The importance of family during eating disorder recovery

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When it comes to eating disorder treatment and recovery, family and loved ones’ involvement in treatment can make a huge difference. Having an eating disorder may be an isolating experience, rife with shame, secrecy, and fear of judgment.

Including the family and loved ones in the treatment plan can help families better understand eating disorders and how to support their loved one’s recovery journey. Not to mention, family involvement gives loved ones the chance to heal, improve communication, and create a healthier home environment.

Last updated on 
November 5, 2021
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Benefits of involving the family

Family involvement in the treatment plan acknowledges that the recovering individual lives and functions within the context of their family’s microcosm, and establishes the family as a resource for the person in recovery.

There are numerous benefits to involving the family in an individual’s eating disorder treatment plan, and these benefits are not exclusive to the person in recovery. Remember, an eating disorder affects the entire family dynamic and can be distressing for concerned loved ones who feel helpless or desperate as well.

Here are some benefits of involving the family in eating disorder recovery: (1)

  • Promoting trust amongst family members
  • Educating families about eating disorders and their unique challenges
  • Processing any unaddressed issues or feelings amongst the family
  • Fostering parental and loved one’s collaboration
  • Communicating honestly and openly, without using blame language
  • Building up parent and loved one motivation as well as the patient’s
  • Providing hope for the future
  • Dealing with conflict in a healthy and productive way
  • Promoting family and loved one connection
  • Examining family and loved ones own issues with compassion and understanding that may affect the patient’s eating disorder and can help the overall harmony in relationships 
  • Helping parents and loved ones care for themselves

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Family and loved one support after treatment makes recovery possible

Recovery from an eating disorder is undoubtedly a team effort. Once the patient has completed their treatment program, they may be going to go back to their family, whether that means living under the same roof or living separately but interacting in the same old patterns.

Family and loved one involvement during eating disorder treatment can help rectify patterns of behavior and interaction that were not beneficial or effective in the past. This is done while helping build new growth opportunities in relationships, and through forming new or different bonds that promote healing, intimacy, and care. 

In any family under the stress of mental health conditions, it is not uncommon to find a tendency toward reactions like blaming, avoidance, and defensiveness. By targeting more effective behaviors (like promoting interpersonal effectiveness, active listening, collaboration, and validation), the patient can receive the support they need and the family and loved ones are able to have more open dialogue. 

With the help of family therapy, parents, guardians, loved ones, siblings and the person with the eating disorder alike can learn to have empowered, compassionate and validating communication. Eating disorders can leave people feeling isolated, even when they are surrounded by family and friends while friends and loved ones may feel silenced, confused and afraid of what steps to take to be helpful.

One reason family therapy is so essential to recovery is that it helps foster an authentic connection between family members. Family therapy may also reduce the patient’s feelings of isolation and improve the overall wellbeing of all those involved.

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How we integrate family support at Within Health

No patient comes to our care without a family and loved ones, however supportive or complex the family system may be. Whatever those circumstances are, we feel the best outcome can happen when we are able to engage in a dialogue that allows for the most effective communication patterns. If we don’t address whatever the family’s issues are, then we haven’t provided comprehensive, whole-person care that acknowledges the biological, psychological, and social factors that affect a person’s eating disorder.

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 so loved ones can learn more about eating disorders, as well as how to talk about them in a way that isn’t stigmatizing or oppressive.
  • Family support groups so loved ones can share their experiences and learn from other family units.

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. We always make every effort to be inclusive however we may also need to refer the family to another support system that can provide outside support and guidance.

Within Health understands that 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, for the betterment of all who are involved. 

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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.


1. Roles, P. (2005). Working with Families of Youth with Eating Disorders. BC Medical Journal 47(1): 44-48.


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