Regional Outreach Manager of Florida Terina Lopez was honored to speak with a mother who shared her first-hand experience and perspective of how an eating disorder can impact the individual and the family.
What behaviors should families be aware of within the home and at meals? What are the warning signs your loved one has an eating disorder?
JR: Your loved one may show different physical and emotional signs; for example, he or she may begin dieting or eating less, experience symptoms such as weak skin, thin hair and an inability to combat physical illness; or she may appear sad or withdrawn with increased feelings of anxiety or judgement toward herself. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that the signs and symptoms can and will be different for every person; there is no specific behavior to look for, only a change in behaviors.
What was helpful in getting your loved one to commit to treatment?
JR: Remember you don’t have to do it all by yourself; work with your support systems, family, friends, and treatment teams to gain support and assistance in explaining the need for treatment to your loved one.
Other general words of advice include: Try to understand how your loved one is feeling. Listen. Attempt to explain the process and what is happening through different means; for example, our family doctor showed my daughter a picture of a healthy brain and one of an individual struggling with anorexia. This process allowed her to hear the facts, see the decompensation, and understand the need for treatment.
What was successful in treatment (i.e. family therapy, phone calls from clinical team, family Friday)?
JR: Family therapy, on the phone and in person, was pivotal in my daughter’s recovery. It allowed us to work on our communication while she was in treatment, and allowed us to prepare for and better manage the transition of her leaving treatment.
What advice would you give parents whose loved one is in treatment?
JR: Go to your own therapy. Educate yourself. Understand what the disease is, what is looks like, how to treat it, how to work with and communicate with those struggling with an eating disorder.
What support do parents need/do you suggest they get while their child is in treatment?
JR: Take care of yourself. Go to your own therapy because it is so difficult to go through this process. There can also be problems in other areas of the family; remember the eating disorder serves a purpose that can be keeping the family together or driving the family apart. You need to understand the entire family unit and how it has been affected and the role the eating disorder has played within your family. I recommend individual, couples, and family therapy, with a therapist who is knowledgeable about eating disorders, for all involved.
To read the first post in this series, visit here.
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