LOVING PAST STIGMA
You don’t necessarily have to understand someone completely in order to love them whole-heartedly—but you do have to accept them for who they are. Sometimes that can be challenging, especially when that person engages in self-destructive behavior as the result of an eating disorder or a mental illness. You may find yourself struggling to come to terms with their actions; in these cases, of course, it is critical to remind yourself that it’s not them, it’s the illness.
One of the hurdles that you may face in loving someone with an eating disorder is stigma. For as many people as there are who struggle with eating disorders, it remains taboo to talk about the subject openly. This leads to discomfort and misunderstanding. Stigma can prevent you from fully understanding your loved one with an eating disorder, and from fully voicing your love and support.
The question is, how can you move past stigma? How can you show your love and care even in the face of this social taboo?
Moving Beyond Eating Disorder Stigma
Here are some concrete steps you can take today.
Make it clear that you’re willing to talk, to listen, and to understand—but don’t be too pushy. Pull your loved one aside and let them know that you’re there for them, and that you want to be there to just listen when they feel burdened or overwhelmed. Be upfront about the fact that you care about their eating disorder recovery, and that you want to be an ally. Let them know that they don’t have to keep it secret, or hide that side of their life from you. With all of that said, don’t be too aggressive. Recovery isn’t always easy to talk about, so don’t expect your loved one to open up to you right there on the spot.
Educate yourself. Something else you can do is work to develop a better understanding of how eating disorders work. Don’t buy into the myths and the media speculation; instead, dig into some really scholarly work about eating disorders and the recovery process. Of course, we recommend our own Alsana blog as a good starting point, and the webinars on our YouTube page might also be helpful. Make it clear to your loved one that you’re trying to understand.
Make an effort to spend time with them. Those in recovery can often feel, well, stigmatized. Make it clear that you want to be a part of their life. Again, you don’t want to be pushy, but do make regular offers to hang out together. Come up with some fun activities, whether it’s getting manicures, going to the movies, or simply going for a walk somewhere.
Ask how they’re doing. An important way to show love is to offer accountability. This can be as easy as checking in from time to time and inquiring about the recovery journey. If your loved one doesn’t want to talk about it very much, that’s fine—but you can always provide them with the opening.
One more thing you can do is encourage your loved one to stay in treatment—or to seek therapy, if they haven’t already. You may not know everything there is to know about eating disorders, but one thing you can be sure of is that treatment works—and with it, recovery is more than possible.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to contact Alsana for information about how you can help them.
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