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10 Tips for Family Support With Your Eating Disorder (Guest Post)

I’m happy to share this guest post by Fiona.

In my experience, the dynamics between family and the person with an eating disorder (aka me) when it comes to support have been more turbulent than I care to recall.

Mum and Dad want to help me, and then they don’t want to help me, they say well done for finishing my pasta and then they say ‘We think it would be better if we didn’t discuss food with you’.

I have always seen my parents to be supportive, when I am doing well, at a healthy weight, socialising, eating well.  But when all relapse occurs, all of a sudden I am the world’s worst daughter, a failure, a waste, hopeless and my very position in the family is threatened. Having such a drastic black and white, all or nothing dynamic, dependent and conditional relationship is not healthy (or sustainable).
Over time I have learned how to manage my relationship with my parents, my recovery and my relationship with myself. It has taken me quite a few years of practice, a lot of trial and error, a river full of tears, a large quantity of anger and frustration and a heap of nail biting perseverance.  But now, at the age of 24, I finally feel like I have learned the balance of support available for me in my family.

First, there are a few things I need to point out.

I have tried to recover many many times, I have relapsed 5 times. Therefore, I have learned what works and what doesn’t work regarding support in my family. I’m here to offer some lessons learned about my journey in the hopes it can save you some heartache.

Here are my top 10 tips to be aware of about family support dynamics in eating disorder recovery:

1. You have to recover for you and not your parents. Your pursuit of recovery should not be dependent on the level of support you receive from your parents.

2. Let your parents know what kind of support you would like.  Be willing to compromise with them. Remember they are entitled to their say, too.

3. If your parents can’t support you the way you want, can’t support you every day, don’t let that be an excuse to go back to your eating disorder. If you do, then you are just cutting off your nose to spite your face.  It’s a pointless and no one wins.

4. You will find (well, I found) that it is better to be able to be more self-dependant in your recovery. If you are relying on parental support, then your recovery becomes conditional on them and what they can do for you.  You are only able to do recovery related behaviours when your parents are around.  Let’s face it…that’s just not practical or sustainable long-term.

5. Let your parents know that you are NOT your eating disorder.  Ask them to be aware of their words and behaviours and separate you from it (ED). Ask them to treat you like their daughter/son NOT like someone suffering with an eating disorder. You need to be associated with who you are as a person, not an eating disorder.

6. On a more practical note, have meals with your family instead of isolating yourself by eating alone. This can remind you and your family of times gone by when the disorder wasn’t present and your family sat around the table and ate together without the eating disorder.

7. Don’t become too dependent on your family.  It is important to keep in contact with friends and have your own life. You don’t want your relationship with your ED to be replaced with a relationship with your mom. In recovery, your eating disorders position in your life should be replaced by a healthy relationship with food, exercise and a healthy social/family life. (Polly’s tip: a healthy relationship with your Self should come first and then the rest.)

8. Be honest with your family. Like I said before, they are not mind readers. Tell them what’s going on in your head and your recovery. Remember, they may not understand, but sometimes getting it out there can help them see what you’re needing and it can be a relief for you at the same time.

9. Your parents don’t have the eating disorder. Therefore they don’t know what it’s like to have it. They can’t understand fully and that’s ok. But this is not a bad thing, because on the flip side they know what it’s like to NOT have an eating disorder, so they hold the trump card if you’re choosing to pursue recovery.

10. Your parents are human. They are not robots who don’t feel. They are not superhuman or capable of managing anything life throws at them.  They are not mind readers. They love you.  No matter how much they have shouted at you, will be angry and upset know that they DO LOVE YOU!! You are their child, of course they do (don’t try to argue with me on this one). They don’t love your eating disorder, but they do love you. (you’ll get this when you have kids of your own)

These ten tips come from someone who has been through the mill and back again with her family. I hope you can take something from what I have spoken about.

Peace and Love