Taking care of someone with an eating disorder can be physically and emotionally exhausting. There’s no shame in taking time out or seeking your own support network – you can’t take care of someone if you’re not well yourself. Below are some issues you might encounter and how to deal with them, and some ways to take care of your own wellbeing.
Eating disorders can make people behave in ways that seem out of character. They may become withdrawn, and you may need to go to more effort than usual to make them feel included and stop them from isolating themselves. While early treatment is always the best option and will give the sufferer the best chance of getting completely better, this can be upsetting and frightening, and they may try to resist it. Before and during treatment, emotional or aggressive outbursts and hurtful comments or responses to your attempts to help aren’t uncommon, especially when the person feels challenged – remember this is not them but the eating disorder speaking. There are some things that you can keep in mind to make these times more manageable and avoid escalating the situation.
Eating disorders and mental illnesses in general are surrounded by stigma and misconceptions. This may make telling people that someone close to you is suffering more difficult. Depending on your relationship to the person you’re caring for, you might find it impacts your work, studies, or social life. Having solid and dependable relationships with people who can support you is important.
You may not need to explain the exact nature of the illness to people, especially if they’re not going to come into contact with the sufferer themselves. Where you do need to talk about the eating disorder specifically, the information on our website may help the person you’re talking to understand more about eating disorders.
Once people are aware of the situation, you might find they have questions about your wellbeing and that of the person with the eating disorder. You could ask someone else to keep people updated if this becomes difficult for you. If there are people who want to help but whose close involvement is not appropriate, you could ask for their help with day-to-day tasks.
If you’re receiving unwanted questions or offers of help in dealing with the eating disorder, explain that what you need from them is their understanding and their continued friendship and support.
Support groups let you talk to others in similar situations. Beat currently runs online support groups for those caring for people with eating disorders, and there may be an in-person support group in your area. Visit HelpFinder to find out about local support groups in your area, or check out Beat's support services.
If you’re caring for someone full-time, it’s vital to set aside time for yourself. This may be somewhere that friends and family can help. If you’re sharing primary care responsibilities with someone else, you could take it in turns to have some time off. If there’s no one around to take over your role, a carers’ organisation such as the Carers Trust might be able to help. You can see their details below.
British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists
Search for therapists in your area. Visit www.itsgoodtotalk.org.uk.
An NHS service for carers. Visit www.nhs.uk/carersdirect or call their helpline on 0300 123 1053.
A charity offering support to carers. Visit www.carers.org.
A charity supporting carers. Visit www.carersuk.org or call their helpline on 0808 808 7777.
A charity offering support to children and young people, including young carers. Visit www.childline.org.uk or call their helpline on 0800 1111.
Citizens Advice Bureau
For enquiries about legal rights and responsibilities, benefits for carers, and financial advice. Visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.
Contains information about support services, both your rights and those of the person you’re supporting, and more on the laws that may be relevant to you. Visit www.gov.uk.
Information and support for anyone affected by mental health issues. Visit www.mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
The NICE guidelines on the treatment the person you’re caring for is entitled to. Visit www.nice.org.uk.
Information on eating disorders and other mental and physical health issues, different treatment options, and local services. Visit www.nhs.uk.
Information and support for anyone affected by mental health issues. Visit www.rethink.org or call 0300 5000 927.
A charity supporting young people who are self-harming, which can sometimes occur alongside an eating disorder. Visit www.selfharm.co.uk.