The Impact of an Eating Disorder on the Family

Everyone with an eating disorder experiences a tremendous amount of suffering and pain, but they are not the only ones victims as families and friends are victims too.Everyone who suffers with an eating disorder experiences a tremendous amount of suffering and pain, but they are not the only ones who suffer. Families and friends of these victims also experience their own personal pain. It is very difficult to watch someone who love slowly destroy themselves and feel helpless in trying to save them. Even though this may be difficult to accept, you cannot save that person. You can encourage, support and provide them with your unconditional love, but they need to want to save themselves. In order for someone to recover from an eating disorder, they have to want to recover and be willing to accept the help that is available to them. You cannot force someone to want to get better nor can you force them to accept help. Upon discovering that a family member or friend has an eating disorder, you will probably experience many different feelings and emotions such as confusion, anger, guilt and fear.

You may feel confused about why it happened, what to do next, where to go for help and how to approach this person. The best way to deal with confusion is to educate yourself about eating disorders. Read books, talk to a professional who knows about eating disorders, talk with people who are in a good recovery or who have recovered from their eating disorder, and try to speak with other families who are experiencing what you are.

Some people find themselves feeling angry towards themselves or the person suffering. You may be angry with yourself for not knowing about the problem sooner, for not preventing it from developing, and for not being able to fix the problem immediately. You may also feel angry with the person for not being able to stop the eating disorder behaviors and for continuing to abuse themselves. You may feel angry with the person for causing you pain and you may believe the person is doing this to hurt you. It is important that you find a way to deal with that anger. Remind yourself that the person is not doing this to hurt you, they are doing this to themselves. Becoming angry with the person will not help matters. It will probably only cause the person to feel worse, which will only enforce their belief that they are horrible and deserve to be punished or die. Keeping your anger inside will also not help you so it would be important for you to be able to talk about it. A friend, therapist, clergyman, or a support group for families are good places to talk about and deal with the anger you may feel.

Many people find themselves feeling guilty, especially parents, because they some how feel responsible for their family member developing an eating disorder. No one person is responsible for someone developing one. Blaming yourself will not help the person and it will only make you feel worse. It is best to accept that there is a problem and start working towards helping the person and yourself during the recovery process.

One emotion that many people experience is fear. You may be scared the person will do great damage to themselves or even die. It is normal to have such fears because eating disorders can be very destructive. If the person's health is in immediate danger, hospitalization may be necessary. It is best to try and have the person admitted on a voluntary basis, but sometimes the person is in such denial that they will not agree to medical attention. If that is the case, you may need to speak with your doctor or a lawyer about a forced hospitalization. I would only recommend that as a last resort. Dealing with all the fears you may experience is very difficult and it would be important for you to seek out support for yourself.

When helping a family member, I feel it is important to be positive and supportive. People with eating disorder have very low self-esteems and believe they are worthless. They need to know that you love them and that they are very important to you. They need to be made to feel worthy and know that you are on their side. Try not to spend time focusing on their behaviors or talking about it. Instead, try talking to them about how they feel inside. Eating disorders are only symptoms of other problems. The person needs to deal with how they feel inside and they need to talk. Assure them that they can come and talk to you and that you will be there for them and you will listen. Let them know that you will not abandon them and that you will be there for them whenever they need you.

It is important to remember that no matter how much you love this person and want to help, there is only so much that you can do. Trying to help someone can be frustrating, scary and emotionally draining. That is why it is important that you do not lose yourself in their problem. You need to remember that you are only human and that you have needs of your own. The recovery process can be long and you also need to take care of yourself during this time. Each day you should try and take time out for you to do something that you enjoy and something that helps you to relax. You may want to go for a walk by yourself, call a friend, soak in a hot bath, read a book or go for a drive. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is something for yourself. You may also wish to seek out the help from a therapist for yourself. Dealing with someone with an eating disorder is difficult and you may find it helpful to have a therapist who you can talk with about all the feelings that you are experiencing. If there is a support group in your town for families, you may want to join that. If there is not one, you might even want to think about starting one. It can be very helpful to speak with others who know and understand how you feel and what you are going through. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, try getting away for a weekend. It really is important that you never forget you have needs of your own. If you are able to take time out for yourself and your needs, you will be better able to help the family member that is suffering.

Never forget that no one is hopeless and eating disorders can be overcome. During the recovery process the person will experience periods of relapses, but that is to be expected. No one can recover from this overnight. It may take time and hard work, but eating disorders can be beaten.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 4). The Impact of an Eating Disorder on the Family, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Last Updated: January 14, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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