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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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The importance of family during eating disorder recovery

Eating disorders and family may not seem to go together. But the involvement of family and loved ones in someone's eating disorder treatment and recovery can make a huge difference.

Having an eating disorder may be an isolating experience, rife with shame, secrecy, and fear of judgment. But including family and loved ones in a treatment plan can help someone with an eating disorder better see that they are loved, that they are not suffering alone, and that others are invested in their recovery.

In fact, certain types of therapy intentionally include multiple family members, to give the group as a whole a chance to improve communication, create a healthier home environment, and heal together. 

 minute read
Last updated on 
September 13, 2023
September 13, 2023
The importance of family during eating disorder recovery
In this article

Benefits of involving family in eating disorder recovery

When someone struggles with an eating disorder, family dynamics may play a role in issues like trust and communication, which can make a big difference in recovery.

Involving family members in the treatment process acknowledges that the recovering individual exists within the a family unit, where they should feel safe to express themselves, and establishes the family as a valuable resource for the person in recovery.1

In fact, the benefits of eating disorder family support are not exclusive to the person in recovery. This approach can help address the family unit as a whole and help improve trust and communication across the board, as well as providing comfort for loved ones who may otherwise be feeling distressed, concerned, or helpless.

Creating a familial alliance
Sharing eating disorder education
Improving conditions for long-term recovery

Eating disorder family support in treatment

Certain types of therapy are designed around the idea of involving family members in treatment. The most common form of family-based therapy for eating disorders is sometimes called the Maudsley method, named after the hospital in England where it was first practiced.4

This type of family-based therapy (FBT) works around five major tenants, including:5

  • The therapist will not focus on the cause of the disorder.
  • The therapist is viewed as an expert consultant on eating disorders; parents are viewed as experts on their child.
  • Parents are empowered to help their child go through recovery.
  • The eating disorder is viewed as a separate entity from the child.
  • The focus of therapy is on the "here and now," or how to best address the issues currently in play.

These tenants are put in place to help bypass conversations about blame or other unhelpful emotional detours and focus therapy specifically on treating the issue at hand: Helping someone recover from their eating disorder.5

The educational components of this type of FBT are also meant to empower families to make safe and helpful choices and changes at home for their child.


Effectiveness of family support in therapy

Family therapy can be a helpful path to recovery for people of all ages, struggling with all types of eating disorders, but the method when it comes to adolescents with anorexia, family support has been found to be especially helpful.

In fact, the Maudsley method is generally considered the first choice for adolescents with anorexia nervosa (AN) who are well enough to undergo outpatient treatment.3 And this is especially important, as AN is particularly difficult to treat with other types of therapy, making anorexia family support one of the best treatment options for many struggling with this condition.3,4

Versions of the Maudsley method and other types of FBT have also been adapted to help patients struggling with bulimia nervosa (BN), avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), and other types of disordered eating. And while more research is needed, these methods are generally thought to have promise in treating these conditions, as well as some common co-occurring mental health concerns.3

Support groups for eating disorder families

Just as the support of therapy can help all members of a family going through eating disorder recovery, the process itself can be equally draining on the whole family.

Parents and other family members can make a big difference toward helping a loved one, but it's just as important for these family members to care for their own mental health during this difficult time. Taking some time for self-care can be helpful. Going for a walk, journaling, taking a bath, or doing something nice for yourself can help alleviate the stress often associated with supporting someone's recovery.

Support groups can also help. Anorexia support for families, particularly anorexia parent support, can be found in anorexia family support groups. Other eating disorders may have specific support groups, or there may be more general support groups for friends or family of those with eating disorders.

Just as these groups can help someone going through recovery, they can help those on the outside by providing a sense of community and a forum to offer advice or air shared successes or concerns.

How we integrate family support at Within Health

No patient comes to our care without a family and loved ones, however complex those relationships may be. Failing to address the role of these people in a patient's life is failing to provide the type of comprehensive, whole-person care we pride ourselves on.

At Within Health, we recognize that each family’s history within the context of their loved one’s eating disorder is unique, with their own set of needs and circumstances. We utilize family therapy to uncover familial issues that may need to be addressed to provide our patients with the best possible outcome and to help address unspoken fears and anxiety that all members of the family may experience. 

These family therapy sessions all occur virtually through our eating disorder treatment application. No matter where the family members live, they can participate in family therapy sessions conducted by a licensed therapist. 

In addition to family therapy, we offer other forms of family support, such as:

  • Family education, allowing loved ones to learn more about eating disorders and how to talk about them in a way that isn’t stigmatizing or oppressive.
  • Family support groups, giving loved ones the chance to share their experiences and learn from other family units.

While we always aim to be inclusive, we realize in certain situations, family involvement may not be something that the patient and care team feel is helpful, especially if family dynamics include neglect or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In these cases, we may refer family members to another support system that can provide outside support and guidance.

Learn more about family involvement at Within

Every family dynamic is different, and at the end of the day, we ultimately strive to do what’s right for each patient, which always involves considering the environment in which they live and the quality of the relationships that surround them. There is more hope for long term health when communication, understanding and addressing problems can be part of the patient care.

Get help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Roles, P. (2005). Working with Families of Youth with Eating Disorders. BC Medical Journal, 47(1), 44-48.
  2. The Importance of Family Support While Working Toward Eating Disorder Recovery. Oliver-Pyatt Centers. Accessed August 2023. 
  3. Rienecke R. D. (2017). Family-based treatment of eating disorders in adolescents: current insights. Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 8, 69–79.
  4. LE Grange D. (2005). The Maudsley family-based treatment for adolescent anorexia nervosa. World Psychiatry, 4(3), 142–146.
  5. Rienecke, R. D., & Le Grange, D. (2022). The five tenets of family-based treatment for adolescent eating disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders, 10(1), 60.
  6. Leonidas, C., & Dos Santos, M. A. (2014). Social support networks and eating disorders: an integrative review of the literature. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 10, 915–927.
  7. Erriu, M., Cimino, S., & Cerniglia, L. (2020). The Role of Family Relationships in Eating Disorders in Adolescents: A Narrative Review. Behavioral Sciences, 10(4), 71.


Further reading

How to tell your parents you have bulimia

If you've been struggling with eating, binging, and purging behaviors, or a poor body image, you may have...

Understanding your teen with anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a difficult illness to deal with—and not just for the...

Family-based therapy for treating eating disorders

Family therapy, sometimes called family-based therapy (FBT), is an umbrella term for a group of therapy...

Examining the effectiveness of the Maudsley method to treatment for anorexia

The Maudsley family-based treatment approach was developed by psychiatrists and...

The importance of family during eating disorder recovery

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Recovery is a lifelong process for those who have struggled or...

How to support your child returning to school after eating disorder treatment

Eating disorder treatment often requires that your child take time away from school in order to...

9 tips on how to support a spouse with an eating disorder

An eating disorder can put stress on our relationships, but relationships can also...

Further reading

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