How To Help A Friend or Family Member
Who STRUGGLES with an Eating Disorder
If you recognize signs and symptoms of an eating problem in someone you know, do not ignore it or wait until the problem has progressed to a dangerous level. The earlier your loved one can recognize his or her problem and seek professional help, the quicker the recovery process will be.
Educate yourself. There is so much more to an eating disorder than its definition. Read up on eating disorders from credible sources and don’t assume you know everything about them based on what you’ve heard in magazines and movies. Approaching your friend with an understanding of the disease can go a long way.
Choose a private time. Set up a private time to talk so you won’t be interrupted or overheard. Your friend will probably feel vulnerable discussing his or her eating problems, so make sure the environment feels as comfortable and safe as possible.
Express concern. Express your concern in a caring way so the person doesn’t feel attacked. Use statements like “I’m worried that you…” or “I feel scared because…”. Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on your friend—eating disorders are not a choice.
Listen. Give your friend plenty of time to respond. You may have to sit in silence for your loved one to process the confrontation before he/she is able to respond. Use body language (like head nods) and phrases (like reflecting back what she’s said) to encourage your friend to continue the conversation and be open with you.
Avoid arguments. If your friend is defensive or denies having a problem, don’t fight back. Take a breath, stay calm, and restate your concerns and feelings without accusatory “you” statements. If the conversation needs to end, try to allow the person to feel welcome to address it again when he or she is ready.
Encourage professional help. Eating disorders are very complex illnesses that do not have simple solutions. They are much deeper than surface issues about food and weight. Recovery from an eating disorder typically requires a treatment team consisting of a mental health therapist, dietitian, and psychiatrist, medical physician, and sometimes additional practitioners such as family therapist, art or movement therapist, etc. The time it takes to recover from an eating disorder varies greatly, but often is in correlation with how long it takes the person to get help.
Be a support. Offer to help find a treatment professional, make the appointment, and/or go with your loved one to the appointment. Letting your friend know that he or she is not alone can decrease feelings of apprehension and fear.
Remember to take care of yourself. Acknowledge that this process can be stressful on you. It’s difficult to see a loved one suffer, especially if the individual is resistant or in denial. Understand that you don’t have the ability to make the person get better. Leave time for a self-care activity after having these emotional discussions and consider seeking your own support from a professional.