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Helping A Loved One Through Anorexia Treatment

by Bonnie Gordon

When a loved one is diagnosed with anorexia, you may feel a mixture of emotions. You're sad that they're struggling with such a serious condition. You're probably quite worried about them, and you might even be a bit angry that they can't see themselves the way you see them. It's not always easy to know how to be there for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, but wanting to help is a great first step. Here are some additional ways you can help and support a loved one who is going through anorexia treatment.

Back up the doctors.

When patients with anorexia first begin treatment, they will often see doctors as their enemies. They may talk to you and others close to them about all the "horrible" things the doctors make them do — like stick to a certain meal plan. It can be tempting to agree with your loved one as you attempt to sympathize with them, but it's best to try not to do this. Instead, reassert that you and the doctor just want what's best for them. You're on their side, but so is the doctor. Always back up and support the doctor's advice. Never help your loved one engage in unhealthy habits.

Listen to them.

While you should be careful not to contradict the doctors, you should still take the time to listen to your loved one. If you sense they are starting to open up and really talk to you, then make sure you are open and willing to hear what they have to say. Don't jump in. Don't correct them. One of the things patients learn in anorexia treatment is how to be more open and express their feelings in a healthy way, so you want to be there to support this change.

Go to family therapy sessions.

Many anorexia treatment programs have family therapy sessions as a part of the protocol. If you're family, you should certainly attend these sessions. If you're a close friend, ask the treatment center if you can still attend; close friends are often welcome. In these sessions, you'll learn a little more about eating disorders, how to better connect with your loved one, and how to empathize with them in a healthier way.

When a loved one is in treatment for anorexia, it is only natural that you'll want to help. While you can and should leave most of the treatment to the doctors and therapists, you can also be there for your friend in the ways described above.