Shutting Down the Eating Disorder
Eating disorders need to be shut down in many ways. They need to be shut down from making your loved one lose any more weight and from making them suffer from any more physical health complications and long term distress. They need to be shut down from taking anything else away from you and your family and they need to be shut down to be able to get your loved one back.
You can shut down the eating disorder by continually being consistent with your loved one. This will support them to trust you over what they think and feel are their own thoughts, when it’s actually the eating disorder. You can do this by continuing to provide normal food regularly to your loved one and by not allowing or accepting eating disordered behaviours.
Eating disorder “conversations” will need to be “shut down” too. They can wear you out and by engaging in them, it can make your loved one feel they need reassurance in order to feel “comfortable” or “safe”.
Eating disorder conversations can be around calories, food types, weight and shape. Some examples would be:
“I look fat.”
“You can see how much weight I’ve put on.”
“Everyone will see how fat I am!”
It is natural to want to shout and scream and tell your loved one that is exactly the opposite of how they look. Research has shown us that people with eating disorders struggle to see how unwell they are.
The shift in the perception of themselves to a more realistic one can take up to a year and sometimes longer after weight restoration. This is a hard fact to hear.
Labelling eating disorder thinking is okay to do;
“This sounds like the eating disorder.”
“I know this is hard. This is the eating disorder.”
Perhaps encouraging distraction away from these thoughts, or if it’s at the meal time, reminding your loved one what they need to do – eat!
“Do I have to eat this?”
“Can I swap this food for that?”
“If you give me this instead, I will eat it all.”
“Do I have to have it all?”
“Do I really need this?”
Eating disorders are always looking for a way to cheat. You have to stay strong and consistent. Whatever you have put on your loved ones plate, show the expectation and attitude that they eat it and will eat it all – even if you doubt that they will.
You need to give this clear message. If you engage in negotiations with an eating disorder you will come out weary and frustrated and often, defeated. It is often helpful to state this fact at the start of each meal or at the start of the day:
“Every thing I have given you is what you need to eat” and if they question or ask further you can repeat it or state: “That sounds like the eating disorder talking. I don’t want to talk to it – you need to do this. I’m here. This is your medicine – it’s what you need.”
Another way the eating disorder may impact upon your loved one is through anxiety and low mood. You may find the eating disorder traps you in circular conversations. One parent contributed the following example:
“I don’t have any friends any more.”
“No one likes me now.”
“I don’t get invited anywhere.”
You could respond with something like:
“I’m sorry it’s tough. I get the sense that the eating disorder has taken so much away from you. How about you?” or
“I’m sorry it’s so tough. The eating disorder has taken away so much from you and it seems like you might be recognising that?”
This is a motivational interviewing technique. Instead of saying something like, “of course you have friends” which may give your loved one the opportunity to give you the evidence as to why they think they don’t have any friends (e.g. “No I don’t. They didn’t invite me out/they don’t text anymore”, etc.) you would offer the opportunity for your loved one to reflect on the impact the eating disorder has had on their life.