Eating disorders are a serious health concern. As a family member, partner or other, you might be at various stages of your approach to your loved one about their eating disorder.
Here are some good things to keep in mind
1. “Is there something wrong with my loved one?”
There is no such thing as a broken person, just people with different strategies. Your loved one is doing the best s/he can, even if it does not seem like it.
When you can separate the person (your loved one) from their behaviour (the eating disorder), you put yourself in the empowered position of being able to support them, and help them meet their needs.
Your loved one is still the wonderful person that you’ve known. S/he has chosen an unhealthy strategy around food because it meets her/his emotional needs on a deeper level.
All of us do what we do because it meets our needs on a deeper, emotional level. Your loved one has not yet connected with a different, healthier way to meet that need. And there is always another way.
When you judge a person, you lose your ability to understand them and influence them. Even supposing you are “right” in your judgment, is that what you want? To lose your ability to understand and influence your loved one?
2. I’ve been talking to my loved one about this, but it’s just not working.
Here are some questions to consider:
Have you been trying the same thing to help your loved one, and the outcome has been no different? Or worse?
If you have been trying different things, has your approach, perspective or attitude been the same? Because that is what your loved one picks up on.
When you do the same thing in the same way and expect a different outcome, that’s the definition of insanity. You may have noticed a lot of insane people in the world. Here and now is a great opportunity for you to choose to do something different.
Would you rather support your loved one in finding a healthier alternative? Or alienate him/her whilst trying to make him/her find a healthier alternative?
Understanding and appreciating what’s happening for your loved one is key. You can do this without accepting her/his unhealthy behaviour (the eating disorder).
When you connect with your loved one, by understanding and appreciating him/her, then you can start to collaborate with him/her in finding better, healthier alternatives.
Professional help can make a big difference for your loved one, and for you too. Invest time in finding a practitioner or therapist who is well-versed in effective change therapy.
3. I can’t change the way I approach my loved one. It’s just not possible.
There is always another way. If you have to go outside your comfort zone to get there, it might be a stretch, and it might be uncomfortable. But understand that your comfort zone will stretch and expand with you.
Flexibility is where the growth is. The alternative is to go down the path of insanity: doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome.
If you “can’t” change your strategy or approach to caring for your loved one and supporting her/him around her/his health concern, how can you expect her/him to change?
Your role as family, friend or partner, is to be flexible in how you show your love, so that s/he feels loved and supported. Remember, you don’t have to support the behaviour (the eating disorder), but it is vital that you support the person.
It is because you love her/him that you can serve them and collaborate with her/him in finding solutions. That is priceless.
There are excellent resources on the Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria website on how to do so.
You might also consider private and personalized sessions to help you care for your loved one, and also care for your self in the process. This can be particularly useful if you need help stretching beyond your comfort zone.
Michelle Soo is the founder of The Inner Life, an organization dedicated to the well being of all. She is also a Wellbeing Therapist with more than 10 years experience in bringing joy and health to her clients. Her training is in counseling, nutrition, kinesiology and NLP change strategies.
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