When your child, partner, or good friend is in treatment for binge eating disorder, you want to do everything you can to support them. With some thoughtful planning, you can learn to talk to your loved one and become the best caregiver you can be.
Don’t Blame Yourself
You didn't cause the eating disorder. It could have happened to anyone -- in any family. Don't blame yourself. Also don't blame your loved one. They didn't ask to have an eating disorder. Just show that you understand what they are going through, and let them know you'll be there to help them get well.
Have an Open Mind
It can be hard to understand why your loved one binges. You might feel anger about the behavior, or frustration that you can't stop it. Know that the person already feels a lot of guilt or shame. Don't add to those negative feelings. Try to stay calm. Listen with an open mind. Ask what you can do to help. Be compassionate, and do your best to understand how they are feeling.
Be an Active Part of Treatment
If your child is in recovery, you'll likely go along to doctor's visits. You can also offer to go if the person is your partner or friend. In between appointments, stay in touch with doctors, dietitians, and other members of the team to make sure treatment is going as planned. Encourage the person to go to every therapy session, take all medicine as directed, and follow the doctor's advice. Go to family support groups and therapy meetings. When you are involved in treatment, you increase the chance that the person will succeed.
Take Charge of Eating
Keep only healthy foods in the house. Serve regular meals at the same times each day. Watch out for places and situations where bingeing might happen, like parties or trips to the mall.
Set a Good Example
Be a good role model for your child or partner. Eat three nutritious, well-balanced meals a day. Try not to overeat or diet, both of which can send the wrong message to the person with binge eating disorder. Never make comments about their weight or body shape.
Make sure everyone in the house -- including parents and siblings -- is on board with the treatment and willing to help see it through. Try not to argue about the eating disorder -- especially in front of the person who has it.
Don't Give Up
Binge eating disorder isn't cured in a day. It can take time for people with this condition to realize they have a problem and agree to get treatment. Be patient, but firm. Offer your support again and again, even if it's rejected. Don't take no for an answer.
Talk to Your Loved One
It’s understandable to be afraid the person will get upset or mad if you try to talk to them. Maybe you aren’t sure you have the right words. As long as you're thoughtful about what you say and how you say it, it's OK to have the conversation. Some dos and don’ts can help:
Don’t say: “We need to talk right now.” Talk to your loved one when they are ready and willing. Choose to chat in a place where they feel comfortable -- for example, at home instead of in public. It’s best to avoid places where food is involved, such as a restaurant.
Don’t say: “You have to get help.” Your loved one might not be ready to get help -- or even admit that they have a problem. It’s up to them to decide they want to get better. Let them know that you’ll support them if and when they want help. One way to do this is to avoid “you statements.” For example, “You’re eating too much,” or “You’re worrying me.” Instead, use “I statements” -- “I’m worried about you. I'm here if you want to talk.”
Don’t say anything about weight. Never mention your loved one’s weight, regardless of whether they look thinner, heavier, or the same as usual. Even statements that you mean as positive (“You look just fine!”) can be misunderstood and viewed as criticism. Plus, worries about weight or dieting can make a person more likely to have a binge. That’s why it’s important not to discuss your own weight or eating habits in front of them, too.
Don’t say anything about food choices. Even if your loved one is trying not to binge or has recovered from binge eating disorder, it’s not up to you to criticize, praise, or judge their food choices. Leave that up to their therapist, dietitian, or treatment team. Binge eating disorder isn’t just about food. It’s a mental illness. Getting better involves much more than “not overeating.”
Don’t say: “But you seem fine.” What if your loved one isn't overweight? Or what if they don't behave in ways that seem unhealthy to you? They can still have an eating disorder. Chances are your loved one doesn’t overeat in front of you, since most people with binge eating disorder binge in secret. Saying or implying they are fine can make it seem like you don’t think they need or should get help.
But do say:
- “I care about you.”
- “I want you to be happy and healthy.”
- “I’m here for you when you need me.”
- “I’m going to support you through this.”
- “I won’t share what you tell me with anyone else without your permission.”
- “I won’t judge you.”
Also, remember: Sometimes the best thing you can do to support someone with binge eating disorder is to listen, not talk.
Care for Yourself
Caring for someone with binge eating disorder can be stressful and overwhelming. One study found that more than half of those who cared for a person with an eating disorder had anxiety. Nearly a third had depression. To avoid caregiver burnout, make time to do things you love. Take walks, get a massage, or go to the movies to give yourself a break. You'll return to your caregiving role with renewed energy and optimism.
Join a support group for the parents of children with eating disorders, where you can learn from other people who are going through the same experience. You can find caregiver workshops and support groups through these eating disorders organizations:
- Binge Eating Disorder Association: bedaonline.com/get-help/find-help/
- Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders: feast-ed.org/ForParentsandCaregivers.aspx
- National Eating Disorders Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support