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The Influence of Family Dynamics on Family Members With Eating Disorders


Eating disorders are behaviors characterized by severe and constant disturbances in eating habits associated with individual thoughts and emotions. For instance, Anorexia nervosa and Bulimia is characterized self-evaluation using body shape and weight. These conditions affect the physical, psychological and social functions of an individual and their families. Besides, eating disorders acts as an individual defense mechanism from pain, guilt, and anger associated with life experiences within the family context. Families seems to be over-involved and entangled with people with eating disorders (Anderson et al., 2021). Family issues such as divorce and domestic violence play an important role in the development and maintaining eating disorders. Nevertheless, families play a crucial role in the recovery process of eating disorders through support and family therapies. This paper evaluates family dynamics influence on the existence and recovery of eating disorder with the family unit.

Family patterns contribution to eating disorders

Family patterns can promote the development of eating disorder within the family members. For example, trauma and stress associated with domestic violence can increase the risk of an eating disorder. Victims and witnesses of domestic violence can develop unhealthy eating behaviors to cope with the negative relationships. Additionally, domestic violence victims can develop low self-esteem that causes eating disorder due to constant body shaming by respective partners. Children can try to cope with physical abuse by developing eating behavioral patterns to relieve stress and blame. Nevertheless, sexual abuse generates shame and stress and victims can develop eating disorders to enable them gain the ideal body image and self-esteem. Divorce generates stress among the parents and children that can lead to unhealthy eating habits. People have different ways to cope with such situations and most people develop depression, insecurities, and confusion that makes people seek comfort in food as a temporally relief from life stresses.

Moreover, poor family functioning is a trait discovered in families of those with eating disorders. The families tend to be overprotective of their children to gain control over them. Children tries to gain independence by controlling the weight of their bodies and the foods they eat which slowly leads to eating disorder. Also, these families attribute their traits with perfectionist and success (Cerniglia et al., 2017). They have high and unrealistic expectations for achievement and place much attention on external rewards. Children from these families try to achieve the perfect appearance of success by becoming thin and attractive. Also, failure to achieve parents’ expectations, children turn to food restrictions or weight loss because they can control the process and achieve better results.

In addition, lack of practical conflict resolution enables a child’s involvement in parents’ conflicts that can lead to eating disorders. Families with history of depression, alcoholism, social isolation, and emotional disturbances are associated with individuals with eating disorders. Also, children can turn to eating disorder when experiencing trauma like physical and sexual abuse, rejection, and neglect.

Identification of an individual with an eating disorder within the family

The mental capacities of individuals with eating disorder are directed towards what goes on with their bodies thereby performing poorly at family and school activities. The child becomes withdrawn from the family activities and wants to eat in isolation. Also, they become irritable towards the other family members (Hornberger et al., 2021). A child can start expressing body-image concerns and undertaking different meals from what the family takes. They can also engage in excessive exercises, shift in diet, body checking, tracking their body measurements constantly, and comparing their bodies with others. People start having difficulty in concentrating and processing information. In addition, individuals can start gaining more weight or losing weight in a short period of time depending on the type of diet. Additionally, individuals with eating disorder are easily affected by the emotional content in their families. Girls suffers from delayed menstrual periods due to increased stress and diet changes.

Impacts of eating disorders on family relations

Having a member with an eating disorder changes the family activities routine and relationships. Family members are involved in appointments and support groups to assist in recovery process. Family members can be fearful and depressed watching their loved ones subjecting themselves to extreme starvation. Parents also blame themselves and feel guilt trying to understand what they did that drove their child to have the disorder. Everyone in the family feels angry about the situation and that negatively affects the family relations. Irrefutably, family member with an eating disorder express emotion like guilt, sadness, concern, and anger towards other family members. Eating disorder can also destroys trust among family members since people with this illness tend to be secretive by hiding their thoughts and eating behaviors.

Nevertheless, eating disorders can cause family financial constraints since parents can take time off work to take care of their child at home. Also, the family social life is disrupted since they have to accommodate the needs of the person with the disorder. For instance, they might be unable to go for holidays and spend time with others. Families have to monitor the eating habits and stay close to a child to ensure there are not doing extreme exercises or running away from home. The family leisure moments of having dinner together and telling jokes changes into silence, strain, and hopelessness. Family members can feel tired, hopeless, lonely and powerless especially when the loved one had a prolonged eating disorder condition.

