Watching someone struggle with an eating disorder can be immensely stressful, scary, and frustrating. Because you care deeply about that person, you may find yourself taking on a caregiving role. *Keep in mind that it’s important for someone in recovery to also receive professional support—not only for their own benefit, but for your well-being, too! Sharing the responsibility of support is key to preventing burnout for everyone involved.
Whether you are a parent, sibling, cousin, grandparent, spouse or partner, friend, or teacher, you may not be sure how best to support your loved one. In every case, the cornerstone of caring for someone else is to first and consistently care for yourself.
When you rest, eat, work, and play in balanced ways, you model healthy living. When you treat yourself with kindness, especially in the face of challenges and mistakes, you inspire compassion and forgiveness in everyone around you.
Consider these 5 self-care tips, offered by eating disorder recovery specialists, who have learned firsthand that the way you treat yourself influences the individual in recovery.
- Embrace your mistakes. As human beings, we make mistakes. But even though this is a universal reality, mistakes often feel shameful. When we beat ourselves up about making mistakes, we cultivate disheartened attitudes and negative self-perception. But, as one Eating Disorder Specialist points out, mistakes are vital for healing and evolution: “Mistakes are how we learn and get better.” She encourages caregivers to normalize their own mistakes in front of their recovering loved one, especially if your mistake concerns their recovery process: “If you say or do something that hurts your recovering loved one, be honest and upfront with them. Acknowledge that you may have overreached or said something they didn’t want to hear. Just like those in recovery must continue on after making a mistake, we have to, too.” When you embrace your mistakes and speak about them candidly, you demonstrate the possibility for repair in all relationships and situations.
- Believe that change is possible. Most of us struggle at one point or another with an unhealthy habit. So we know how hard it can seem to change! In the beginning, at least. But it is always possible to change. Model for your recovering loved one how to overcome overwhelm and hopelessness, by taking small steps towards a change in your own life. One coach encourages caregivers to “show that ambivalence and worry are part of life—but we don’t have to get stuck in them. When you feel stuck, try to imagine, what could be different next time? How could you think about it in a new way?” Broadening our perspective in a challenging situation allows us to see, and start to take, the small steps that lead to change.
- Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion—offering yourself kindness and forgiveness, not criticism and judgment, especially in painful moments—is a powerful practice for peaceful living. And it is especially powerful for someone in recovery to witness others being kind to themselves—it’s the antithesis of the eating disorder’s voice. An eating disorder specialist who is devoted to her own daily practice of self-care follows these tenets: “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t judge yourself. Remember to really connect with yourself, to keep your spirit alive while doing the work of caregiving.” (Read more about self-compassion and eating disorder recovery here.)
- Continue to learn. Our minds and hearts crave new information. Furthermore, learning is how we grow as individuals and connect with others. Often the world of eating disorder recovery is new territory for everyone involve—consider reading what others in the field have written about it. A specialist encourages loved ones to follow their curiosity and instinct about what would be helpful to understand better: “There is so much support and knowledge that can be found.”
- Be patient. In our fast-paced, achievement-oriented culture, it is easy to feel impatient when things take longer than desired. As a caregiver, you may want to “fix” the suffering you see your loved one going through as soon as possible. You may feel like you’re not doing enough. But big picture progress benefits from patience and appreciation of all that is gained by going through the process—not just reaching the end goal. Take to heart what one specialist reminds herself: “We cannot help everybody, but we can try. It’s okay if things don’t resolve as fast as we want them to. Progress can be really slow. We have to remind our clients—and ourselves—that that is okay.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists can help. Call 1-866-525-2766 or fill out our contact form and someone will be in touch with you soon.