Mental Health

How Are Family Members Affected by Eating Disorders?

How Are Family Members Affected by Eating Disorders?

People suffering from eating disorders go through intense pain and suffering. But they don’t go through this alone. Family member and friends also go through the pain. It is usually tough on someone to watch a loved one destroy themselves slowly when there is little they can do to help without forcing things, which does not help. In reality it is difficult to save people whose problem requires acknowledgement by and a change within the person himself. But one can always offer support, encouragement, and love. For a person to recover, first and foremost they themselves must want to get well and willingly accept the help available to them.

After learning that a family member has a problem, various feelings like fear, anger, guilt, and confusion are likely to be experienced. Parents and other family members should take time to get information and educate themselves about the eating disorder the loved one has. They should also understand what triggers the onset of the disorder. There are many resources that will assist families in getting to know the various physical and mental experiences that the individual is or will be experiencing. The process of helping the family member will be emotionally draining, frustrating, and scary.  

If you have a loved one who is suffering from an eating disorder, remember to be careful to stay balanced and not lose yourself, by taking time out and momentarily stepping back from the situation regularly. Engage in activities to help you relax such as watching movies, taking warm baths, etc. You might also want to get a therapist or join a support group to share with your feelings with and to gain valuable insights and helpful strategies from. To avoid getting overwhelmed, go away for the weekend. By taking time out to attend to your needs, you will be in a better situation and frame of mind to help your family member or friend who is suffering from an eating disorder.      

The 3 most known forms of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia nervosa – People with this disorder will always limit the quantity of food they eat, and they might even sometimes go without eating.
  • Binge eating – Persons with this disorder eat a lot of food within a very short period.
  • Bulimia nervosa – Bulimic individuals often find themselves eating food high in calories, but then induce themselves to vomit the food immediately after eating.

Eating disorders are very disruptive to both the person suffering from the disorder and to friends and family members. Do not blame yourself, for it doesn’t help the individual with the disorder. Remember that no one is responsible for its development. Blaming yourself will only cause you to feel worse. The best thing is to accept the problem by starting to work on it to help both the person and yourself in this period of recovery.


Families and Eating Disorder Development

A person’s family environs is sometimes blamed for causing a eating disorder. A family often contributes tremendously in the psychological and physical growth of a child. Values that have been instilled in a family greatly influence how a child learns to think about him- or herself. Two things that are useful in the treatment of an eating disorder are the enhancement of the sufferer's overall well-being and self-esteem.   

Some family atmospheres contribute to an eating disorder more than others, though no family would set out to develop such an atmosphere. Families that seldom eat together, are strict on diets, or rarely eat out provide environments favorable to the development of an eating disorder in its vulnerable members. Ironically, families in which healthy eating habits are practiced also sometimes have victims of eating disorder as well.

Parents who suppress their children's need to express their emotions may unknowingly indirectly trigger eating disorders. Mothers who are constantly critical and unhappy about their appearance or complain about other people's looks provide a very negative example to their children, especially if they are young girls.

While the family atmosphere may greatly influence whether an eating disorder develops in anyone in it, there are other factors that may also contribute. Therapy offered at an eating disorder treatment center often gets to the root cause of an individual’s eating disorder and assists them to manage life pressures. 


Causes of Eating Disorders

In what specific ways do parents or other members of a family inadvertently contribute to the triggering of an eating disorder? The following is a list of examples:

  • A rude comment coming from a parent about people with bad body shapes
  • Too much exposure to continuous dieting
  • Sexual abuse
  • Too much responsibility given to a child, i.e., assisting the parent emotionally
  • Divorce or an abusive relationship between the parents
  • Strictly sticking to healthy eating and forbidding unhealthy diets
  • Disapproval of a person's physical appearance
  • Too much exposure to TV, the internet, and other sources of imposed standards of acceptable or desired physical attributes 
  • Lack of love
  • High expectations of perfect behavior

Something notable to add to the above potential contributing circumstances is that eating disorders can occur as a result of certain genes found in one's parents. There are also high chances of a family member developing the eating disorder if there is one member suffering from the same. It is important for all family members who develop an eating disorder to get treatment.


How Eating Disorders Change Families

There are often many changes that occur when an eating disorder is developed by a family member. It usually becomes hard to maintain a balance. Too much focus is put on the disorder, causing a person to become overwhelmingly self-absorbed. Below are some emotions likely to be experienced by family members as a result of an eating disorder case in the family.  

  • Confusion
  • Worry
  • Disappointment
  • Guilt
  • Annoyance
  • Overprotectiveness
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Jealousy


How a Family Can Manage Eating Disorders

Malnutrition and Re-Feeding

Malnutrition has various destructive effects on the body and brain. This is true for all people, but when it comes to a developing child, proper nutrition is crucial. For parents who have a child whom they think has or is developing a eating disorder, it is imperative that the parents not give them time to decide whether to seek help, for it is something they will never do.   

The parents should try to talk to the child about it, but not let it not come as a surprise if they resist the idea of treatment or even accepting that there is something wrong in the first place.The parents will have to go against their child’s will for their own good, just as parents would for their child to get the necessary medical treatment in case of any physical illness or mental disorder.    

Parents are not the cause of eating disorders, but kids that have been through domestic abuse or other traumas are vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. It comes as a result of stress, abuse, or trauma triggered by the environment, but which are nonetheless not standalone reasons. Therefore, not all children that have been abused develop eating disorders and not all persons who have eating disorders have been abused.  

Overly controlling parents don’t cause eating disorders as earlier perceived nor are parents the cause of an eating disorder. Parents who have a child with an eating disorder need to get rid of guilty or shameful emotions early on and channel all this energy to a useful cause. They need to be positive and focus on the treatment and stop blaming themselves. Eating disorders are never anyone’s fault.


Family Therapy

Family therapy, which is mostly offered at disorder treatment centers, usually help equip families with the necessary information to adequately give all the support required to the member of the family with an eating disorder.

Dysfunction among family members is also discussed during family therapy. Arriving at solutions and sharing roles in the house can help to ease this dysfunction and reduce the stress that accompanies an eating disorder. Most treatment centers incorporate family therapy as well as other types of therapy.