Carers Corner

Carers Corner

What can carers do?

You may not know what you can do to help at the moment, but you play a vital role in helping your loved one to recover from an eating disorder. Many people do make a full recovery from eating disorders and they say that the people closest to them helped in a way that cannot be put into words- just being there for them can be extremely important. Noone recovers from an eating disorder on their own, and carers form part of the team which will help them.

Your son/partner/friend may have already told you that they are having difficulties with eating. If they haven't been able to talk about it yet, the list below gives you some approaches that can help:

  • If you haven't done so, try to discuss your worries in a calm way, rehearsing what you want to say beforehand. Confrontation is not going to achieve anything
  • If two or more of you are worried about the person, make sure you agree on your approach beforehand. If you don't agree about how serious the problem is, the person might sense this
  • Choose a time when you are all as relaxed as possible. Mealtimes are the worst time to talk about it!
  • Be firm but be gentle. They may feel that you are 'ganging up' on them
  • Give them a chance to respond to what you say so that they feel they are not being lectured
  • Summarise what they say: 'I think you said that.. Have I got this right? This can help keep things clear for everybody
  • Do not be surprised if they deny everything you say
  • However persuasive you are, do not expect that they will start eating normally again

When you first raise the issue, you may not get anywhere, and this may leave you feeling very frustrated. It may take several attempts, but don't give up. If your loved one/friend is an adult who no longer lives with you, it can be harder to have this kind of discussion; they may will feel even more determined to hide the problem if they feel their privacy is being invaded. There are no hard and fast rules but in general, try to respect their rights whilst explaining your concerns.

One eating disorder sufferer commented that; "the worst thing my parents did was to make comments about my eating in front of other people. It really didn't help when they kept offering me food, saying 'Go on, just have a little bit!' Logically, I knew that eating would resolve the whole situation, but it was the one thing I couldn't do".

Why can't you eat something?

Someone who has been starving themselves may firmly believe one or all of the following:

  • I don't deserve to eat
  • Not eating is the only thing I'm good at
  • I will get fat after only a mouthful
  • If I start eating, I won't be able to stop
  • If I put on any weight I am a failure
  • If I put on weight nobody will love me

Eating disorders are particularly difficult to understand and are very emotive. Food is not simply food any longer. This is why filling the fridge with treats, or cooking somebody their favourite meal is not going to help; they will feel bullied/angry/afraid to eat because they are extremely afraid of putting on weight. They may feel fat even if they put on just a few ounces. Someone with Anorexia or Bulimia may dislike having any food inside them at all because it makes them feel 'dirty' or 'bloated'; they may prefer to feel 'clean' and/or 'empty'. They may fear that even the smallest amounts of food will lead to huge weight gain and if someone is very thin, the smallest weight gain will be noticeable to them.

Try not to keep laxatives, diuretics or slimming tablets in the house as they may be used to purge after eating. Eating disorders do cause constipation and indigestion and it will seem unkind to resist requests for laxatives, but a person who suffers from anorexia or bulimia may not be able to use such medication safely. You might be relieved if they ask to join Weight Watchers because this is a safe way of controlling weight, but this is a bad idea. Slimming clubs are not professionals trained to understand and manage the behaviour of someone who has a distorted relationship with food. Also be aware that if a sufferer suggests that other people join them on their 'diet', there is a strong possibility it may develop into an unhealthy competition.

Over-exercising

It can be dangerous for someone with low weight to exercise strenuously. A loved one with an eating disorder may beg you to let them stay on the school athletics team, or become upset if you refuse to take them to the swimming pool for example; but over-exercise is another way in which to burn off the calories taken in by eating. Exercise can be a positive thing in everyday life but for someone with an eating disorder they may not have the control to excercise moderately. If you have to refuse exercise or monitor it, it may help to clearly explain that this is because you don't want to help them to put their long-term health at risk.

The best approach is to let them know that you are aware that they are over-exercising, and that this is dangerous. Try not to be too critical, because they may feel compulsed to do so. Remember that they feel driven to do this because they are desperate not to feel or look fat. If you are able to discuss why they need to exercise so much, or how it makes them feel, this may help you to understand their perspective and may also help them see and feel that you are on their side.

Why getting angry does not help

Feelings of disbelief, frustration, fear and even anger are all common and natural feelings when living with a loved one who has an eating disorder. These are normal human responses, so try not to blame yourself for them. Talk to someone (a support group, for example) rather than bottling things up; look after your own mental health. Remember that no one chooses an eating disorder out of spite, but rather because it seems impossible to live in any other way. A small part of the sufferer may be aware of the damage they are doing to themselves, and feel scared by this. They are going to feel unable to express these fears if they feel criticised or threatened.

A few donts:

  • Don't believe that if you worry yourself every minute of the day you will be able to cure them
  • Don't try to take control and cope for them
  • Don't suffer the pain with them - it makes it harder for them to cope
  • Try for different approaches to try and 'get through' to the sufferer i.e. write a letter rather than blowing your top. This allows a cooling down period. Remember the encouragement that you give now is not wasted but may be stored up by the sufferer and used at a late date to fight the illness.

Instead:

  • Tell the sufferer "I'm with you and here for you whenever you need me".

"See me for who I am, not for what I have"

The symptoms of eating disorders can sometimes be so alarming that it can be easy to forget that there is still a person behind them. But (as much as you can) try to have normal conversations involving their interests and opinions, so that they feel that their eating disorder is not the most important thing about them. If somebody is severely ill, this will be very difficult, but it is worth trying. It can be helpful to separate the disorder from the person, so that is clear that the behaviour makes you angry, rather than the person. If you can say things like; "we love you very much but I don't like it when the bulimia makes you steal food'", "We all love you but we are worried because the anorexia makes you over-exercise", it is explicit that you are fighting the same enemy, rather than each other.

Look after yourself too!!

Make time for yourself, your friends and other family members. If you are feeling overwhelmed you will be unable to support your loved one in the way they need, so make time to do the things that make you happy and help you relax.

You are NEVER alone, feel free to contact The Laurence Trust on facebook, through e-mail to thelaurencetrust@hotmail.co.uk or phone 07510 371 335 everyday between 6-9pm and have a look at other support organisations in your local area in our getting help section.

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Laurence Trust TeamThe Laurence Trust is made up of a team of passionate people from a range of age groups and backgrounds, who share a dedication to supporting men with eating disorders and their loved ones.
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