Do you have a loved one who suffers from an eating disorder? What struggles does the family face in the wake of a mental illness? How can you as the caregiver cope with the stress post-recovery? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks with Nany Clarkson about what happens when your loved one has an eating disorder.


Born and raised in Gilroy, CA, Nancy Clarkson currently resides in San Ramon, CA. Having seen her loved one go through an eating disorder, she understands the importance of support and education. She has a passion for helping families as they navigate this difficult illness. Reach out to Nancy:


  • It may feel counter-intuitive sometimes
  • Marriages can be affected
  • Dealing with resentment
  • Pull back on the rescue

It may feel counter-intuitive sometimes

As a parent or family member of someone with an eating disorder, what you think they need might not be what they actually need, and sometimes you wanting to help can be counterproductive to their recovery. What is important to remember is that it is not about short term treatment, this is it for the long haul, and so when you are making choices to help them, think about the future instead of the immediate present. It does take patience because it can feel incredibly isolating, witness a family member or loved one suffer and you feel like you should jump into action and do what you think needs to get done. Nancy’s daughter said that seeing her mother get over her emotional wreckage and standing up to her mental illness gave her the strength to do the same. Helping yourself can give your loved one who is suffering the strength they need to also stand up to their eating disorder.

Marriages can be affected

It’s hard because they will hate you, they will hate you and say, ‘I won’t speak to you if you make me do this’ and I got to the point where I said, ‘fine, don’t speak to me, at least you’ll be alive not to speak to me’. That’s the point where you just have to be a firm and loving b***h.
In many cases, the father feels like the fixer and wants to do what is necessary to make their child feel better immediately, however this is not always the best course of action to take. Instead of parents arguing with one another about who does what, there needs to be a sense of teamwork in order to fully overcome this trauma as a family. It makes a much bigger difference and impact when the family or the parents work together.

How do you get to this point of teamwork in the face of mental illness with your spouse?

  • You cannot assume that your spouse knows what you need, you have to speak up and communicate how they can help you and they need to communicate how you can help them.
  • Working as a team gives one another support because you need to be supportive of one another whether you like one another or not.

Dealing with resentment

When there is an eating disorder within the family, it can cause a lot of resentment because as a result, the whole family misses out on family gatherings, celebrations, and birthdays – any large events that center around food, of which there are many. Let this aspect go. Instead, speak to your loved one who is suffering and ask them what they would like to do and what works for them. Instead of forcing certain traditions, create new ones in their place for the meantime. Give yourself and your loved one grace and try to make new traditions. To deal with building resentment, release the expectations you had of what the family thinks the future needs to be, and what should happen.
You can’t do life around recovery, you have to do recovery around life.
Recovery has to come first in order for it to be successful. Some parents deal with the resentment of being blamed for their child having an eating disorder, however, this is not the case and is not true. An eating disorder is a mental illness that a person suffers from, a person does not choose to have it.

Pull back on the rescue

Once your loved one has gotten back on their feet, give them some space and give them a chance to handle it themselves. Of course, if something critical happens then you must step in and assist them, but they need to learn how to be, as well as you. By the same token of them learning how to take over the reins of the rest of their recovery and their lives, you as the caregivers need to also step back into your lives after the trauma. It does take practice to do this. Do not create your own chaos in the space where the chaos used to be. Life does not stop, but it does change and you can do so many things to also take care of yourself and reinvigorate passion into your life in the space where the illness was. Use that same energy constructively. Reach out to the people around you, there are more people than you know who are most likely going through or have gone through similar situations.



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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