Disconnection of patient from others: The biology of starvation makes the patient focus on food (note: The Keyes Study from WWII). The psychology of the illness makes the patient focus on food, weight, shape, size and imperfections. This process over time leaves the patient isolated and alone. Friends and family are left wondering where their child/friend went.
Disconnection of family from others: Family members, especially at the early stages of disease identification and treatment, may have beliefs about themselves as “failures” at parenting. They may be embarrassed that this illness has impacted their family and disconnect from support systems. The fear of judgement from others leaves the family feeling alone with the illness and fearful of change.
Disconnection of the family from the Treatment Team: The exhaustion, fear, anxiety and strain related to the illness and watching a loved one suffer increases family stress. Families may or may not have had difficulties before the onset of the Eating Disorder. Once it develops the family will be challenged in ways it’s not used to (e.g., conflicts and lack of conflict resolution or feeling protective of child). When this occurs, separation from the treatment team may seem like a reasonable solution to the family. When this disconnection occurs, the Eating Disorder is unwittingly reinforced and the patient suffers more.
Disconnection of the Treatment Team itself: The illness splits the patient and the family from the staff and the staff from one another. The kinds of conflicts that emerge are disagreements between staff about goal/target weights (therapists vs. dietitians), discharge criteria (therapists vs. insurers) and meal plans. The illness thrives in an environment of conflict and chaos. Like addictions, in so many ways, the illness will do whatever it takes to maintain its’ existence.
At the Eating Disorders Treatment Center in Albuquerque, NM, we not only treat the patient with the illness, we treat the family. We believe fighting this disease is a job that includes families. You are an important part of the Treatment Team. We need you as much as you need us.
Having an Eating Disorder is complicated and recovery is challenging. To get there, you’ll need recovery skills that will help you make behavior changes that feel right for you. When you or someone you love struggles with an eating disorder, get the facts, and move your focus to thriving, not just surviving, by visiting the EDTC.
Ann F Flosdorf, LCSW, MAEd, CEDS
Clinical Director of Partial Hospital Program and Intensive Out-patient Program