Eating Disorder Interventions: How to Intervene with a Loved One
Family members and friends want to help a loved one struggling with destructive eating behaviors, but they are often unsure about how to approach or carry out an eating disorder intervention. They are afraid that they will make matters worse, or damage their relationship with their loved one.
It is important to keep in mind that an eating disorder intervention doesn’t make the situation worse, but doing nothing can. Individuals with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive eating disorder and other damaging eating behaviors rarely get better without professional help. Often there are underlying emotional issues that sustain the eating disorders, so intervening also means that the loved one will be assisted with their anxiety, depression and other related issues.
An eating disorder intervention is an expression of caring and compassion. The goal is to help the loved one with the eating disorder to accept the reality of their eating disorder and agree to get the treatment that they need. The earlier eating disorders are diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes.
At Castlewood we understand that friends and family can feel hopeless and afraid, and unsure how to begin. Explore our intervention resources. Castlewood’s staff have extensive experience in assisting families with an eating disorder intervention, so feel free to contact us if you need more guidance or if you would like referrals for the assistance of a professional interventionist.
Remember that when an eating disorder intervention takes place, it may not always be successful the first time. Careful planning and preparation can make the eating disorder intervention as effective and meaningful as possible.
Above all, when intervening with a loved one whose physical and emotional health are at risk, remember to take a caring, compassionate and respectful stance.
An eating disorder intervention involves:
- Deciding who will be present at the intervention
- Personal preparation
- Practicing together
- Planning the time and place for the intervention
Participants in the eating disorder intervention should be people who are meaningful and important to the loved one with the eating disorder. Too many participants may actually make the intervention difficult to conduct effectively, so limit the number to around five. The intervention participants may include family members, friends, a teacher, religious leader, boyfriend or girlfriend, or co-worker. Not all individuals may be willing to take part, or feel confident in their ability to be an effective part of the intervention.
Personal preparation for the eating disorder intervention means that each participant should write down a list of specific behaviors and incidents that cause them concern about the loved one’s eating behaviors. Honesty and openness are important, but it is also essential to show compassion.
Using I-statements like these are honest, but non-accusatory:
“I’m worried about…”
“I care about…”
“I’m scared that…”
Specific incidents should also be written down to share during the intervention:
“Last week you spent three hours at the gym every day, but you are only picking at your meals.”
“Yesterday you were in the bathroom right after dinner, and I heard you vomiting.”
Another part of preparation is having treatment options ready prior to the eating disorder intervention. Willingness to begin treatment is essential, and having a counselor or treatment facility ready will help the loved one begin care sooner.
Practice what is going to be said, both individually and as a group. Role play, and determine in what order each person will speak. Decide what will be said if the loved one denies that they have a problem, or has excuses. Practicing ahead of time will increase everyone’s self-assurance during the intervention, and promote a calmer, and more organized front. Threats, ultimatums, and verbal attacks should never be part of the intervention.
The last step is planning the date and time for the intervention. Choose a location that won’t feel threatening to the loved one with the eating disorder. Also choose somewhere private and comfortable.
For more information on how to intervene with a loved one, please contact Castlewood. We have the resources and expertise necessary for an effective eating disorder intervention.