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How family and friends can help with an eating disorder recovery

This blog has been produced by Priory Group’s Arthur House team. Arthur House is an innovative eating disorder service based in Wimbledon, which provides an alternative to traditional hospital treatment.

Healthy relationships are an essential part of life; the love, support and encouragement that we get from our friends and family help us to grow and develop.

However, these relationships can be put under strain when someone is dealing with an eating disorder. A person with the illness will often withdraw and isolate themselves.  At the same time, family members and friends can feel frustrated, confused and hopeless, not knowing what to do or where to turn.  

While eating disorders can test the relationships that a person has with their family and friends, these connections are valuable for someone dealing with such an illness.

Spotting the early signs of an eating disorder

Family and friends are often the first to notice the signs of deteriorating mental health and abnormal eating behaviours. They are typically also the first to ask for support, and to encourage the person with the eating disorder to take initial steps to seek treatment.

Having this strong support system can make a difference to whether someone actually does get appropriate treatment for their eating disorder and maintains their health afterwards.

Supporting a person during eating disorder treatment

When family and friends are integrated into a treatment programme, this can reassure the person with the eating disorder that they are loved and cared for. They come to understand that they are not alone, but have a strong support system, which includes people who want to see them get better and stay well.

At Priory’s Arthur House - our eating disorder service in Wimbledon – there is a dedicated family programme which includes educational workshops and practical food-based sessions. These give families the opportunity to build their confidence, as they learn about eating disorders, potential triggers, behavioural signs, strategies, and coping mechanisms.

Helping someone during their recovery journey

When a person is finishing their treatment, the thought of eating their first meal at home can be a daunting prospect. It can also be a stressful time for their family and friends, who may not know what to do, what to challenge, what is acceptable and what isn’t OK.

When family and friends participate in the treatment programme, this can equip them with the skills to effectively support the person as they return to home life and embark on their recovery. With treatment typically seen as the beginning rather than the end of this journey, a strong and knowledgeable support system is valuable. There will be times when the person becomes overwhelmed and feels threatened, and having their family and friends to offer care and support can give the person a greater opportunity to achieve a long lasting recovery from their eating disorder.

Reviewed by Rebecca Jennings (MSc ANutr), Dietician at Priory Arthur House  

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