Helping an Adult Loved One With Binge-eating Disorder

Reviewed Nov 9, 2017

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Summary

  • Loved ones of adults with binge-eating disorder want to help but don’t know how.
  • Pushing an adult with binge-eating disorder to seek help can backfire.
  • There are nonthreatening ways to offer support.

“Helpless to help” is how you might feel if you have an adult friend or family member struggling with binge-eating disorder (BED). Of course you want to step in and do all you can to stop your loved one from harmful overeating. But, you must accept that you cannot control your loved one’s behavior or readiness to change. Seeking treatment is a choice only a person with BED can make. So, what can you do to support and encourage someone you care about without giving in to BED? Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about BED. Having a good understanding of BED and your loved one’s painful struggle with food will help you to know what to say and how to be supportive. Seeing BED as a real illness rather than a problem of willpower will help you to be compassionate and avoid making demands for change.
  • Avoid placing blame. You cannot pinpoint the cause of an eating disorder. And even if you could, placing blame is pointless. Directing anger or guilt at your loved one, at yourself, or others, does nothing to solve the problem.
  • Set boundaries. Think of the ways you have enabled BED to affect your life. Have you made excuses for your loved one’s behavior? Have you changed your routines or given up an activity you once enjoyed because of BED? Have you fought one too many times about overeating? Have you repeatedly allowed your loved one to direct feelings of anger or guilt at you? Setting limits you can control will help you provide the support your loved one needs while protecting the health of your relationship.
  • Voice gentle concern without demanding action. It’s OK to express concern about worrisome behaviors or moods. For example, “I noticed lots of food wrappers on the floor of your car. Have you thought about talking to someone?” Or, “The candy I bought for the kids’ class party is gone. Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” Statements like these gently bring the issue to light and give your loved one the freedom to decide how to respond.
  • Be present. People with BED often withdraw from friends and family because of shame and guilt. Being present conveys that you desire and value your loved one's company and that the eating disorder doesn’t change this.
  • Remind your loved one why she is special to you. For example, “I love being with you because you make me laugh.” Or, “You have such a beautiful voice—you’re so lucky to have such a great gift.” Comments like these make it clear that you admire and value your loved one for reasons other than appearance. This is especially important for people who struggle with body image and self-esteem.
  • Focus on what a healthy body can do; not on what a healthy body looks like. Most people with BED have issues with their weight and body shape, and many wish to lose weight. Although you want to encourage your loved one’s efforts to eat normally and healthily, keep in mind that good health has many dimensions and there are many reasons to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. People with BED are most likely to seek help when they are really sad, distressed about their weight, unhappy in their relationship, stressed out, or feeling badly in some other way. If your loved one opens up to you, be sure to validate these feelings. Although revisiting the same issues can be trying on your patience, recognize that such discussions may prompt your loved one to get help. Keep in mind that you can set limits over when these conversations take place and how they play out.

Resources

Binge Eating Disorder Association
http://bedaonline.com/

National Eating Disorders Association
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Talking to Eating Disorders: Simple Ways to Support Someone With Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, or Body Image Issues by Jeanne Albronda Heaton, PhD, and Claudia J. Strauss. New American Library, 2005; Binge Eating Disorder Association
Reviewed by Rose Marie Sime, MD, VP DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Loved ones of adults with binge-eating disorder want to help but don’t know how.
  • Pushing an adult with binge-eating disorder to seek help can backfire.
  • There are nonthreatening ways to offer support.

“Helpless to help” is how you might feel if you have an adult friend or family member struggling with binge-eating disorder (BED). Of course you want to step in and do all you can to stop your loved one from harmful overeating. But, you must accept that you cannot control your loved one’s behavior or readiness to change. Seeking treatment is a choice only a person with BED can make. So, what can you do to support and encourage someone you care about without giving in to BED? Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about BED. Having a good understanding of BED and your loved one’s painful struggle with food will help you to know what to say and how to be supportive. Seeing BED as a real illness rather than a problem of willpower will help you to be compassionate and avoid making demands for change.
  • Avoid placing blame. You cannot pinpoint the cause of an eating disorder. And even if you could, placing blame is pointless. Directing anger or guilt at your loved one, at yourself, or others, does nothing to solve the problem.
  • Set boundaries. Think of the ways you have enabled BED to affect your life. Have you made excuses for your loved one’s behavior? Have you changed your routines or given up an activity you once enjoyed because of BED? Have you fought one too many times about overeating? Have you repeatedly allowed your loved one to direct feelings of anger or guilt at you? Setting limits you can control will help you provide the support your loved one needs while protecting the health of your relationship.
  • Voice gentle concern without demanding action. It’s OK to express concern about worrisome behaviors or moods. For example, “I noticed lots of food wrappers on the floor of your car. Have you thought about talking to someone?” Or, “The candy I bought for the kids’ class party is gone. Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” Statements like these gently bring the issue to light and give your loved one the freedom to decide how to respond.
  • Be present. People with BED often withdraw from friends and family because of shame and guilt. Being present conveys that you desire and value your loved one's company and that the eating disorder doesn’t change this.
  • Remind your loved one why she is special to you. For example, “I love being with you because you make me laugh.” Or, “You have such a beautiful voice—you’re so lucky to have such a great gift.” Comments like these make it clear that you admire and value your loved one for reasons other than appearance. This is especially important for people who struggle with body image and self-esteem.
  • Focus on what a healthy body can do; not on what a healthy body looks like. Most people with BED have issues with their weight and body shape, and many wish to lose weight. Although you want to encourage your loved one’s efforts to eat normally and healthily, keep in mind that good health has many dimensions and there are many reasons to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. People with BED are most likely to seek help when they are really sad, distressed about their weight, unhappy in their relationship, stressed out, or feeling badly in some other way. If your loved one opens up to you, be sure to validate these feelings. Although revisiting the same issues can be trying on your patience, recognize that such discussions may prompt your loved one to get help. Keep in mind that you can set limits over when these conversations take place and how they play out.

