A core tenet of eating disorder therapy is to maintain sharp focus on compassion and love. Eating disorder thought processes are relentlessly harsh, critical, judgmental and downright cruel. However, these thoughts dominate the mind of someone suffering from an eating disorder and feel inescapable.
As I have written regularly in this blog, the antidote to the thoughts is love and compassion. The instinct for loved ones is to focus on improving eating patterns, weight or physical health. Clearly, eating and health are crucial to recovery, but those comments always directly support the eating disorder.
Rather than perceive these comments as supportive, as most loved ones imagine, they are interpreted as personal attacks against the eating disorder. Accordingly, the eating disorder thoughts only strengthen when faced with comments about food and weight. The supposed support only seems to propel a further descent into illness.
The most helpful support that specifically counters the core values of the eating disorder is centered in compassion. Saying things like, "I love you" or "you're really doing an amazing job in recovery" convey a very different meaning. These comments penetrate through the eating disorder messages and connect more profoundly with the essence of the person suffering from the eating disorder. The effect of establishing a secure connection of love and support is what anyone suffering from an illness needs and that is even more valuable in eating disorder recovery.
Because of the extended time eating disorder recovery takes, loved ones and friends need to keep in mind the need for compassion and love every day. It can be hard to maintain that kind of focus, yet each kind and loving word makes a difference to maintain the path to fully being well.