Helping a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Wednesday, Nov 10  •  


If you recognize alarming eating disorder habits in a friend or family member, brushing it under the rug or ignoring the symptoms will not help it go away. While you cannot force someone to change, you can offer them support and a helping hand. Even the smallest bit of reinforcement can make a vast difference in their recovery. Doing your best to understand what they are going through can help you provide them with a positive and supportive foundation throughout their journey to recovery.

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia. People with anorexia starve themselves out of an intense fear of becoming fat. Despite being underweight or even emaciated, they never believe they’re thin enough. In addition to restricting calories, people with anorexia may also control their weight with exercise, diet pills, or purging.

Bulimia. Bulimia involves a destructive cycle of bingeing and purging. Following an episode of out-of-control binge eating, people with bulimia take drastic steps to purge themselves of the extra calories. To avoid weight gain they vomit, exercise excessively, or take laxatives.

Binge Eating Disorder. People with binge eating disorders compulsively overeat, rapidly consuming thousands of calories in a short period. Despite feelings of guilt and shame over these secret binges, they feel unable to control their behavior or stop eating even when uncomfortably full.

How to Help

  • Learn more about eating disorders. Education can be half the battle when it comes to providing support.
  • Practice what you want to say before you say it. This will help reduce your anxiety and clarify the message you want to send. Avoid lecturing, criticizing, or even accusing them of an eating disorder.
  • If they don’t want to talk about their eating disorder or mental health in general, do not push them! Let them know that if/when they are ready to discuss it with you, you will be available and willing.
  • When they are ready to discuss, offer a listening ear and offer praise for taking steps in their recovery journey.
  • Don’t take control of the situation; let them make decisions about what works best for themselves and their situation. 
  • Be on the lookout for accelerating eating disorder warning signs.
  • Treat any communication about their recovery as confidential, unless they are an immediate danger to themselves or others.
  • Many eating disorders require help from a professional. Urge them to see a doctor as soon as possible. You can even suggest making the appointment for them and going along on the first visit if they want someone by their side for support.

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time. There are no quick fixes or miracle cures, so it’s important to have patience and compassion. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on your loved one by setting unrealistic goals or demanding progress on your timetable. Provide hope and encouragement, praise each small step forward, and stay positive through struggles and setbacks.