Interventions are commonly used by families living with someone who is using and abusing alcohol or drugs. For these families, a structured conversation about the addiction and the dangerous behaviors the family members have seen can push the addicted person to get help, and in the process, the family can learn more about the nature of addiction and why it can be so very dangerous. Families who are living with someone who has an eating disorder might be tempted to use the same technique. If they address the disorder directly, these families reason, perhaps the person will get needed help. While interventions can be helpful for some families, some people with eating disorders won’t benefit from a confrontation like this. Read on to find out more.
Breaking Through Denial
People with eating disorders may be quite knowledgeable of what disordered eating is, and they might even be aware of the health consequences of eating disorders. Unfortunately, according to a study in the journal European Eating Disorders Review, most people with eating disorders feel that health risks just don’t apply to them. They might believe that their disorders aren’t severe, when compared to other people, or they might not believe that their eating patterns qualify as disordered. In an intervention, family members confront denial like this head on, using concrete examples pulled directly from the person’s life.
The family might point out:
- Specific meals the person has skipped
- Days in which the person was caught purging
- Hidden boxes of laxatives the person has been using
- Fainting episodes or other specific health problems witnessed by family members
If an intervention is successful, family members are able to break through denial and help the person see that the disorder does exist and that it truly is dangerous. It can be a powerful tool some families can use to reach a person in need.
Proceed With Caution
Eating disorders can take years to develop fully, and maintaining a disorder can be a fulltime effort. Almost everything the person says, does or thinks about revolves around food, and the person’s self-image may be completely dependent on his/her ability to control eating and/or weight. The relentless focus on weight and eating may allow the person to feel a semblance of control in a world that seems chaotic, or food might serve to provide a sense of comfort to a person in deep despair. These are ingrained patterns, and they’re hard to break on a moment’s notice. In Eating Disorders Recovery Today, authors suggest that denial like this is best broken down a little bit at a time in a safe and loving environment. Gentle prodding and relentless conversation can help people understand the illness, without overwhelming the person and making an underlying issue worse. Sensitive people might simply shut down in an intervention, and the process could do much more harm than good.
Finding a Balance
It’s best to consult a professional before holding an intervention for eating disorders. A counselor or therapist can learn more about the person’s background and perhaps help the family learn more about how to address the issue without pushing the person into further denial. For some families, this meeting will end with formal plans for an intervention. For others, this initial meeting might spur the family to hold a series of impromptu, gentle talks instead. Either method can be helpful. If you’d like to learn more about holding an intervention for someone you love, please contact us at Futures of Palm Beach.