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When a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, it can be tough to know how to help.

In part two of our interview, eating disorder specialist Susan Schulherr shares several ways families and friends can provide support and ways that aren’t just unhelpful but may be harmful to your loved one.

Susan is the author of Eating Disorders for Dummies and writes a must-read blog on ED recovery.

(If you haven’t yet, check out part one on the challenges of ED recovery and what you can do to overcome these obstacles.)

Q: In one of your blog posts, you wrote that it’s best for individuals with eating disorders to avoid asking their support system to become symptom cops. Can you talk more about what a symptom cop is?

A: I consider “symptom cop” behavior to be any attempt on the part of another to control your symptomatic behavior or weight status. Here are some examples:

  • Reminding you not to eat too much
  • Reminding you not too eat too little
  • Taking food away from you
  • Hiding food from you
  • Restraining you when you intend to purge
  • Telling you if s/he thinks you’re gaining or losing weight
  • Telling you what you should or shouldn’t be eating

I can really understand how arrangements like this can seem reasonable when you’re feeling defeated and out of control.

The problem is, whether you ask someone to be your symptom cop or just go along with it when another person steps in, you’re not building the strength and skill you need to manage yourself.

It will prolong your eating disorder and interfere with your sturdy recovery.

Q: If being a symptom cop is unhelpful, how can people best support a loved one through their recovery?

A: Here are just a few ideas, which hopefully will jumpstart your own thinking:

  • Remind you of ways they value you that have nothing to do with weight or food
  • Spend time with you that has nothing to do with your eating disorder
  • Remind you of things you’ve accomplished or overcome when you become discouraged
  • Hold your hand when you’re frightened or overwhelmed

Thanks so much, Susan, for your insight on support!

Also, see what some amazing women who’ve recovered from eating disorders want others to know about support.

By the way, the non-profit organization MentorCONNECT has teamed up with NEDA for a virtual walk. Learn more about it here.

Do you have suggestions on how loved ones can provide support? If you’re a woman in recovery from an ED, what would you like loved ones to know?