By Ava Dorrance
As a therapist, I often work with clients suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. I also have the opportunity to meet and speak with the loved ones of these individuals, including parents, spouses, friends, and siblings. Though eating disorders are incredibly hard on the people afflicted with them, they can also impose hardships on those supporting the victim. Often, friends and family do not know how to deal with issues related to eating disorders. They worry about making things worse or wonder how they can help.
The first thing that loved ones must realize is that they cannot control the person with the eating disorder. One cannot force an anorexic to eat or a bulimic to stop the binge-and-purge process. No amount of pressure or guilt imposed from an outsider will ever be enough to cause a person suffering from these illnesses to change course suddenly. What family and friends should provide is unconditional love. The victim needs you; he or she must feel supported and loved throughout this difficult process, not pushed away or belittled.
The process of overcoming these conditions can be long and tedious. Much like an addiction, these sorts of maladies generally linger beneath the surface for a lifetime, even after successful treatment. Those caring for a sufferer must be willing to stick by him or her for the long haul, understanding that the journey is long and relapse possible. No quick fix exists for eating disorders.
More than anything else, it is important to be there when your loved one needs someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Especially in the case of a parent whose child suffers from an eating disorder, support people themselves may find that they need some counseling of their own.