Carers/Supporters of those with Eating Disorders

Information and support for Carers/Supporters of People with Eating Disorders/Disordered Eating

A very warm welcome to this page which is here to help carers and supporters of people with eating disorders or disordered eating navigate their way around the complexity of conditions such as these.  In order to make it easier in relation to terminology, we refer to eating disorders and disordered eating as eating difficulties for the rest of this page.

We understand the impact of caring for a loved one with eating difficulties and we hope you find the information here and our signposting to credible support organisations helps to create a pathway in moving forward from the worries and issues you may be experiencing at the moment.  Eating difficulties are very unhelpful coping mechanisms and we build caring and compassionate relationships with loved ones experiencing eating difficulties and their carers/supporters without judgement or blame.

If you have landed here, it’s because you have worries and concerns about a loved one around their relationship with food and eating, you’re doing the right thing!  Exploring information at any stage and catching the issues as early as possible is really effective for the recovery of Eating Difficulties and helping to improve their quality of life and yours.

On this and other linked pages are some practical/factual information about what Eating Disorders are and what Disordered Eating is including the different types.

Everyone’s experience of eating difficulties are unique and different and information you find here as well as other’s stories can be overwhelming. Revisiting information at different stages of the journey is really useful and when you feel ready.  Top tips from practitioners, lived experience peer supporters and other carers may or may not work for you and your individual situation, it’s about finding what works for you and your loved ones in your context, especially around getting loved ones to eat and stop other unhelpful coping behaviours.

A message from other carers who have lived experience of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder or disordered eating

“We want to let others who may be searching information for the first time or have only just plucked up the courage to do some research, that being a carer or supporter of someone with an Eating Disorder. As a carer/supporter, you have done nothing wrong! You are not a failure! Your loved one has found an unhelpful coping behaviour for something that they are having trouble navigating or upsetting them. Anxiety, stress, worries, pressure, social environments, perfectionism etc. can all play a part”

Everyone’s journey and context is different, there may be similarities, but everyone’s situation is different. There is no one size fits all approach to recovering from an eating difficulty and treatment and caring for your loved one will vary. Comparing your story and support journey to others can be both helpful and unhelpful, so please do not feel like you will always be stuck here, it can seem like a slow process at times with blocks at every junction, but keep going and don’t let the eating disorder fill any space in your lives.” 

Information about eating disorders as a mental health condition and the risks associated with it

What are the different types of eating disorders and who does it affect?​

Anyone can develop an eating disorder or disordered eating, regardless of their background, age, ethnicity or gender.

Unhealthy eating behaviours may include eating too little or too much, worrying about your body shape or weight, or exercising excessively to try and control weight.

Examples of the most common eating disorders include:

People who have bulimia go through periods where they eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binge eating) and then purge the food from their body to try to stop themselves gaining weight.

Purging could include making themselves vomit, using laxatives (medicine to help them poo) or diuretics (medicine that makes you pee more), fasting or doing excessive exercise, or a combination of these.

Anyone can get bulimia, but it is more common in young people aged 15 to 25. (NHS)

Binge eating disorder involves regularly eating a lot of food over a short period of time until you’re uncomfortably full.

It’s a serious mental health condition where people eat without feeling like they’re in control of what they’re doing.

Binges are sometimes planned in advance, but can be spontaneous. They are usually done alone, and may include “special” binge foods. You may feel guilty or ashamed after binge eating.

Men and women of any age can get binge eating disorder, but it often starts when people are in their 20s or older. (NHS)

Anorexia is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition.

People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both. This can make them very ill because they start to starve.

They often have a distorted image of their bodies, thinking they’re fat even when they’re underweight.

Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it’s most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens (NHS)

ARFID is when someone avoids certain foods, limits how much they eat or does both.

Beliefs about weight or body shape are not reasons why people develop ARFID.

Possible reasons for ARFID include:

  • negative feelings over the smell, taste or texture of certain foods
  • a response to a past experience with food that was upsetting, for example, choking or being sick after eating something
  • not feeling hungry or just a lack of interest in eating

Orthorexia nervosa is perhaps best summarized as an unhelpful obsession with healthy eating with associated restrictive behaviours. However, the attempt to attain optimum health through attention to diet may lead to malnourishment, loss of relationships, and poor quality of life. (NHS)

Sometimes a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected symptoms for any of these above specific eating disorders. In that case, they might be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).

This is very common. OSFED accounts for the highest percentage of eating disorders, and anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background can experience it. It is every bit as serious as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, and can develop from or into another diagnosis. People suffering from OSFED need and deserve treatment just as much as anyone else with an eating disorder.

As OSFED is an umbrella term, people diagnosed with it may experience very different symptoms.

