How Can i help someone with an eating disorder?
When someone shares that they have an eating disorder, treat that information with the same respect and compassion that you would if someone confided that they were struggling with depression or were diagnosed with a serious illness. Eating disorders, while being a mental health struggle, are also very much a disease. It’s not something to be ashamed of, but it can feel very vulnerable to expose their struggle.
What if I suspect someone has an eating disorder?
Check out this blog post for signs of an eating disorder. How you get involved will vary greatly depending on what your relationship is with the person you think has an eating disorder. If they are someone in your household like your spouse or child, that will vary greatly, compared to if it’s your kid’s babysitter or a coworker.
Generally helpful and healthy ways to support them:
- Focus more on asking questions about how they are feeling and about life and really listening instead of making assumptions.
- Ask if there’s anything you can do to support them. If you are in the same household, this may mean creating regular mealtimes, or helping set up boundaries around food. It could also mean helping them find resources for them to check out (counseling centers, eating disorder therapists, or support groups) or just being a listening ear. They may say that they don’t want you involved, if this is the case, remind them that you will be there if they change their mind, and continue to treat them with kindness and compassion.
- Make mealtime a safe space, relaxed, and protected time. Meal time is probably not the best time to bring up conflict, since that can compound on any anxiety that’s already associated with eating.
- Be sensitive about when you bring up their eating disorder struggle. Don’t mention their eating disorder in a group setting, or with people who don’t need to know.
- Do give them compliments that are not about their weight
- Try to recognize enabling behaviors
...And things not to do:
- Don’t gossip about suspected eating disorders
- Don’t say things like “you need some meat on your bones” or “that’s going straight to your hips” these outdated sayings are not helping anyone and are rooted in shame.
- Don’t draw unnecessary attention to their body or what they are eating.
- Don’t shame them for their behaviors, feelings, or for what they are (or aren’t) eating.
What if they don’t want help or are in denial?
There’s an old saying “you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink”. You may think you know what’s best for someone; what they “should” be eating or what treatment center they “should” be going to, but ultimately it’s not up to you.
Nagging, shaming, or guilting a friend or family member into doing what you think is best for their health can often do more harm than good. That’s not to say that you can’t bring up the topic, just to do so with compassion and wisdom and think before you speak.
What to do if your child has an eating disorder
If you believe a child or loved one may be struggling but are unsure of how to talk to them or care for their physical and mental health needs, please reach out. We’d be happy to help you as you navigate those conversations.
This is not medical advice and not meant to diagnose or treat. If you think you may have an eating disorder, schedule an appointment with a qualified healthcare provider.
Did we miss any other good ways to support someone with an eating disorder? We'd love to hear your advice in the comments.