Caring for a loved one who is suffering with an eating disorder can be very difficult. There are many important points to remember that can help make the most difference when aiding a loved one through a hard time in their life.Even though compulsive eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia are becoming more prevalent in modern society, they are not necessarily any more easily understood in the family home. Like any mental health condition, compulsive eating disorders need support and understanding to enable the sufferer to deal with, and recover from their illness. Because this illness can be so surreptitious, behaviours and symptoms can cause problems for the carer that leads to anger frustration and relationship breakdown.
Understanding the sufferer’s Position
When witnessing behaviours linked with eating disorders it is very easy to fall into the misconception that the sufferer is in total control of their actions and making rational decisions. Carers mistakenly assume that because 99% of the time they are rational intelligent people who behave and make decisions logically, it follows that any apparent behaviour around food is a preference which can be rationalised if it appears to be dangerous. The illness is in control of the sufferers decisions.
Anger and frustration will cause more problems
When the person with a compulsive eating disorder refuses to listen to a clear rational argument it can be confusing and ultimately leaves the carer feeling angry and frustrated. This in turn leads to a breakdown in communication, and the sufferer becomes even harder to reach. The most important factor to understand is the carer is witnessing a person with an illness they have no control over. Accepting this stance will allow the carer to stand back and help in a more realistic manner.
Do not punish or admonish
The carer should refrain from making ultimatums or suggesting punishments if the patient does not change their behaviour. Remember the person with an eating disorder does not perceive the problem in the same way as you do because of the illness. Getting angry and punishing will only breakdown the positive caring relationship.
The carer needs support and knowledge of the illness
Attempting to deal with irrational behaviours is not easy for anyone and so it is strongly advised that the carer has support – someone they can turn to who has an informed knowledge of the issues. Local groups are useful, a doctor, therapist or consultant, or a friend who has been on the same kind of journey. If the carer has no support at times of frustration and high stress – they will eventually not be able to care for their loved one. Again a clear understanding of the knowledge of the illness and what to expect is paramount.