Watching a family member deliberately starve themself is very distressing. Anorexia Nervosa is a complex eating disorder characterized by an obsessive fear of gaining weight, leading to severe restriction of food intake. It’s important to understand that anorexia is not just a diet gone wrong but a serious mental health issue. Individuals with anorexia often have a distorted body image, seeing themselves as overweight even when they are dangerously underweight. This disorder can have severe physical and psychological consequences, including malnutrition, heart issues, and increased risk of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
Family members may try daily to persuade the Anorexic to eat. Such interventions are unlikely to be successful which compounds the despair they feel.
Here are some practical tips for the family
- When discussing food eliminate talk of the person and focus on fact. For example, you could say: All living things need to eat (and not “You need to eat”); The dietician says…; Would you prefer to eat A, B, or C (i.e: the choice is about what to eat rather than whether to eat).
- Anorexics do nibble when not being watched. Leave small bowls of nuts, raisins, dried fruit, and even crisps lying around.
- If the anorexic is refusing to eat something on the grounds that it is fattening it is better than they eat something rather than nothing at all.
- Avoid talking about food at mealtimes and rather choose other topics.
The aim is to keep the Anorexic alive until a treatment intervention can be applied to restore rational thinking.
Consult with a specialist dietician or book your family member into a specialist eating disorder treatment program.
Anorexics are gripped by an illness that entrenches very irrational thinking. They may have unreasonable outbursts that are completely disproportionate. These perceived injustices can then be used as fuel to support the notion that the Anorexics needs are not being considered. Letting the rant flow past and waiting for a more rational mood is a good idea.
When you think that the time is appropriate to approach the Anorexic calmly. Don’t ignore the rant, make sure you discuss it when the Anorexic is less angry, guarded, and defensive.
Make it clear to the Anorexic that you love him/her as a person, but can’t tolerate the behavior.
The Family’s Role in Recovery
Families play a vital role in supporting a loved one with anorexia. Recovery is not just about eating more or gaining weight; it’s a complex journey that involves addressing the psychological aspects of the disorder. Family members can provide emotional support, encourage treatment, and create a non-judgmental and understanding environment. It’s important for families to educate themselves about the disorder, communicate openly, and avoid placing blame or guilt on the affected individual.
Effective communication is key when dealing with anorexia. Avoid focusing on weight or food during conversations. Instead, express your concerns in a loving and supportive manner. Encourage open discussions about feelings and emotions, and be patient, as individuals with anorexia may not be ready to talk or may find it difficult to express themselves. It’s important to listen actively and show empathy towards their struggles.
The home should be a safe and stress-free space for someone with anorexia. Avoid having discussions about diets, body weight, or body shape. Instead, focus on healthy eating habits without emphasising calorie counts or food restrictions. Be mindful of the language used around food and body image, and encourage activities that promote self-esteem and body positivity.
Encouraging Professional Help
Anorexia is a treatable condition, but professional help is often necessary. Encourage your loved one to seek treatment from specialists in eating disorders, including psychologists, nutritionists, and therapists. Treatment may involve a combination of nutritional counselling, therapy, and sometimes medication. Remember, early intervention can lead to better recovery outcomes
Living with a family member who has anorexia can be emotionally taxing. It’s important for family members to take care of their own mental health as well. Engage in self-care activities, consider family therapy, and seek support from groups for families of individuals with eating disorders. Learning relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, can help manage stress and maintain a calm environment.
Make sure that you learn some relaxation techniques and practice them as needed. There are several easy methods to relax that don’t need a lot of time, scented candles, or chanting.