The start of the new year often brings new challenges due to changes at school, university or work. These transition experiences can feel overwhelming with exposure to new environments, routines, different people and new pressures. 

This can be particularly difficult for those with an eating disorder. For your loved one with perfectionist traits (which is common in those with an eating disorder), transition periods can raise feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. It may even cause your loved one to amplify their eating disorder behaviours.

As carers we can’t fix everything however, we can support our loved one to minimise the risks and help them stay on the path to recovery. 

There’s a lot for carers to juggle and consider as we support our loved ones through this period. However, know that this is likely to be a period of time, and won’t go on forever. 

With your help, your loved one can get through it.

Be kind to yourself, these transitions can be difficult for carers as well!

Consider meal and snack times

What support do they need to maintain the necessary food intake and supervision after meals to reduce the risk of compensatory behaviours (such as over-exercising, vomiting or taking laxatives)?

Possible approaches:

  • Attending school for meal and snack times (if possible). 
  • Ask others – teacher, school counsellor, other family member – to attend school if you are unable to.
  • Video chat may be a way of supporting them without physically being there. 
  • Adjusting the daily meal plan to make sure they maintain the necessary calorie requirements each day – a big breakfast or extra snack after school.

Preparing your loved one for upcoming changes

Talk to your loved one about coping strategies if things become overwhelming. 

You may consider:

  • What skills or techniques have they learned to manage their stress and emotions and help them avoid engaging in unhelpful behaviours in the past – such as restricting, purging or other forms of self-harm.
  • Consider tools to assist – such as fidgets, rubber band flicking, deep breathing exercises etc. 
  • Encourage your loved one to ask for help when needed – this can be very difficult for them.
  • Try to maintain their treatment and therapy schedule – their ongoing recovery is the priority.  
  • Create a list of supportive people they can turn to if they feel they need a safe space (friends, extended family, teachers, etc.)

Once you’ve prepared a list of supportive people, you may find it helpful to meet with them to discuss the strategies you and your loved one have prepared, so that everyone is on the same page. 

Preparing your loved one’s school

If your loved one is still in school, it is important to communicate their eating disorder diagnosis, behaviours and any other health issues. Carers often know their child best, so your insight is invaluable!

What to include

  • Your loved one’s diagnosis, or suspected diagnosis
  • Emergency contacts, including GP, psychiatrist, psychologist, hospitals frequented in the past, and anyone else in their support network
  • Known triggers for engaging in harmful behaviours – this may be receiving a poor result on an exam, public speaking, difficulties in friendships, etc.
  • Particular eating disorder behaviours – over-exercising, over-eating, purging – and signs to look out for
  • Management plan(s) provided by the treatment team, including:
    • List of medications, and when they should be given
    • How much physical activity and type of activities they can participate in (this may affect participation in sport classes and excursions)
    • Methods the school can employ to prevent your loved one from engaging in eating disorder behaviours. For example, they might watch your loved one for an hour after each snack/meal to prevent them from vomiting, or sit with them in a quiet room to ensure they have privacy and time to eat meals.

If your loved one has any other health concerns, it is always a good idea to include any additional details. The more the school is aware of your loved one’s needs, the more they are able to help care for them.

If your loved one has a diagnosis of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), providing A Guide to ARFID (below) to your child’s educators can help them understand how they can support your loved one. 

ARFID help sheet for parents and careres

Look after yourself

While transitions may be particularly hard for those with an eating disorder, don’t discount how difficult it may be for you as a carer as well! 

Take the time to look after yourself. Join a strive Carer Support Group, or take a moment to do something that recharges you

Give yourself grace and remember that you are doing the best you can. 

References and further reading

Binge Eating: Breaking the Cycle. A self-help guide to recovery 

Strategies for skin-picking 32 Steps to Eating Shared knowledge and generosity of those with lived experience

Management Plans for Schools

Health Support Agreement 

Individual First Aid Plan 

Medication Agreement

Autism Spectrum Support Plan 

Sensory Overview Support Plan