It’s not always obvious that someone has an eating disorder – remember, they are mental illnesses.  If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, even if only some of the signs on this page are present, you should still seek help immediately, as this gives the best chance of recovery. The first step is usually to make an appointment with the GP. (Beat)

What is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating can include a range of abnormal eating behaviours. On their own, these behaviours may not lead to an eating disorder diagnosis or greatly impact on your physical health.

Disordered eating may include behaviours such as: 

  • Compulsive overeating
  • Binge eating
  • Making yourself sick
  • Emotional eating
  • Use of diet pills (or laxatives)
  • Irregular chaotic eating patterns 
  • Secretive eating
  • Night eating
  • Ignoring feelings of hunger and being full
  • Restriction of food groups
  • Yo-yo dieting
  • Withdrawing from social eating
Here are links to the CAMHS and Adult Eating Disorder teams look like in Hampshire, Dorset apparent and carers pages:

Eating Disorder Service in Hampshire for Adult  They welcome working with carers for the benefit of patient’s recovery and hold and family and friends’ group online.  Please follow link to see the carers and families page the service Carers and Families :: Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust

Dorset HealthCare :: Eating Disorders  They also deliver a carers skills workshop.  Information for which you can find on the same link. 

Hampshire Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for Eating Difficulties Service Eating Difficulties – CAMHS (hampshirecamhs.nhs.uk)

Dorset Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service for Eating Disorders parents and carers page CAMHS Dorset

If you feel you need still require some counselling or wellness support, unique to your own personal circumstances, we at Options Wellbeing can provide 1:1 sessions, following an initial assessment.

Please click the below button to book an initial assessment: 

We also offer a FREE Peer Support network for People with Eating Difficulties and their carers/supporters Eating Disorder Peer Support Networks

We offer online, groups and peer buddying from volunteers and professionals with lived experience of eating difficulties or caring for someone who does.

Please click the below button to find out more:

This is what you can expect as a carer from us at Options Wellbeing:

Your story will be listened to and understood, clarifying the nuances of your situation, what works and what hasn’t worked with your loved one/family member

We will work with carers and supporters of over 16’s

We will talk to you in a separate space, if that is what is preferred

Professionals and peer supporters you encounter will be calm, empathetic, proficient and confident.  They will be able to guide and signpost you to support and practical help, but also understand that carers and supporters will need to develop trust and also need time to recover

We will information, and psychoeducation as it can be overwhelming in heightened states of anxiety and won’t take it all in Guide carers and supporters around how to care for themselves and putting practical/emotional support networks in place

No questions or queries are too much, and you won’t be made to feel insignificant.  We view carers, family members and supporters as the experts of your loved ones and have first-hand experience

Encourage patients to share some information about progress and experiences with carers and supporter

This is what you can expect as a carer from us at Options Wellbeing:

Genral information sheet for carers Eating Disorders Information Sheet – Information for Carers (health.wa.gov.au)  This is a start to understanding the process of change and some hints to help with communication

The National Centre for Eating Disorders link to their leaflet which has great top tips to support carers and the various scenario’s they could find themselves in  Layout 1 (eating-disorders.org.uk)

Getting loved ones to eat-eating together and modelling/normalising good attitudes and habits towards food and eating, watching TV, using other distraction techniques i.e. stress balls whilst eating, making plate mats with aspirations beyond ED and reasons to get better and eat. Getting physically well through eating means the drivers for the eating disorders can be worked on in therapy as will have more energy and be able to cognitively process things, putting new, more positive coping mechanisms in place

Here are some helpful organisations as used by other carers/supporters to dip into when the time is right for you and feel ready and able:

Need some online resources?

Here is the link to our online resource and self-help portal Member Login – Options Wellbeing  Click ‘Join us’ underneath the Log in button.  There are some useful resources for when the time is right for you to explore the area.  It includes:

    • A Peer reviewed Reading list
    • Information on The Maudsley method of caring
    • Eating Disorders and Neurodiversity
    • Wellness Recovery Action Planning tools (WRAP) & Crisis planning
    • Psychoeducation work sheets
    • Information about Self-care as a carer/supporter
    • Top tips for developing ‘Trust’ with loved ones and services
    • Strategies such as Mindfulness, Breathing and other techniques to help your own worries, anxieties, stress, attitudes, triggers/stressors and relationship changes in relation to caring and supporting for someone with an eating disorder

Top tips for talking to a GP about your concerns or worries Have a discussion with your GP and how they can make a referral to the ED service

  • Book a double appointment
  • Have plan for what you want to say
  • Try to be as honest as possible
  • Prepare to be emotional, it’s a complex and worrying topic to discuss
  • Take notes if needed
  • Self-advocate and ensure your worries and concerns are heard. If necessary, ask to speak to the mental health lead in the practice
  • Make sure to book a follow-up appointment with the person you care for
  • Understand where you can be signposted or referred to for additional support
  • Ask that your records indicates that you are a carer.

The information on this page is co-produced with carers who have lived experience of caring for loved ones with eating difficulties and web links to other organisation for support are correct at time of publishing.

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