Practical Guide for Parents and Carers

When someone we care about is affected by an eating disorder it can be very difficult to understand and you may have all sorts of feelings. These can include fear, frustration, disbelief, sadness or helplessness, it is important that you are supported in order that you can best help your loved one.

The first thing to remember is that the paradox of an eating disorder is that it isn't about food. The sufferer is using food as a way of coping with emotional distress, which they may or may not understand or be aware of themselves.

Try not to spend too much time focusing on food or weight, this can lead to further reinforcement of the eating disorder and distract from the underlying cause.

What can I do?

Your role as a parent or carer is to support your loved one, without supporting the eating disorder. Although the sufferer may feel or hope that in their eating disorder they have found a solution to their emotional problems, it is important to know that this is not the case in the long term and try to support them while they try to find new ways to support themselves.

It can be unhelpful to rescue the sufferer or take control of their eating for them (although in the early days of recovery this may be necessary for a set period of time) as this may lead them further into controlling behaviours and they may reject you and distance themselves from you further. Eating disorders can be very isolating, the sufferer needs to feel that you are there for them, even if you find it hard to understand.

You are not alone in caring for your loved one, it is usually necessary for the sufferer to seek professional help with their eating disorder, (although at times they may be ambivalent about whether they want to recover), gentle encouragement from you to make contact with a specialist counsellor or GP or to continue when things are challenging can be really helpful.

In order to best assist your loved one it can be useful to seek specialist support for yourself, whether this is to have a safe place in which to explore your feelings or to work out ways of encouraging the sufferers recovery. EDS offers one to one sessions for parents and carers to learn helpful ways of engaging with and supporting their loved one suffering with an eating disorder.