Your Role as Carer

Supporting you to support your loved one

A carer is anyone supporting an individual with an eating disorder. A parent, sibling, partner, best friend, grandparent, health professional, school counsellor, chaplain or other significant person. 

Family members and carers play a key role in supporting a loved one’s recovery journey. Increasing your understanding about eating disorders, learning new skills and strategies around communication, managing your own emotions and expectations, can assist you in effectively supporting your loved one.

If you are interested in attending a skills-based workshop, Eating Disorders Queensland runs Fostering Recovery workshops throughout the year. For more information on these workshops, click here. This workshop is based on Janet Treasure’s Skill-Based Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder (Second Edition) book, which you can purchase here .

  • Establishing a treatment team
    When searching for a treatment team (therapist, GP, Dietitian etc.), it is important to keep in mind that both you and the person you are caring for feel comfortable. If there appears to be no progress, or your loved is not connecting with their treatment team, maybe a different approach is required or a different therapist/ specialist.
  • Carer Support Group or Phone Support
    You may also wish to join a carer support group or access telephone peer support. Find contact numbers by contacting us. Or for further information on EDQ’s Carer Connect Group, click here.
  • Support Network
    Consider talking with the important people in your life around ways they can support you and your loved one, and where they can go if they would like more information.
  • Talk about your role
    It is helpful to have an open conversation around what support your loved one may find helpful. This will vary depending on the age of your loved one and the stage of recovery they are at. Consider the timing of this conversation and try to make it away from meal times.
  • Pick your battles
    Don’t feel you need to respond to every eating disorder occurrence. Choose what’s worth discussing and what’s worth letting go of. Recovery can be a long process and it’s important to maintain relationships and perspective.
  • If you make a mistake
    Navigating conversations with a person struggling with an eating disorder can be difficult and frustrating. Don’t be discouraged if you make a mistake or if what you have communicated has not been well received. It’s easy to become emotional and say things you regret. For helpful tips on communication approaches, see Chapter 8 – Communication Styles of Skills-based Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder by Janet Treasure, available for purchase here.
  • See also: How to have a conversation

The role of additional ‘social support carers’ may be different than providing meal support.

Often members of extended family (e.g. grandparent) and friends can take on the role of social support. This means doing enjoyable activities with your loved one. Choose things to do that they used to enjoy – away from meals and the stress that goes with eating.

Being preoccupied with enjoyable activities, that help them to feel good about themselves, can be highly valuable for the path to recovery and can reduce isolation.

Eating disorders tend to be very socially isolating and undermining of self-confidence.

Just spending time with people who love and accept them can be helpful.

Meal Times

The lead up to, during and after meal times can be challenging – physically, psychologically and emotionally – for those with an eating disorder. It can also be frustrating and difficult for the carer/support person.  

If your loved one is under weight, they generally need to eat more than the average person to get their body back to being healthy.

Ask them how they want help

Discuss what would help with the person you care about.

Seek an expert

Find an experienced eating disorder therapist and/ or dietitian.

The three of you can create a clear plan of what is to be eaten, in what timeframe and what support the person wants during this time.

Be present

Try to have someone with them during all meal times. Your loved one may find different stages of meal times more challenging. Discuss this with the person and identify if there are specific times that they may need additional support. 

Shopping & preparation

Can be challenging for those with an eating disorder. Ask what assistance they would like with food shopping or preparation.

Post meal

Often a very difficult time for the person with an eating disorder.

Ask your loved one what activity or distractions they would find useful after the meal to help manage feels of distress (e.g. playing board games, watching TV, reading a book, listening to music etc.).

If you are interested in FREE online meal support training, Eating Disorders Queensland and Queensland Eating Disorder Service (QuEDS) are seeking Carers to be apart of The Shared Table pilot project from the end of January 2020. For more information, click here.

Siblings have unique relationships with each other and when one of your siblings is living with an eating disorder, it can effect you and your family. 

You may experience a variety of different thoughts and emotions and may feel sad, confused and question what is happening. All of these emotions are normal and it is important to know that you are not alone and that support is available.

You may notice a shift in family dynamics as your sibling receives the emotional and practical support they require with treatment and recovery. This may lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, confusion and sometimes conflict.

Your sibling’s eating disorder may have changed the relationships that you once had and you may have questions about recovery. It is important to know that no one is to blame for the development of an eating disorder, and that recovery for your sibling is possible.

Read More: Visit the Eating Disorders Victoria website for more information and 10 tips on supporting your sibling towards recovery (and looking after yourself). Or, if you would like to discuss your situation in more details, contact Eating Disorders Queensland here, and speak to a Carer Coach.

