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Supporting Your Loved One in Recovery

Posted December 4, 2017 by Valarie Bittner M.A. CPC

Supporting Your Loved One in Recovery Friends and family members of our clients often ask us "how can we help?" Friends and family have a great opportunity to support their loved one in their recovery journey. We always encourage family and friends to ask their loved one what they view as personally helpful to them, as support can vary for different individuals and people at different stages in their recovery. Creating space for open and honest communication is so helpful, to learn how to navigate alongside your loved one. Below are some tips for offering support.

1.Educate yourself.
Taking time to learn about the eating disorder and the process of recovery will help you to support your loved one. Some helpful resources can include books, websites, and talking with your loved one about their experiences. The eating disorder is not a choice. Although initially your loved one may have made a conscious decision to diet or lose weight, the development of the eating disorder is beyond anyone’s control. No-one is to blame for an eating disorder. Eating disordered behaviors are external symptoms of an internal problem. The core mechanisms maintaining the eating disorder are made up of distorted, self-critical attitudes about weight, food, and body image. Recovery is a process, and is certainly possible.

2. Listen without judgment.
You can show your care by asking about your loved one’s feelings and concerns, and then listening with compassion and patience. It might feel challenging to listen without offering advice or a critique, especially if you don’t fully understand their feelings. However letting your loved one know that they're heard and validating their feelings, will go along way towards building trust and helping them feel supported. A validating statement might be “It seems like you are struggling, what can I do to help.” Focusing on your tone is important. Or you might offer a soothing statement such as “No wonder you feel….” or “I’m here for you” and asking your loved one what would be helpful to hear in moments of distress.

3. Avoid appearance related comments.
Although a comment may be well intentioned, the way your loved one interprets your comment may be very different than how you intended it. It might seem helpful to offer compliments such as “I wish I had a body like yours” or “I think you’re beautiful,” however any body related comment can be counter-productive to recovery. As we live in a culture that is very body and appearance focused, it might take some practice to notice body comments about your own or others appearance as well. Comments such as “I feel so fat in my jeans today” or “he looks like he could lose a few pounds” can also be hurtful and damaging to someone in recovery. Voicing specific weights is not helpful. It’s best to focus on non-appearance related comments, and on other personality characteristics or traits.

4. Be sensitive about making food related comments or “policing” meals.
Someone in recovery is working at developing a healthy relationship with eating, including eating enough, and eating a variety of foods. Comments that label foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy” are not helpful. As well as comments about their food portions, or referring to the number of calories in a particular food. If you’re concerned or have a question about food or your loved ones eating, it’s best to ask in an inquisitive way rather than assuming or accusatory. And ask at a time other than during or near a meal time.

5. Recognize accomplishments and be their cheerleader!
Your loved one will be making changes and challenging many things during the recovery process, such as expressing themselves, being open with others, engaging in social situations that cause them anxiety, wearing clothing they’ve avoided, and a great number of food and eating related challenges. Every accomplishment is significant and moves them forward in recovery. When you notice an accomplishment, you can respond with an "I'm proud of you" or "great job" which will help communicate to your loved one that you see their efforts and believe in them.