18 Nov 2021

Supporting your loved one to keep on track with their recovery during the pandemic and beyond


It can be challenging to see your loved one in psychological and physical distress because of their eating disorder. This may have become even more apparent during the pandemic for many reasons, such as changes to routines, isolations, fluctuating restrictions, being away from their support network, and inability to access usual treatment can impact those with eating disorders. It’s not unusual if your loved one has turned to their eating disorder to cope with stressful or challenging emotions during these unprecedented times, and relapses and setbacks are a very normal part of the recovery journey.

During these challenging times, there are helpful things we can do to support our loved ones. More importantly, remaining calm, showing your support, listening to their feelings and being compassionate with their concerns can be really helpful to foster a sense of connectedness and reminding them they are not alone despite the physical /social isolation during a pandemic.

Other helpful ways you can support include:

  • Communicate openly and allowing space to express thoughts and feelings without judgement. This gives a message that you are here for them and will continue to support them in their recovery journey. Demonstrate you are listening to what they are saying and understand their struggle. You can even reinforce you are actively listening by validating and rephrasing what they have just shared with you. For example, ‘I hear you are saying that being away from your friendship group has been hard during this time, while another part of you feels scared to go back to your social life after a long lockdown and that feels challenging’. Let them know you are pleased that they have shared their feelings with you and that you are willing to support them through the process of change and recovery.
  • Take time to focus on other parts of everyday living and drawing upon their positive attributes. Remember they are still the same person, and their illness is not their identity. Spend time talking about things outside of the illness with your loved ones can take the focus off their disordered eating and serve as a good reminder that there is a lot more to them than their eating disorder. Try to boost their self-esteem and confidence by talking about their interest, things they are good at, things they enjoy and what you love about them. This will help them to feel more empowered to change and continue their recovery journey.
  • Communicate clearly and honestly with your loved ones about what they may expect in their recovery journey in a pandemic. It is not at all unusual that they will be going through a lot of uncertainty and change with their routines and lifestyle that can impact physically and psychologically during this time, so validate their experience and easing their mind even in small ways can be beneficial. It is also important to involve them directly with any decision making so they feel empowered and respected, for example, how they would like to go about their treatment options during lockdown; what would they like their routines to look like if learning/working from home. Focus on the process of recovery rather than the end goal as this may seem stressful or unattainable. Remember recovery takes time and patience and acknowledge all gains (big or small!), while supporting them through different challenges in small steps are huge wins.
  • Remember taking care of your physical and mental health wellbeing is a necessity. Make time for things that replenish you, such as going for a walk, connect with friends and support network or watch a movie. Taking time out to relax and rejuvenate your mind and wellbeing is a priority because the better you take care of yourself, the more you will be at a better position to support yourself and others.
  • Consider joining one of our carers’ Online Support Group. Sometimes you may feel alone in your experience and having connections and social support from other carers during this time can be important as you support your loved ones through their recovery journey.
  • Reaching out for support from the Butterfly Helpline. The helpline has qualified eating disorder counsellors who can provide you with tips on supporting your loved one, as well as information and referrals to specific eating disorder health professionals and treatment options. Being a carer can be challenging at times and it is necessary that you feel supported along the way. The Helpline can provide strategies to ensure you are looking after your own mental wellbeing and is available from 8am-Midnight (AEST), 7 days a week, on 1800 33 4673, via webchat or email support@butterfly.org.au.