5 Ways Your Loved Ones Can Help During Recovery
One of the turning points in recovery is when you finally build the courage to ask a loved one for their help. Unfortunately, asking for help can be stressful and scary and sometimes, but trust me, building a support system is worth it. If you haven’t told someone about your eating disorder yet, I recommend that you reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Or, if that’s too scary for you right now, you could practice opening up about your eating disorder to a trusted and anonymous volunteer on the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (they’re great listeners)! But I digress.
When I was in recovery, I was scared to tell my friends and family about my behaviors because I didn’t want to worry or disappoint them. It was really difficult to have those conversations and let others in on my secret—I didn’t want them to know how bad it was, and I really didn’t want to admit that my eating disorder was a real thing.
The good news is that once I opened up about my struggles, everyone wanted to help! The bad news was, nobody knew exactly how to help and I sure and heck didn’t know what to ask of them! The thing is, eating disorders can be intimidating and perplexing to outsiders. In cases like this, it can be more useful to be specific in what you ask for help with, especially if it’s difficult for your loved ones to completely understand what you’re going through.
So, if you’re at the point where you’re looking to strengthen your support from others, here are a few things you could ask your loved ones to help you with.
1. Ask them to call therapists or set up doctor's appointments.
There is definitely a phenomenon out there in which people avoid scheduling doctor’s appointments. I am guilty of putting off these sorts of phone calls for weeks and weeks on end. Thankfully, my mom was able to find a helpful therapist for me who specialized in eating disorders. This was immensely helpful, and I know I wouldn’t have done this on my own.
2. Ask them to eat meals with you.
If you’re someone who skips meals or eats until you’re overly full, it may be useful to make lunch or dinner dates with someone who knows about your eating disorder. Just having someone sit with you and provide a supportive, empathetic environment can give you the courage to eat “normally” (behavior-free) and also avoid secret binge eating later (because you won’t be starving). If you end up engaging in behaviors during the meal with this person, just having them there as a judgment-free support can also be a transformational moment during recovery.
3. Ask them to be your “distraction” during strong urges.
When you sense an eating disorder behavior like binging or purging coming on, you may want to ask someone to be your “distraction” to break your fixation on the behavior so you do not engage in it. It would be useful to discuss a “distraction plan” with your friend or family member before the urge happens. This could be talking to you on the phone, going on a walk together, or maybe going to their place to watch Netflix. “Distraction plans” can be useful during various moments in recovery, but keep in mind that distractions allow you to avoid the feelings that cause the urge, which is not as helpful as sitting with your emotions and letting the urge pass. However, I personally believe that learning to “beat” your behaviors in any way possible, (including the use of distractions), can be motivating and empowering and prove that your “healthy self” truly does want to exist. It’s a baby step that illustrates your power is coming back.
4. Ask them for their patience.
Watching someone you love go through a difficult experience can be overwhelming and frustrating. It’s natural to want them to get better as fast as possible. For instance, wouldn’t you get frustrated if a friend of yours kept re-injuring their knee because they keep running even though the doctor tells them to rest? People will have similar frustrations with your recovery, especially since recovery has many highs and lows. Try to set their expectations by letting them know that recovery is not a linear process. Asking for their patience, and reminding them to have patience for you, will be a nice reminder that you’re working as best you can towards recovery, and that you plan to get there.
5. Ask them to talk to your therapist.
If you feel as though your loved ones are struggling to understand what you’re going through, ask them to talk to your therapist. This may relieve some communication stress on your end, and it may also provide your loved ones with answers to questions they’re nervous to ask you. Giving them permission to do this is a great way for them to discover new ways to help you and feel included in your recovery process.
Meg McCabe is a Life Coach and Eating Disorder Recovery Coach located in Boston, MA. She's fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia and works to help people heal their relationship with food and their body. Meg utilizes her platform to interview recovered survivors about their recovery journeys and raise awareness by having vulnerability and honest conversations about eating disorders. When Meg is not coaching, she's the Communities of HEALing Lead for the Boston Chapter of Project Heal, and a health educator at Boston Children's Hospital. In her free time Meg loves to dance, take care of her plants, and listen to podcasts. Visit her Website.