The Carer Peer Mentor Program follows a strengths based model which utilises a Mentor’s lived experience of caring for someone with an eating disorder and learnt skills to support other carers. The Carer Peer Mentor Program is designed to connect carers who have “walked the walk” (Mentors) with carers who are currently supporting a loved one (Mentee). Carer Mentees may be at the start of their journey, or just in need of a friendly voice, practical support and encouragement.

For further information on EDQ’s Carer Peer Mentor Program, visit here.

It is important to raise awareness about carer fatigue and coping strategies that family members and carers can use for self-support.

Eating Disorders Queensland’s Vodcast on Carer Fatigue:

Download the accompanying e-page here.

The Butterfly Foundation has completed research to develop a deeper understanding about the experience of Carers caring for someone with an eating disorder. Read the full report here.

On Video

What is an Eating Disorder? Video Playlist

Assistance for carers, and understanding your role.

View playlist on YouTube here

Additional Readings

Researchers identify first genes linked to anorexia nervosa

Researchers identify first genes linked to anorexia nervosa

September 19, 2019

See: Source Article I feel deeply emotional about this week’s announcement on genetic discovery. For a start, contributing a DNA sample to this ground-breaking research led by Professor Cynthia Bulik has helped me and thousands of others to feel that our lives and illness experience count. We want to ease suffering of others. Participating in … Read More

Read More Here
Family Involvement in the Recovery Process

Family Involvement in the Recovery Process

February 23, 2017

Eating disordered behavior reflects a dysfunctional relationship with the self. Family Involvement cannot “fix” the eating disordered individual. It is a unique combination of heredity, environment, culture, and conditioning that cause eating disorders to develop.

Read More Here
5 Ways To Help A Partner With An Eating Disorder

5 Ways To Help A Partner With An Eating Disorder

August 6, 2015

Wrestling with an eating disorder can be a lonely endeavor. People coping with eating disorders often feel alone and misunderstood, and it doesn’t help that we live in a society that champions a certain body type above all others.

Read More Here

Publications

Skill-Based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder (The New Maudsley Method)
Janet Treasure, Grainne Smith and Anna Crane

The Maudsley Approach has captured typical feelings and actions of carers – and what an ideal mindset and strategy for you as a carer.  The ideal is mastering the balance between caring and control. In other words: flexible compassion and consistent boundaries.

Buy this book at EDQ here

Skill-Based Learning for Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder Second Edition
Janet Treasure, Grainne Smith and Anna Crane

Equips carers with the skills and knowledge needed to support and encourage those suffering from an eating disorder, and to help them to break free from the traps that prevent recovery.

Buy this book at EDQ here

8 Keys to Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience. A unique personal perspective into treatment and recovery of eating disorders. Written by a therapist and her former patient.

By Carolyn Costin, Gwen Schubert Grabb, Babette Rothschild.

Buy this book at EDQ here

My Kid Is Back

By June Alexander. My Kid is Back explains how family-based treatment can greatly reduce the severity of anorexia nervosa in children and adolescents, allowing the sufferer to return to normal eating patterns, and their families to return to normal family life.

Buy this book at EDQ here

Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder

By James Lock. Essential reading for any parent or family member of a teen with an eating disorder. It offers practical advice for how to help, along with something just as important: hope.

Buy this book at EDQ here

Midlife Eating Disorders
by Cynthia M Bulik [US]

Very thorough book, the second half being very helpful in understanding how eating disorders can occur in adults, the impact and treatment options.

View on Amazon here

Caring for a loved one with an Eating Disorder

A Carer’s Guide to Understanding the Illness and Keeping Well.  January 2015. Austin Health & St Vincents Hospital. P 17-25 and also P.28 are particularly relevant.

Download here

Eating Disorders Guide

This is a current publication for Australia and NZ put out by Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in January 2016, excellent summary of eating disorders and overview of treatment and those involved. Well worth downloading and keeping for reference.Eating-Disorders-Your-Guide.

Download here

Anorexia and other Eating Disorders: how to help your child eat well and be well: Practical solutions, compassionate communication tools and emotional support for parents of children and teenagers

Anorexia and other Eating Disorders
Eva Musby

Parents are best placed to help their teenager or young child beat an eating disorder, yet most struggle to know what to do and how to do it. In Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders, Eva Musby draws on her family’s successful use of evidence-based treatment to empower you to support your child through recovery.

Order book or e-book here

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Queensland

Download here

Caring for Someone with an Eating Disorder

The Australian National Eating Disorders Centre (NEDC) [AUST]

Download here

Extract from ‘Supporting a partner with an eating disorder’. B-eat, UK.

Read PDF here

Reach Out

If you need help, reach out.

If you need assistance, or are interested in any eating disorder services, get in touch.
We can help with more information, referrals and/or arrange an assessment appointment.

Call us on (07) 3844 6055 | email us here

You can also contact us through Eating Disorders Queensland

Eating Disorders Queensland 89 Sherwood Road, Toowong Qld 4066