How to Refuel: Because You Can’t Support Your Loved One on an Empty Tank

How to Refuel: Because You Can’t Support Your Loved One on an Empty Tank

This blog post represents the author’s views and should not be interpreted as professional/medical advice or endorsed by NEDA.

Bryn Miller

By Bryn Miller, LPC, CEDS-C

I want you to imagine you are driving your car and your gas light comes on: low fuel.  

What do you do next?

Do you drive miles and miles, fingers crossed,  just hoping that you can make it? 

Do you pass by gas station after gas station, promising yourself that you will stop, as soon as “things calm down”? 

Do you expect your car to continue to function, even when you know it is running on fumes?

I bet not. And why? Because you know that you can’t drive your car on empty.  

The reality is, you can’t support your loved one on empty either, especially when they are struggling with an eating disorder. As much as we try to convince ourselves that we can make it just one more mile- one more meal, one more therapy session, one more tough conversation- without filling up our own tanks, eventually, we too end up broken down on the side of the road, causing more pain and more problems than if we had stopped and filled up our tanks when the light first went on. 

So I want to offer this reframe. Rather than thinking about “self-care” as this optional, extra thing you will get around to when the time is right (spoiler alert: the time is never right), you think of taking care of yourself as a chance to Refuel. Refueling is a mindset shift that allows you to start seeing taking care of yourself as a non-negotiable, necessary step to continuing to show up for your loved one day in and day out. 

So, how do you do this- especially when taking time for yourself can feel impossible with the juggling of logistics or if you feel this crushing guilt when you do something for yourself?

    1. Make a list. Write down all the things you want to do and all the things you want to say no to. Next to each, write down what gets in the way both internal (your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, judgements, etc.) and external (logistics of childcare, appointments, meal support, time, money, etc.).
    2. Pick one thing to try this week. Enlist your support system to work through the barriers, make a commitment to the REFUEL-ing activity by putting it in your calendar and follow through. (If it helps, start small.)
    3. Notice how it feels. Were you able to be more calm after having some time away? Did you get a sense of perspective as you stepped back? Without judgment, try to just notice what comes up for you during and after your Refuel time. 

Be kind to yourself as you try on this new way of thinking about your own self-care. It may click right away and feel empowering or you may find those barriers are tricky to overcome and you get stuck. Come to yourself with compassion and grace as you experiment with this. In fact, just doing that is its own Refueling activity.

Bryn Miller is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado, a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Consultant and an Certified Advanced Therapist in Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT). With nearly a decade working with adolescents and young adults with eating disorders alongside their parents and caregivers at every level of care, Bryn is passionate about supporting both individuals and their support teams to explore and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. Bryn approaches her work, both with individuals and their loved ones, with the goal of whole family healing. In service of the mission to better support caregivers and inspired by EFFT, Bryn founded Bryn Miller Parent Coaching and developed her signature 5-Step Parent Coaching Program, The Response Roadmap. Through live groups and her on-demand course, Bryn empowers parents to access their sense of calm and confidence to better connect to their children and the parents they want to be, regardless of the struggles. When Bryn is not working, she is writing, meditating, embarrassing herself in a hip-hop dance class and trying (largely unsuccessfully) to keep up with her own two small children.