In addition, having a sibling with an eating disorder makes other siblings feel ignored, scared and worried. Other children become unnoticed victims because parents focus their energy, time, and thought on that one sick child. These other children can develop resentment attitude toward the ill child because they feel that their life revolves around them. They can also rebel and act in harmful and unhealthy ways to gain attention. For instance, neglect of the other siblings can make them develop eating disorders to achieve the same attention given to the sick child.

Family and eating disorder treatment

Families play a significant role in assisting their loved one with eating disorder get treatment and recover. Family members happens to be the first to realize the condition and encourage the individual affected to get help. They can ensure that their loved ones attend all the hospital appointment to acquire adequate counselling and therapies. Parents can have an open conversation with their children to ensure that they understand the situation and offer the needed support. Parents take charge of the meals at home with adequate guidance from the hospital. Families help in the weight restoration phase by acquiring plans to restore the health of their child (Ribeiro et al., 2017). Parents participate by selecting, preparing, supervising, and serving meals and snacks to the child. Families strictly follow the feeding procedures and guidelines depending on the child’s needs and not what the eating disorder requires. Parents are taught the techniques of encouraging their loved ones on the effective eating habits.

How Family can support their loved one

Family members must understand the kind of support an individual with eating disorder within the family needs. They can ask them whether they require any help and support from them. Also, families must acquire knowledge about the eating disorder to enable them to effectively care for their loved ones. For example, educating themselves about the disease allows them to become effective advocate for the sick in the family. Research about the eating disorder can help family members differentiate between eating disorder facts and myths (Anderson et al., 2021). Besides, acquiring adequate knowledge will help one identify time when the sick in the family needs more support. Additionally, family members should let their loved one understand that what they are going through is not easy and they appreciate their bravery and persistence.

Moreover, family members should avoid conversation about external and physical appearances and concentrate on comments about internal traits such as bravery and happiness. Also, discussion about diets and exercise should be avoided to prevent encouraging eating disorder and make the sick uncomfortable and anxious. Family members should eat nourishing meals together to prove to the sick that mealtime are positive experiences for everyone. Families should provide support with care and firmness to avoid manipulations by the disorder. Also, they must act as role models by practicing health behaviors that the loved one needs to achieve healthy lifestyle. For instance, people in the family should adopt self-care, self-acceptance, exercise to feel good not to look good, and eating healthy. Family members should seek help from counselors and medical practitioners when they realize unhealthy eating habits among their loved ones.

Family resources about eating disorders

Families need to attain education about eating disorders especially when they have an ill member. Several organizations can help families understand the diagnosis, learn tips, and get ideas to help them manage symptoms. Also, the resources allow them to connect people with people who understand their experiences to acquire support they need to remain healthy. For example, the ANRED organization offers families with information about anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa. The firm provides materials that involve self-help tips, recovery information, and prevention. Additionally, Eating Disorder Hope provides education, inspiration, and support to the families (Solomon et al., 2019). The resources have treatment options, support groups, and recovery tools. Additionally, F.E.A.S.T provides parents with evidence-based treatment and ideas on how to reduce eating disorder associated suffering. Besides, FREED helps the parents determine the causes and risk factors related to eating disorders. Also, the organization promotes education on the prevention and recovery procedures.

Family therapy on eating disorder

Family therapy is a biopsychosocial approach to treatment of eating disorders withing the family. Family therapy can help parents balance power and control when dealing with their children. Family members can discuss how to help their loved one without being invasive and controlling. Also, it helps promote family connection that allows effective treatment of the disease. Families receive ideas and skills on how to deal with conflicts that might have triggered the disorder (Lock, 2018). Family therapy evaluates the family issues that might have influence the eating disorder and measure to avoid them. It also helps other family members care for themselves to avoid developing risk factors that might cause the disorder. siblings must be involved in family therapy to understand the situation of the sick and avoid resentment. Family therapy helps the family unit relive anger, guilt, and blame to help them cope with the situation.

