National Eating Disorders Association
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How to Help a Loved One

NEDA Staff

If you are worried about your friend’s eating behaviors or attitudes, it is important to express your concerns in a loving and supportive way. It is also necessary to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of eating disorders. In a private and relaxed setting, talk to your friend in a calm and caring way about the specific things you have seen or felt that have caused you to worry. 

DO:

  • Learn about eating disorders so that you will recognize the signs when you see them, and know the difference between myths and facts.
  • Set aside some time to have a private conversation with your loved one, and voice your concerns in a way that is honest and sympathetic.
  • Express your love and support. Remind your friend or loved one that you care about them and want them to be healthy and happy.
  • Be prepared for a difficult conversation. Someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder is already scared, and it’s extremely difficult for them to hear this kind of conversation. When you speak, do it with love and attention to their needs, not yours.
  • Share your own difficult experiences and painful emotions. It can be really important for them to know that they’re not alone, and that there’s nothing wrong with them for struggling.
  • Suggest that the person seek help from a physician and/or therapist. Eating disorders are complex illnesses and require treatment from professionals.
  • Set boundaries to preserve your own emotional well-being.

DON’T:

  • Ignore the problem. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses and the earlier someone seeks help, the better their chances are for full recovery. 
  • Place shame, blame, or guilt on your friend regarding their actions or attitudes. Use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
  • Oversimplify. Avoid saying things such as, “All you have to do is start accepting yourself as you are” or “If you just started eating normally, everything would be fine.”
  • Give advice about weight loss, exercise, or appearance.

Ed's note: Loved ones play an important role in eating disorders recovery and navigating the process can sometimes be a challenge. This video contains easy tips on how help a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder.