Family & Friends

Family and Friends, how do you feel?

Although symptoms of eating disorders are experienced by the sufferer, the effects of these symptoms go far beyond the sufferers’ own lives. Relatives and friends can be drawn into a painful downward spiral, some more than others. Many relatives and friends who know of a loved one with an eating disorder struggle with a range of emotions.


One of the main emotions that carers experience is anger. The anger can be directed at the person with the eating disorder. It could be directed at themselves for their inability to fix the problem. At times, they may feel angry with health professionals for not helping the individual recover earlier.


Relatives and friends often experience a deep concern for the person with the eating disorder as they watch her/him go down a road of self destruction. They also feel distressed for not knowing how to help.


Many carers also experience guilt, wondering what they have done to contribute to the problem. This guilt is further accentuated when well meaning friends and neighbours begin to imply they must have done something wrong to bring this eating disorder about.


There is also fear of losing the sufferer altogether, as the disorder takes over more and more of the person’s life.


Of all of the above, mistrust may be the most damaging effect the disorder has on relationships. The person with an eating disorder may have lied repeatedly to cover up her/his habit. Relatives and friends may have felt compelled to spy or catch the sufferer red-handed or tried to out-smart her/him. This leads to mistrust and resentment from both sides. With all these emotions going on it is not surprising that relationships are adversely affected. Marriages break up, friendships are broken and family tension increases. It is understandable that at times, relatives and friends feel trapped and frustrated and some may have given up hope of ever seeing the individual recover. This is unfortunate as these are the people who could contribute the most to recovery. Recovery is slow and difficult, but it is possible. Relatives and friends can play an important role in forming a network of loving, nurturing and healthy relationships that can be a life-line to people with eating disorders.

The EDA often advises carers to get a referral to a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders for themselves as a way of ensuring that carers are supported during their loved one’s recovery journey, to trouble shoot family conflicts that result from the eating disorder and to gain skills to provide daily support. The EDA’s Family and Friends Support Group is another great way to access peer support for yourself during this difficult time.