Strategies to support families dealing with eating disorder

Healthcare providers should develop a therapeutic alliance with the family members. Families should be included in the treatment process of their loved one with eating disorder. Besides, there is need to meet the patient and family members to review recommendation for effective home care. Including parents build the trust for collaborative assistance in the recovery process. Notably, the sick family member tends to trust the health care provider trusted by the family. Families should communicate with the caregivers on the progress and plans during treatment. Pay attention to the family needs and demonstrate empathic responses to let them know you are aware of their struggles (Solomon et al., 2019). Most families become desperate when seeking for medical assistance for their loved ones. The healthcare professional should avoid blaming the families of the patient to improve their involvement in treatment process.

Also, explaining about the eating disorders will help families understand the cause of the child unhealthy eating behaviors. Creating awareness of the risk factors that contribute to eating disorders allows the family to reconstruct family behaviors. Healthcare providers should advise the families to work together against the problem to achieve a common goal. They should make parents understand the importance of togetherness in ensuring the child security and safety. Besides, children need to feel secure to enable them deal with the problems. Both parents have to be united and agree on approaches to strengthen their relationship with the child.

Methods to reduce risk factors of eating disorders

Families have a responsibility in the reduction of unhealthy eating habits among family members. It is important for a family to acquire practical conflict resolution skills to achieve a stress-free environment. Also, reduction of domestic violence and divorce cases can reduce chances of the disorder in the family. Parents should allow their children to have their freedom after puberty to increase openness and trust among them. Families should have effective communication strategy to ensure that every person’s concern is recognized.

Recommendations to improve family care on individual with eating disorder

Families should understand their role in influencing and recovery of their loved one with eating disorder. Families should understand certain triggers in the family that causes the disorder and thrive to eliminate them. Creating a safer environment for everyone in the family can reduce the occurrence of the disorder in the family setting. Families should educate themselves on the physical and mental effects of eating disorders to enable them realize when their loved one has the disorder. Performing some researches about the disorder will help the family unit contribute to the recovery process. Improved resources where families can find information and treatment about eating disorder. Families should also have a safe place where they can meet and share experiences and support each other. Also, families should be empowered and appreciated for their role in the recovery of a person with eating disorder. It is important for parents to give attention to all children in the family to avoid causing eating disorders among children.


Family dynamics can contribute to the existence of eating disorders among the family members. For example, Family conflicts, domestic violence, divorce, sexual abuse, neglects can lead to eating disorders of the victims and those witnessing. Family experiences that can cause stress makes people turn to body image concerns to relieve stress. Families are most affected when one of them has the disorder and they feel helpless and desperate. Nevertheless, family plays a crucial role in the recovery process of eating disorder. Family members usually are the first to realize the condition and encourage their loved one seek help. Providing education to the family members on eating disorders encourages effective prevention, treatment and recovery.


Anderson, L. M., Smith, K. E., Nuñez, M. C., & Farrell, N. R. (2021). Family accommodation in eating disorders: a preliminary examination of correlates with familial burden and cognitive-behavioral treatment outcome. Eating disorders29(4), 327-343.

Cerniglia, L., Cimino, S., Tafà, M., Marzilli, E., Ballarotto, G., & Bracaglia, F. (2017). Family profiles in eating disorders: family functioning and psychopathology. Psychology Research and Behavior Management10, 305.

Hornberger, L. L., Lane, M. A., Lane, M., Breuner, C. C., Alderman, E. M., Grubb, L. K., … & Baumberger, J. (2021). Identification and management of eating disorders in children and adolescents. Pediatrics147(1).

Lock, J. (2018). Family therapy for eating disorders in youth: current confusions, advances, and new directions. Current opinion in psychiatry31(6), 431-435.

Ribeiro, M. A., Mugarte, I. B. T. M., Nogueira, H. F., Cavalcante, A. B., Melo, V. D. A. A., Vasconcelos, A. C. G. D., … & Menezes, C. N. (2017). Research and psychosocial intervention with families of children and adolescents with eating

Solomon, M., Kennedy, H., Katherine Reed, L. P. C., Hilsendager, C., Edelblute, A., Michele Fury, R. Y. T., … & Hagman, J. (2019). Impact of Integrating Complementary and Alternative Therapies into a Multi-Family Group Setting for Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders: A Pilot Study. Colorado Journal of Psychiatry & Psychology3(1), 40-51.


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