How to help someone with an Eating Disorder – Autonomy and Boundaries

One thing that can easily get blurred with an eating disorder are our boundaries. When family is involved, it is particularly easy for these to be encroached upon as emotions can begin to cloud our judgement. It is easy to offer a concession from time to time, especially when someone we love begins to plead with us. We also know that any individual with an eating disorder who can learn to make their own decisions, will do better throughout recovery. That said, allowing someone with an eating disorder to do entirely what they want will rarely result in a positive outcome. We must balance an individual’s autonomy with firm boundaries around what is acceptable with regards to their behaviour.
An image of a tennis ball right next to the line on a court
It is vital we establish clear boundaries relating to behaviours around eating disorders
In general, when it comes to controlling behaviours around food, allowing individuals to eat alone, allowing them to eat 'special' foods differently to everyone else, and allowing them to refuse that others cook for them are just some of the things we might want to look out for. These will be individual to each person, but it is these types of behaviour that will be perpetuating their problems. For these we will want to draw a line in the sand. We will need to learn to say - NO. Because of their situation, it is vital that they accept that some things will be non-negotiables for them. Yes, other people might be allowed these 'luxuries', but for this person, right now, they need to understand that somethings are not helpful and that they must make and effort to change. This can be hard for many of us to enforce, but developing this assertiveness is often exactly what is needed in this type of environment