Tips on caring for a member of the family with an Eating Disorder
Weathering the Storm - (Extracts from the book: BDOTI FIL-MALTEMP. Edited by Nora Macelli and Connie Magro. Published by the Mental Health Association and the St Jeanne Antide Foundation, 2015.) Translated by JEAN KILLICK
Tips on caring for a member of the family with an EATING DISORDER
We know that, when someone in the family develops an eating disorder, you feel disturbed and unable to work things out. You don’t know what to do. Here are a number of steps that you can take to help your relative to be cured and get on with life.
Do not coerce your relative. Try to understand what your role should be. This is the first important step, so that you will not cause the illness to worsen. Don’t try to control what or how much your relative eats. Don’t force them. The eating disorder is a form of control over the sufferer’s life. Therefore, if you try to force your relative, he/she will turn against you and you will become the enemy instead of a dear one who can help.
Your role can be crucial: Even if the person suffering from an eating disorder is receiving professional care, your contribution in the treatment is crucial. Don’t let your behaviour spoil the opportunity to help.
Learn about eating disorders. If you don’t, you will not know what is happening and why.
Don’t be discouraged from communicating with your relative. You should understand that it will become increasingly difficult to communicate. As the person becomes more introverted, the more they will want to be alone, the more sensitive they become to other people’s comments, the more abusive they are. You will understandably feel distraught. Keep in mind that communication is very important. Gently continue your efforts.
Show respect. Show that you understand and feel your relative’s pain. Build a relationship of trust in spite of what they are going through.
Don’t focus on food. Instead of focusing on what or how much food is eaten, the person’s appearance and weight, do your best to listen without judging. Listen to the emotional pain.
Praise: Appreciate the person’s creative potential and praise their personal strengths. Don’t belittle or make them feel worse than they already feel by pointing out their limitations. Give praise where it is due, especially for efforts, gains and accomplishments.
Show and tell the sufferer that you love them. Persist in this because many things are possible through love which has hidden strengths.
Encourage your dear one to seek help so that they can learn to manage their negative emotions.
Avoid discussions on diets or weight problems.
Discuss with them opportunities and sources of help.
Speak openly and sincerely about your own feelings, without making the person feel guilty that you are also suffering. Ask them how you can help.
Be a role model by eating a balanced diet and exercising.
Remember that it’s not your fault. Every time you work to rid yourself of negative emotions and sense of guilt churning inside you, you will be in a better position to act wisely to help your loved one.
Take care of yourself. Don’t obsess about your relative’s eating disorder. By doing that you risk not taking care of yourself or the other members of the family. Look for support for yourself too. You need to be strong to keep the family together.
How you can help during meal times
Ask them to go shopping with you and agree beforehand what to cook for the whole family.
During meal times, agree that none of you will argue about the amount of food on the plate, calories or fat content.
Avoid eating low calorie or diet food in front of them.
Do your best to maintain a positive and happy atmosphere.
Plan some cheerful activity after meals, such as a game or outing which may distract the from vomiting or doing strenuous exercise.
Don’t despair if things go wrong during meal times.
As a family member-carer of a mentally ill person, you can ask for help from the LWIEN service of the St Jeanne Antide Foundation. Phone in for an appointment. The LWIEN family consultations take place on Wednesdays and Fridays in Tarxien throughout the year and twice monthly on Saturdays in Ħaż-Żabbar. Before the appointment, take note of what you wish to discuss – things that worry you, what you think you are doing well, and any questions you would like to ask. It is a good idea to discuss these points with your relative before the appointment.
Remember: “Don’t ponder on what went wrong today but on what can get better tomorrow.” (Helen Keller)