The Important Role of a Support Person in Eating Disorder Treatment

13 Oct, 2020

Anyone, at any time, can become a carer. While carers of people with eating disorders are often parents, they can also be a grandparent, sibling, partner, friend, flatmate, co-worker or any other person supporting someone with an eating disorder. The role of a support person can take many forms.

InsideOut asked several carers about the role of support people in eating disorder treatment and here are some of the things they told us.

Should support people be included in treatment?

Yes, absolutely! The role of a support person is unique and extremely important to support recovery.

To what degree a support person is involved in treatment is determined by several factors, such as the age of the person with the eating disorder and the type of treatment they are receiving.

What is my role in treatment?

Some of the things a support person might do for their loved one:

  • Support them to attend appointments
  • Provide a safe and non-judgmental space to support recovery
  • Help them to find the best information
  • Provide insight into their progress at home - to them and/or to health professionals
  • Support them at mealtimes to cope with their distress
  • Help them negotiate treatment options
  • Offer practical support (e.g. help with shopping or cooking, provide a distraction when they’re distressed, give reminders about medications). 
  • Do enjoyable things together, away from food and conversations about food 
  • Give encouragement and perspective
  • Help them financially so that they can afford treatment

What should I know about providing support?

Everyone is different and unique when it comes to what they find helpful or unhelpful, so open communication and collaboration is key.

Having an open conversation with your loved one about what they might find helpful from you, and what you think you can offer, will mean you are both on the same page about your role in their care.

What if I can only offer limited support?

Whatever your capacity to offer support, you can help to make the person with an eating disorder feel that they are cared about and supported. Your support can contribute to making your loved one feel less alone, which means they will feel less anxious and distressed than they would have otherwise.

"Look after yourself as you are crucial for your loved one’s recovery" - carer

What else can I do?

Learn as much as you can. Read, talk to experts, be curious, ask questions and don't be afraid to speak up. Check out these resources.

Remember that the eating disorder is not who they are, but something they are experiencing. Helping your loved one to stay connected to who they truly are during this process is important for both of you. Your insight into who your loved one is - outside of the eating disorder - can be helpful to share with their treating team too. 

Look after yourself! It is common for support people to put their own needs last, but it is really important to look after your own mental and physical wellbeing, in order to continue to be a good support to those you care about.

What advice would you give to someone who’s loved one is experiencing and eating disorder?

  • Whatever you do, do not neglect your own physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Do not blame yourself, never give up hope, do not judge.
  • Be flexible to your loved ones needs. It's not one size fits all.
  • Seek lived experience support for yourself - no one really knows what you are living with and through except those who have been there.
  • You will get many unhelpful comments and judgements from people who don’t understand (sometimes even from medical professionals), but know that you are doing the best you can in an extremely stressful situation, that only others who are going through it will truly understand. It is a very, very long process - make sure you get self-care time so you can continue to support your loved one.
  • Look after yourself as you are crucial for your loved one’s recovery
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