When Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder

CED LeafThis is a special blog in advance National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 26th – March 3rd) and an upcoming free workshop, When Your Loved One has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery. You can find details about all of our upcoming NEDAWeek events at the end of the post.

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Guilt.  Shame.  Frustration.  Sadness.  Fear.  Anger.  These are just some of the emotions commonly experienced and expressed by support people when someone they love is struggling with an eating disorder (ED).  While each family experiences an ED, and the recovery process, in a unique way, there can be some commonalities that are important to talk about. Attending support groups, information sessions, and community workshops facilitated by treatment professionals are all great ways for support people to gain understanding and insight into the difficult journey their loved one is on.  It’s also a great way for family and friends to get feedback and support around their own feelings while they help their loved one navigate their way back to health.   A few of the most common struggles faced by family members are discussed below.    

Often times, parents and caregivers feel guilty and express concern that they may be to blame for their loved one’s eating disorder.

It can be terrifying for caregivers to find out that their loved one has an ED, especially as they begin to understand the level of suffering that comes with that.  A common reaction among parents is self-blame or intense guilt over the possibility that they may have contributed to their daughter’s or son’s illness.  This guilt can understandably create resistance or defensiveness and can be paralyzing for loved ones in the treatment process.  As long as the focus remains on “It’s all my fault.” it can be difficult to move towards “How can we as a family work together to support our loved one’s recovery?” 

While these illnesses have a complex combination of contributing factors, research has found them to be highly heritable, meaning 50-80% of one’s risk for developing an ED is dependent upon genetic factors. It’s important for families to receive reassurance that they are not to blame for their loved one’s illness while understanding that there are important ways they can help in the recovery process.  In fact, evidence-based treatment of EDs suggests educating family members and involving them in the treatment process greatly improves outcomes.  By identifying ways in which the ED has affected the family functioning and discussing dynamics that may be maintaining some of the person’s symptoms, families can work together towards improved communication, positive interactions and healing that extends far beyond the eating disorder.

Support people often feel anxious or frustrated about what to say vs. what not to say to a loved one with an eating disorder.  This can lead to fear that they are making their loved one worse because they don’t know how to respond in difficult situations involving food or body image.  Support people report that they often feel that they are “walking on eggshells” around their friend or family member with the eating disorder.

One of the most common examples of this dilemma occurs during the recovery process when support people may say something like “You look so much healthier,” but it is interpreted as “You look fat”.  Anyone who has been through an ED will tell you that they often feel irritable, and so much of their energy and time is spent thinking about weight and food that most comments people make about their appearance will automatically be construed in a negative way, even when they come from a place of care and concern.  Alternative comments that may be easier for your loved one to hear as they recover might be, “I’ve noticed you have a lot more energy lately” or “It is so nice to see you smiling today.”  One of the most helpful things support people can do is to communicate with their loved one by asking for a specific list of things that they can say or do that would be helpful to them when they are struggling.  Examples of things that are triggering or are not helpful to recovery could be useful as well.  Keep in mind that these lists may change at various points in the recovery process; communicate and revise often.

Also important to note: supporting someone through recovery from an ED is uniquely difficult compared to some other illnesses because of the cultural environment we live in.  Our society encourages and applauds hyper vigilance around weight, food and perfection yet recovery from an ED involves giving up some level of control over all three of those things.  Learning to filter unhelpful information and help your loved one resist damaging cultural messages about weight/food can feel like an uphill battle.  However, it does get easier with continued education about media literacy and guidance from therapists and registered dietitians who specialize in treating individuals with EDs.    

Support people are often so worried about the individual with the eating disorder that they focus 100% their energy on their loved one’s safety and recovery.   It becomes very easy to forget to seek their own support, neglect to keep up with their own self-care or let other personal priorities fall to the wayside. This can lead to mounting  feelings of exhaustion, depression or hopelessness.

Helping a loved one through the process of recovery from an ED can feel all-encompassing, especially when it’s your child or a spouse.   It often must become the family’s priority to get them back to a place of safety and stability, both physically and mentally.  However, support people can only offer stable, strong support when they are caring for themselves and staying stable, strong and rested themselves.  It’s important for caregivers to stay connected to their own friends, to seek out their own support and to set aside time to replenish themselves emotionally.  It could be as simple as sending a quick email to a friend every night before bed or scheduling a day trip to a favorite place. Whatever it is, remember the advice you get when you fly…you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can effectively help those around you.

The truth is recovery can be a challenging process for all involved.  Even as progress is made, there are often set-backs or plateaus that can be confusing and frustrating .   Can you relate to the experiences discussed above?  Did you encounter other difficulties and roadblocks while learning to support a loved one in recovery?  Leave us a comment below or join in the discussion on our Facebook page.

