosis. But your efforts to learn more about the signs, symptoms, and effects can still yield significant benefits.

You should also research types of treatment and identify eating disorder programs that offer the types and levels of care that seem to be good fits for your friend or family member. Remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect eating disorder treatment program. Your goal should be to determine which programs will meet your loved one’s needs and best match her personality and preferences.

Talk to Your Loved One

Prepare for the conversation about getting treatment for eating disorders

Once you’ve gained a basic understanding of eating disorders and potential treatment options, your next step will be to talk to your loved one.

We understand that this may not be an easy thing to do. No matter how much you care, or how worried you are, the thought of discussing such a difficult subject can be intimidating. But having this discussion – which ideally will turn into several discussions – is essential.

Talking to your loved one can accomplish many things.

First, it lets her know that she’s not alone, and that she has your continued love and support. Eating disorders can have a profoundly isolating effect. Your loved one may be dealing with shame, guilt, or even self-loathing. She may have felt compelled to lie or deceive friends and family members about her eating habits. She may be frustrated by her inability to overcome her challenges. The cumulative impact of these experiences can be a sense of overwhelming loneliness. Your willingness to talk about this problem can be a watershed moment.

In addition to sharing the information you’ve gained about eating disorders and treatment, talking with your loved one will also give you the chance to hear directly from her about how this eating disorder has impacted her life. The information that you gain online, through books, or via consultations with eating disorder professionals will be valuable, but general. The only way to begin to understand the specific ways that your loved one is struggling is to listen to her.

This discussion can also guide your next steps. If your loved one acknowledges the problem and is open to getting help, you can work with her to find the eating disorder treatment program that’s perfect for her. If, on the other hand, she denies that she’s struggling, or resists your suggestions about treatment, you’ll have to adapt your efforts.

It’s important to understand that your loved one may react negatively. Even though you are coming from a place of love and support, her eating disorder may prompt her to push back, deny, or even express anger. Prepare for these potential outcomes, and don’t allow the conversation to devolve into an argument.

As noted earlier, this discussion will, ideally, not be a one-time event. Plan to engage in an ongoing dialogue with your loved one. Express your concerns – but more importantly, emphasize your love, support, and willingness to help. The small steps you take today may lead to significant progress in the weeks or months ahead.

Should You Stage an Intervention?

Consider an intervention for a loved one suffering from an eating disorder

The most obvious symptoms of eating disorders are the self-defeating food-related habits and the resultant physical impact.

But it’s important to remember that eating disorders are forms of mental illness. And their effect can include making women or girls feel like they don’t need help or aren’t worthy of the time and effort it would take to recover.

These and other reasons may prompt your loved one to resist or rebuke your suggestions about entering a comprehensive eating disorder treatment program. If she continues to push back against this idea, you may consider holding an intervention.

Unlike what you may have seen on television or in the movies, interventions should not be overly dramatic, confrontational events. Ideally, they are small gatherings of close friends or family members, with the purpose of showing support and convincing an individual to enter treatment.

Staging an effective intervention requires thorough research and detailed preparation. It may involve a professional who can act as an unbiased moderator. Above all else, it should not be a rushed or hurriedly put-together affair.

If you’re considering an intervention for a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Timberline Knolls. We can provide you with the information you need to take the best steps to help your loved one.

With Help & Planning, You Can Succeed

Encourage your loved one to seek eating disorder treatment

You already understand how important it is to get effective treatment for a friend or family member who is struggling with an eating disorder. You may also have some sense of the challenges that you may face along the way. As you process the new information that you gain, remember that every step, no matter how small it may appear at the moment, will bring you closer to your goal, and will bring your loved one closer to a healthier and happier future.

As you plan your efforts, here are a few additional points to keep in mind:

First, don’t try to do this all on your own. If at all possible, get a small group of trusted friends or family members to help you. You can work together to research treatment options, help your loved one, and support each other.

If you’re struggling with the emotional impact of this experience, get professional help for yourself. Meeting with a counselor or therapist can be an essential element of your self-care plan. Remember that you can’t provide the most meaningful help for your loved one if you’re ignoring your own needs.

Also, set realistic expectations and plan to support your loved one during and after her time in treatment. Treatment is a vital step on the path of recovery from eating disorders, but it’s just one step. And recovery is not always a linear process. Your loved one will encounter both successes and setbacks on her path to improved health. Plan to be a source of continued love and support every step of the way.

Timberline Knolls saved my life. The therapists are truly incredible and they really care about us. I made friends for life and I got my life back on track.

– A former resident
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