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How to Love Someone with an Eating Disorder

imgOne of my close friends was diagnosed with an eating disorder earlier this year, and it was a huge wake up call for us close to her. While each one of us has our own unique relationship with food, exercise, and what we consider “healthy habits”, it is our relationships with our own bodies that truly determine our health and wellbeing. This is Real Fit Mama’s stand – that all of our actions and choices come from self-love, and that our relationships with our selves – body, mind, and spirit – be the very best that they can be every day. We stand that everything in our lives honor that – that our workouts, jobs, relationships, eating habits, sleeping habits, and play – all come from loving ourselves enough to know we deserve to feel amazing every day. When we live this way, coming from self-love and making choices that edify that, we have great energy to put towards all of the things we want to do and experience and accomplish in this life.

While this sounds great, it isn’t always easy and is rarely automatic – for all of us, at times. We take care of our children, but rarely do we care for ourselves in the same way. And while we are all at varying places on our path of self-discovery and radiant health, some of us may have a relationship with our bodies that winds up in us using food, exercise, and other habits in a way that hurts us more than it promotes health and wellbeing. Unlike some substances that can abused and also avoided, food and exercise are imperative components of a healthy life – so thinking patterns around these and other otherwise healthy aspects of life can be subtle and often must be examined more deeply. They are also tricky to fully identify, understand, and transform – for all of us.

In a culture that is so intensely focused on looks and appearance, it is imperative that we all be clear as to where our habits are coming from. As the creator and author of Real Fit Mama, I am one-hundred-percent committed to great health and vitality coming from self-love and from great acceptance, love, and relationship with our bodies. When we love and feel loved, we glow. Our beauty is deep, is true, and it radiates out. We do want to eat foods that are nourishing for our bodies; we do want to move in a way that inspires us to feel alive. And however that has us “look” on the other side, is yes, wonderful… and how we FEEL is infinitely more important.

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Do we feel grateful, healthy, and worthy? Do we love ourselves? Can we slow down enough to really listen to what our bodies are needing and wanting to promote health and vitality? For all of us, this is a process. Learning to listen, learning to trust the voice of our true selves – and learning to trust that the true voice of our body will not sabotage us, our goals, our dreams, or what we want in this life. It is also a process of learning to differentiate between all of the conflicting advice we receive in mainstream ideas and signals about what is actually healthy – and the way the female beauty is portrayed in fashion magazines & mainstream culture.

It’s a lot. And we can do this together. That’s what this brand, this website, this article, and many other emerging aspects of our culture are really about. Stick with me and we will all thrive together. My commitment is to build a healthy, thriving, and positive community Real Fit community.

10 Ways to Love Someone with an Eating Disorder

1. Just Love Them

I know it sounds silly, but really, isn’t this kind of all it boils down to for all of us? Just know that your loved one is going through something extra difficult – even if it doesn’t make sense to you, or you don’t agree, or they’re not as focussed on you right now as they usually are – know that it’s a challenging time for them, and that by simply loving them and being there, you are holding space for them to find their way through this and to come out the other side. Just by you loving them, they get that they matter and are worth it. Everyone won’t stick around through this time, maybe. But you can. And that will make a huge difference to them and their healing.

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It helps to know also that there are certain emotions that may be especially challenging or uncomfortable for them – often vulnerability, trust, feeling out of control or that they have no control over life, and fear – and that these may cause them to say and do things that don’t always work for you, including acting on their ED behaviors. Being compassionate and understanding really helps. Often people who struggle with eating disorders also have challenges in relationships as well (uh, well, who doesn’t?). Remember, ED is not a food addiction, but a symptom of a challenging relationship with one’s own body.

2. Educate yourself with books and support groups.

As a health care provider and an avid wellness person, I thought I would know how to best support my friend. And then I did some reading and discovered many of my initial attempts to provide comfort and compassion were actually coming across as totally detrimental and not-attuned. Books, articles, and support groups really help us understand the unique and complicated emotions they might be going through – without us being arrogant or pretending we know. If it’s a family member or spouse, or even sometimes a good friend, some treatment facilities and groups will want you involved so that there is optimal support at home and in their lives to really heal and make the changes they need – whether temporary changes or permanent.

3. Be patient.

Don’t become their police, their therapist, their doctor, or their timetable. Your loved one is healing in exactly their own perfect timing. While it’s important you are honest with them if you have a concern, don’t mistake that for being an authority on the subject. Ask them if they would be willing to reach out for support. If they say they’re not ready, you can have that conversation – and you can ask again in a few days, or a week, or a month. Stay with them. Be patient. The healing process is cyclical and it takes time. There will be times of great progress, and there will be times where things seem to cycle backwards or stand still for awhile. As long as they are getting support, they are on the path. Let them in their perfect time, not in yours.

4. Stay close and hold an open space.

I read an amazing article earlier this year on what it means to really hold space for someone else. Basically, we stay solid, present, committed, and then we get ourselves out of the way. No one else’s process is going to look exactly like ours or how we think it should. There will be times they need a ton of support – and there will be times they just need to know you’re somewhere out there. Holding space means we create an environment of safety and trust where they know they can find their own way and regardless of what it looks like to us, we stay clear about the purpose – that they are healing and that they know they are loved. There is no getting wrong or getting right. There is just their path. And they are not alone on it. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give each other as human beings, and it speaks volumes for someone healing from an eating disorder, who is probably feeling like every aspect of their normal thoughts and actions are under a microscope being questioned, analyzed, and sorted through.

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5. Get your own outside support.

Create your own support and take really good care of yourself. First of all, your loved one may or may not be able to be for you what they have been, in the way they have been, for now or for awhile or intermittently throughout this process. Find a way to be supported that honors their trust. Whether that means you go to a support group or talk to a therapist or make an agreement with your loved one that you have permission to talk it through some of your feelings with a family member or friend – do something to honor that having someone you love in a period of crisis may be challenging on you at times. What you are experiencing is equally as important as what they are going through, and by taking care of yourself you are creating more space to love them even better through their process. They may not have the bandwidth or be the best person for you to process that with, and there may be times when they literally cannot hear what you are saying. Those are important times to have someone you can talk to and work through your own feelings with. Also, don’t shut them out. They will feel it if you leave emotionally. Getting support will help you to create a balance that will make this process easier for both of you.

6. Do not comment on their body, appearance, or weight for now.

An eating disorder is not about food. It is fueled by a cultural climate

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