Resources

Binge Eating Disorder Association
http://bedaonline.com/

National Eating Disorders Association
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Talking to Eating Disorders: Simple Ways to Support Someone With Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, or Body Image Issues by Jeanne Albronda Heaton, PhD, and Claudia J. Strauss. New American Library, 2005; Binge Eating Disorder Association
Reviewed by Rose Marie Sime, MD, VP DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Loved ones of adults with binge-eating disorder want to help but don’t know how.
  • Pushing an adult with binge-eating disorder to seek help can backfire.
  • There are nonthreatening ways to offer support.

“Helpless to help” is how you might feel if you have an adult friend or family member struggling with binge-eating disorder (BED). Of course you want to step in and do all you can to stop your loved one from harmful overeating. But, you must accept that you cannot control your loved one’s behavior or readiness to change. Seeking treatment is a choice only a person with BED can make. So, what can you do to support and encourage someone you care about without giving in to BED? Here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about BED. Having a good understanding of BED and your loved one’s painful struggle with food will help you to know what to say and how to be supportive. Seeing BED as a real illness rather than a problem of willpower will help you to be compassionate and avoid making demands for change.
  • Avoid placing blame. You cannot pinpoint the cause of an eating disorder. And even if you could, placing blame is pointless. Directing anger or guilt at your loved one, at yourself, or others, does nothing to solve the problem.
  • Set boundaries. Think of the ways you have enabled BED to affect your life. Have you made excuses for your loved one’s behavior? Have you changed your routines or given up an activity you once enjoyed because of BED? Have you fought one too many times about overeating? Have you repeatedly allowed your loved one to direct feelings of anger or guilt at you? Setting limits you can control will help you provide the support your loved one needs while protecting the health of your relationship.
  • Voice gentle concern without demanding action. It’s OK to express concern about worrisome behaviors or moods. For example, “I noticed lots of food wrappers on the floor of your car. Have you thought about talking to someone?” Or, “The candy I bought for the kids’ class party is gone. Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” Statements like these gently bring the issue to light and give your loved one the freedom to decide how to respond.
  • Be present. People with BED often withdraw from friends and family because of shame and guilt. Being present conveys that you desire and value your loved one's company and that the eating disorder doesn’t change this.
  • Remind your loved one why she is special to you. For example, “I love being with you because you make me laugh.” Or, “You have such a beautiful voice—you’re so lucky to have such a great gift.” Comments like these make it clear that you admire and value your loved one for reasons other than appearance. This is especially important for people who struggle with body image and self-esteem.
  • Focus on what a healthy body can do; not on what a healthy body looks like. Most people with BED have issues with their weight and body shape, and many wish to lose weight. Although you want to encourage your loved one’s efforts to eat normally and healthily, keep in mind that good health has many dimensions and there are many reasons to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s feelings. People with BED are most likely to seek help when they are really sad, distressed about their weight, unhappy in their relationship, stressed out, or feeling badly in some other way. If your loved one opens up to you, be sure to validate these feelings. Although revisiting the same issues can be trying on your patience, recognize that such discussions may prompt your loved one to get help. Keep in mind that you can set limits over when these conversations take place and how they play out.

Resources

Binge Eating Disorder Association
http://bedaonline.com/

National Eating Disorders Association
www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

By Christine Martin
Source: Talking to Eating Disorders: Simple Ways to Support Someone With Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating, or Body Image Issues by Jeanne Albronda Heaton, PhD, and Claudia J. Strauss. New American Library, 2005; Binge Eating Disorder Association
Reviewed by Rose Marie Sime, MD, VP DABPN, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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