At the Center for Eating Disorders, we recognize that there is a special need for education and support for the supporters themselves.  When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery is a FREE workshop designed to help family members and friends receive specialized education about EDs and their treatment, as well as insight into various care giving tools that can help facilitate the recovery process. Check out the details below, and don’t forget to RSVP by calling (410) 427-3886.

MARCH 1st, 2012  ~ When Your Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: Helping Them Heal on the Road to Recovery [download the event flyer]7:00 – 8:30 pm in  Baltimore, MD

 

 

Visit our Events Page for a full listing of upcoming events, including our NEDAWeek kick-off event, Invisible Victory: An Athlete’s Story of Hope & Triumph in Eating Disorder Recovery.

 

Invisible Victory

 

 

 www.eatingdisorder.org

Support for Parents & Families: Navigating the World of Eating Disorder Treatment & Recovery

Join us on Thursday February 24th, 2011  to hear from a panel of parents who’ve been through the treatment process in various forms with their own children.  Listen to their stories and join the conversation during a special Q/A with the panel members and several treatment specialists from CED. You can read more about the event and meet our panel members below, then download the Event Flyer or visit our website to register for this free event.

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For someone with an eating disorder, the positive role of the family in the recovery process cannot be underestimated.  Parents, spouses, siblings and close support people can make a world of difference for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, especially as they work towards recovery.  But its not easy.  It takes a lot of patience and presents many challenges for parents and support people who have never before been forced to learn about the complexities of an eating disorder or navigate the world of treatment. Just as the individual with the disorder experiences intense fears, personal hardships, and emotional angst throughout the illness and recovery, so too do those who support them.  It can be torturous to have an eating disorder but in many ways, it can be just as difficult to care deeply for someone who does.

Parents in particular, despite the age of their son or daughter with an eating disorder, can be met with incredible fear, stress and frustration as they try to weed through a completely new landscape of physical and mental health complications, what to say and what not to say to someone in treatment, and how to respond to irritability, refusal to get treatment, or general isolation from the rest of the family.  And while each family has their own unique experience, two things are very common when approaching the recovery process with a loved one:  1) you will have a lot of questions, and 2) you may feel very alone.  That being said, it can be very beneficial to talk with other families who understand what you’re going through and can offer knowledgeable, experienced support.

This year, in honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt will be hosting a Panel Presentation and Q/A event featuring parents who’ve experienced the difficult job of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder.  This free event is designed to create a safe place for families and support people to gather, ask questions and seek feedback from those who’ve been in the trenches themselves.  The panel will also include specialists from the Center for Eating Disorders who will answer questions about the treatment process, types of therapy, health and medical concerns,  nutrition issues, and all things affecting recovery.

All of the parent panel members come to the table with different experiences, different strengths and different outcomes but they all have an important story to tell and a hopeful message to share.   If you have questions about supporting a loved one, or you would just like to listen and know that you are not alone, please join us for this special event in Baltimore on Thursday February 24th at 7:00 pm.

~  MEET The PANEL ~

PARENT & FAMILY Panel Members:

Jane Cawley – Jane and her family helped her daughter, then age fourteen, recover from anorexia nervosa with family-based treatment in 2004. Ever since, she’s worked tirelessly as an advocate for eating disorders, actively helping parents find and better understand information on eating disorders and the treatments available.  She co-chairs Maudsley Parents and serves on the steering committee of NEDA’s Parent, Family, and Friends Network.  She was also recently interviewed for a PsychCentral blog entitled, What Parents Need to Know About Eating Disorders: Q&A with Jane Cawley

Katherine BloomKatherine is the loving mother of Kira Bloom, who lost her struggle with bulimia nervosa on May 21, 2009 at age twenty-five.  Katherine now speaks out to honor her daughter’s memory, the importance of treatment and to share what she has learned in hopes of sparing another family a similar tragedy.

Jean R. – Jean and her family learned to navigate the world of eating disorders when their daughter was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2000.  Through their daughter’s journey they became acquainted with an ANAD support group, and in the spring of 2007, she volunteered to be on the Eating Disorder Network of Maryland board.  Jean has also been involved with Supporting Each Other, a support group for family members and friends of those who have loved ones struggling with disordered eating.  As an educator, Jean sees the importance of education to spread awareness and understanding about this dangerous disease.

TREATMENT SPECIALIST Panel Members:

Steven Crawford, MD – Dr. Steven Crawford is a board certified psychiatrist and Associate Director of The Center for Eating Disorders.  Dr. Crawford has spent over 20 years devoted to the treatment of individuals and families impacted by eating disorders.  He remains committed to providing the best possible treatment for every patient at CED, ensuring a comprehensive continuum of care, state-of-the-art programs and a staff of highly qualified, specialty trained practitioners.  Dr. Crawford also serves on the faculty at the University of Maryland where he trains medical students on prevention, identification, early intervention and evidence-based treatment for eating disorders.

