National Eating Disorders Association

Disordered eating is when a person’s attitudes about food, weight, and body size lead to very rigid eating and exercise habits that jeopardize one's health, happiness, and safety. It is never too early to ask for help about eating concerns. When you begin to notice that disordered eating habits are affecting your life, your happiness, and your ability to concentrate, it is important that you talk to somebody about what you’re going through. These behaviors can quickly get out of control and may even lead to an eating disorder, which can be a life-threatening problem.

If you are able to recognize disordered eating attitudes and behaviors in yourself, you have already taken the first step toward a happy, healthy, balanced way of life. The second step—telling a trusted friend, family member, or professional counselor/nutritionist—is equally as important. 

You should not attempt to address your disordered eating alone; discussing the feelings you’re experiencing with a loved one can provide essential comfort, support, and direction. Starting that initial conversation may be challenging, but these guidelines were developed to help to make it a bit easier. 

Establish a Safe Environment

Identify someone whom you trust and feel comfortable talking to. Family and friends can be wonderful, supportive resources, but if you’re concerned about your eating behaviors, it is advisable to also speak with a professional counselor and/or nutritionist. Getting help from a professional who understands and specializes in eating, weight, and body image issues can feel less threatening and more objective because they are familiar with situations like your own. 

Whether you decide to speak with a professional or a loved one (or both!), set aside a specific time with that person so you can discuss your situation. Try to find a private, comfortable place away from other people and distractions so that you can talk openly about your concerns and feelings. 

Both before and during this conversation, it is normal for you to experience a range of feelings including fear, shame, anger, embarrassment, or nervousness. To keep up the courage to talk about what you're going through, remember that you are doing the right thing. It is important to talk about this and ask for help. You should be proud of yourself for taking the first steps toward a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle!  

Explain the Situation

Explain the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing and the behaviors you have developed, using details. Starting from the beginning, talk about how you began the disordered eating habits and why you have continued them. Although you may not be able to fully explain the reasons for your eating and exercise rituals, attempting to do so may help you recognize some of the connections you make between eating, exercise, and self-esteem.

It is important to keep in mind that the person you have confided in may not completely understand exactly how you are feeling or the reasons for your behavior. They may demonstrate shock, denial, fear, or even anger. Be patient and remain calm. Remember that they may not automatically know the best way to respond and support you, but you can help them learn. 

Answering some or all of these questions before your meeting may help you frame what you’d like to share:

    • When did you begin having different thoughts regarding food, weight, or exercise? What were the thoughts?
    • When did the different behaviors start? What was the behavior? How were you feeling at the time? Did you hope to accomplish something specific (e.g., lose weight, maintain weight, gain control of something, get somebody’s attention, see what it was like) in doing this behavior?
    • Have you noticed any physical health effects (e.g., fatigue, loss of hair, digestive problems, loss of menstrual cycle, heart palpitations)? Have you noticed any emotional effects?
    • How are you currently feeling physically? Emotionally? Do you feel ready to stop the disordered eating behaviors?
    • How can the people in your life best support you? Do you want them to monitor your behavior? Do you want them to ask you how you are doing with your recovery or would you rather tell them about it when you're ready?
    • What changes are you willing to make in your life to establish a healthy lifestyle?

Educate with the Facts

Give the person you confide in some information regarding the prevalence of eating disorders and tips for how to best support somebody who is struggling with food, weight or body image issues. Share facts with them that include the physical and emotional effects of eating disorders, along with the steps involved in recovery. 

Let this person know how they can help and what you need, and keep them informed as your needs change throughout your recovery process. Remind them that recovery is a gradual process—there may even be some setbacks—and you will require patience and understanding along the way.

As you begin to address your eating concerns, keep in mind that regardless of the numbers on the scale or the size, shape, and curve of your body, you are a special and unique individual! Reaching out to the people who care for you and want to help you get better is the first step towards embracing recovery and developing a healthy relationship with food.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call  ANAD’s Helpline at: (888) 375-7767 or the National Alliance of Eating Disorders Helpline at: (866) 662-1235.


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