Written by: Hannah Podhorzer
Professional Relations Representative, The Renfrew Center of Chicago
When a loved one receives an eating disorder diagnosis and embarks on their recovery journey, it can seem like life has been turned on its head. In this post, we review a few key resources to help families start navigating.
Eating disorders affect the entire family system. You may want to point fingers. You may want the easy answers. You may have countless questions as you grapple with this challenge and wonder how you will manage their recovery.
All these thoughts and experiences are valid. Families can be a huge part of the solution when it comes to eating disorder recovery. Empowering families as caregivers and as advocates allows those in recovery to thrive, because it means their homes and communities support them. Here, we’ll explore resources and reminders for the recovery process – a process that involves the whole family.
8 Starter Resources for Family Members
Families need many resources to successfully support their loved one in treatment. Psychoeducation on signs and symptoms. Emotional and nutritional tools. Opportunities to care for their own well-being. But what happens after the diagnosis? Here are a few online resources to get you started.
- F.E.A.S.T. (Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment for Eating Disorders) is an international non-profit organization that offers services, resources, and education for caregivers. You can explore their Family Guides Series, which is available in many languages, and includes evidence-based information on diagnosis, nutrition, neurobiology, and treatment. F.E.A.S.T focuses not only on parents, but also on siblings, offering information for every family member at the table!
- The NEDA Parent Toolkit offered by The National Eating Disorders Association is a comprehensive document detailing the first steps to getting help. This toolkit provides an extensive glossary on eating disorder terminology, information on parent-school communication, explanation of insurance issues, and guidance on navigating confidentiality.
- The Parents Survive To Thrive Guide offered by BC Children’s Hospital, and written by parents with lived experience, explores management of eating disorder behaviors, relapse, maintaining recovery, and some of the tricky scenarios you may run into, from shopping for new clothes to managing family conflict.
- Emotion Coaching Videos provide a consistent way for caregivers to offer loving and productive support. Emotion coaching is one of the first skills we teach families in Renfrew’s Unified Treatment Model. Emotion coaching is a five-step approach that improves connection through emotional communication, while cultivating positive long-term effects. Many family members may use emotion-coaching during meal support to label, validate, and encourage emotions to interrupt eating disorder symptoms at the table and beyond.
- Many family members may also find support in the form of online moderated Facebook groups or forums, which you can search for online.
Books & Eating Disorder Literature
Many books, written by medical and mental health professions, and/or family members of lived experience, may also be helpful as you navigate this journey. Here are some of the most helpful:
- When Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder by Lauren Mulheim, PsyD, CEDS
- Surviving An Eating Disorder: Strategies for Family and Friends, Fourth Edition, by Michele Siegel, PhD, Judith Brisman, PhD, CEDS, and Margot Weinshel, LCSW
- Sick Enough: A Guide to the Medical Complications of Eating Disorders by Jennifer Gaudiani, MD, CEDS
Family-Specific Resources from Renfrew
Renfrew also values accessibility and inclusion of the family in the treatment of an eating disorder. At our higher levels of care, Renfrew offers a family handbook, virtual family therapy, and a virtual Family Support Group (where support people attend without their loved one). Renfrew also offers a Spanish-speaking support group.
Additionally, at the residential level of care, Renfrew provides a virtual Family Day, where members of the treatment team provide an in-depth presentation on eating disorders – including an overview of the treatment model, as well as various skills designed to improve connection. We believe that as family members participate in the treatment process, they also gain the understanding, tools, and means to remain committed and encouraging each step of the journey.
Our non-residential Renfrew sites also offer Support Persons Services (SPS), a three-session package for a loved one who is reaching out to explore next steps. Perhaps your loved one has just received a diagnosis, and you don’t know where to turn to next? In our SPS program, you will virtually receive detailed information on levels of care, guidance around effective communication, and trusted resources to help you and your loved one take the next step towards recovery. If you are interested in support person services, or any of our other family offerings, you can always call 1-800 RENFREW.
A Few Reminders
As we explore the importance of family support, it is essential to remind ourselves that families come in many different forms, including non-biological and chosen families. It’s important to find support for every person at the family table – from blood relatives to coaches, from religious leaders to teachers, from partners to friends. In fact, extending your definition of “family” can lead to a growing network of support for you while your loved one recovers from their eating disorder.
Remember too that care doesn’t just stop at your loved one. Often, families sacrifice their own well-being or sleep as their orbit revolves around their love one’s eating disorder. Make sure that you don’t neglect other family members, friends, hobbies, personal goals, or self-care. Your own physical, mental, and social health is just as important as your loved one’s. Self-care is group-care!
When you first begin this fight, you may feel it will never end. It may feel hard to see through the fog. Yet, countless individuals and families are proof that the path does get better. Hope is for many a driving force that bestows purpose and strength, that helps us believe in a better tomorrow. Many family members, throughout post-recovery, emphasize how proud they are – of their loved one, of the love within their family, of their perseverance, of their healing. By connecting with and reading (or listening to!) the words of other professionals and families who have walked in your shoes, you will gain insight, understanding, and above all, the recognition, that you are not alone.