Written by: Emily, the sister and supporter of Morgan (founder of Unpolished), co-director, and logistical mind behind Unpolished Journey.
Standing by someone who suffers from an eating disorder is not an easy task. It’s not easy to watch a loved one look in the mirror and be disgusted with their reflection. It’s not easy to see a sister fail to realize her worth. It’s not easy to watch a friend put themselves in an unhealthy relationship because they feel that’s all they deserve. It’s just not.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve watched my own sister battle an eating disorder. I’ve seen her at her lowest of lows, and I’ve seen her at her highest of highs. In light of all of these experiences, I figured I would take the time to share the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over these past few years when standing by someone with an eating disorder.
- Don’t be afraid of anger. Most likely if you’re going to express concern to a sister, brother, friend, or relative, they’re going to push back. They’re not going to immediately want to pursue a road toward recovery. But their anger with you is worth expressing concern because someday they will look back and realize you were there for them from the beginning.
- Expressing concern does not mean forcing them into treatment. Treatment has to come willingly. Expressing concern merely means standing by that person when they are in their lowest of lows and always reminding them that you are there for them. It doesn’t mean assuming a condescending attitude of “I know what’s best for you” because you don’t.
- Let them be upset. Don’t tell them that they should “snap out of it” or “realize how blessed they are” because they really can’t. When an eating disorder consumes their mind, that’s all they know. That is their reality. And in their reality, they are upset.
- When battling an eating disorder, people are not their authentic self. I reflect back on the points when my sister was at her lows and realize that is not the sister I know today. In those low moments, I remember her anger and separation, but today I experience her laughter and joy for life. Seeing her transformation inspires me to want every person to be removed from the eating disorder mindset so they too can experience life fully.
- Don’t walk on eggshells. Someone struggling with an eating disorder is still a person. They are not a ticking bomb about to go off. Talk with them, make plans with them, check in on them.
- Don’t get upset when they distance themselves or when they are in a bad mood. Individuals struggling with an eating disorder will likely avoid others due to their inability to see their self-worth. And many times their aggravation with their own self will come out in the form of anger, sadness, or distancing. Those attitudes or actions are really just a manifestation of the individual’s feelings of low self-worth.
- Realizing you are not their savior. There is a fine line between supporting someone through their battle with an eating disorder and becoming their lifeline. You are an individual yourself. You have your own problems, worries, and concerns. You cannot be every role for someone with an eating disorder – a friend, a supporter, a therapist, a mentor, a parent. It’s too much for one person to handle, and it’s not fair for someone to put that pressure on you. My sister never, ever, ever did this to anyone, but I have seen it happen in other places, and it fosters an unhealthy relationship between individuals rather than creating a support system.