Dina Wientge, LCSW-C – Dina Wientge has been a part of the CED staff for more than 14 years. She received her Masters in social work from the University of Maryland and trained at Johns Hopkins University .  Dina provides family therapy for patients in CED’s inpatient program and oversees all aspects of the Center’s family therapy programming.   She is one of a select group of clinicians from across the country who have been specially trained and certified to provide Family Based Treatment (FBT) for eating disorders.

Debbi Jacobs, LCSW-C – Debbi Jacobs earned her MSW from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Social Work in 1999.  Prior to joining the team at The Center for Eating Disorders, she provided individual, couples and family therapy at the Jewish Family Services in Baltimore with a particular interest in trauma and loss.  Debbi currently provides individual and family therapy at CED’s outpatient department with a concentration in providing support for families engaged in the Maudsley method of re-feeding.

Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN – Samantha Lewandowski received her BS in Nutrition from the University of Delaware and her Masters in Health Promotion Management from The American University.  Samantha, a Registered Dietitian, joined the CED staff in 2006, and her main role is working on nutritional goals with patients and their families in the outpatient setting.  As Nutritional Care Coordinator, she also supervises the outpatient nutrition staff, coordinates nutrition programs and provides community workshops and professional trainings on the prevention and treatment of eating disorders.

All family members, support people and health/mental health professionals are welcome to attend.  Download the Event Flyer or visit our Events Page to pre-register and reserve a seat.

If you have questions about this panel or any of our other NEDAWeek events, please call The Center for Eating Disorders’ Outreach Coordinator at (410) 427-3886.

Breaking the Cycle: Changing the Body Image Legacy We Create for Our Daughters

A special GUEST POST by writer and editor, Dara Chadwick…

Dara Chadwick is the author of You’d Be So Pretty If… Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies—Even When We Don’t Love Our Own.  A former magazine staff editor, she’s a New England-based freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness and lifestyle topics. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Parenting, Working Mother, Family Circle, Woman’s Day, Better Homes & Gardens, For Me and VIV.

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Can you believe the holidays are upon us again?

I always find myself getting reflective during this season, as one calendar year winds down and we prepare to begin another. It’s a good time to think about where I’ve been, what I’ve accomplished and what I’d like to see unfold during the upcoming year. It’s a time to take stock of habits — healthy and unhealthy, productive and unproductive.

There’s great value sometimes in looking to the past. I found that to be true while writing my book, You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own. In it, I dug into my body image past to examine how my mother’s feelings about her body had affected my feelings about mine, and how my feelings were shaping my daughter’s feelings about her own body. As moms, we create a body image legacy for our daughters through our behavior and attitudes toward our bodies — just as our mothers created a body image legacy that they passed to us.

Some of us find that idea frightening, particularly if we didn’t grow up feeling good about our bodies. The idea that we could unwittingly pass those feelings of shame and even self-hatred on to our little girls is unsettling. It’s true that we moms are a powerful force in shaping our daughters’ future relationships with their bodies. But the good news is that we also have the power to change that legacy by changing the choices we make each day.

We don’t have to be perfect or look like supermodels to raise girls who feel good about the bodies they have. Here are five ways to set a positive body image example for your daughter today — no matter how you feel about your own body:

  • Change your tune. If you’re usually harsh or critical about your appearance in front of your daughter, make sure she hears you say at least one positive thing about yourself each day.
  • Don’t do comedy. It’s OK to laugh together — even about your bodies, occasionally — but don’t make your butt the “butt” of every joke.
  • Corral your compliments. Resist the urge to focus on weight when doling out compliments to family and friends.
  • Examine your example. Don’t refuse to wear a bathing suit or dance at a wedding because you think you’re too big or don’t look right. Do what you can to feel your best, then forget it.
  • Skip the mirror. Resist the urge to constantly re-check your look in mirrors, store windows or any other reflective surface. It’s OK to just let the obsession go.

Simple changes like these can lead to a shift in the way you feel about your body — and the way your daughter feels about her own. If you resolve to do one thing differently in the New Year, resolve to be conscious of the body image legacy you’re creating. You can change it. The choice is yours.

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We’d like to extend our gratitude to Dara Chadwick for sharing this post with us as the New Year approaches.  If you’d like to find out more about Dara Chadwick and her book, visit her website, www.darachadwick.com and her blog,  www.youdbesoprettyif.com. You can also follow her on twitter @DaraChadwick.

You can also follow the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt on Facebook and Twitter (@CEDSheppPratt)