Helping a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: A Guide

Helping a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: A Guide
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When a close friend or family member is physically or mentally unwell, we want to do everything in our power to help them. When they are battling an eating disorder, it can feel like the person we care about is slipping away emotionally, and as the illness overwhelms them, it begins to impact their physical health. A person with an eating disorder must get professional treatment, but there are also ways that you can offer them support.

If you have a loved one who has an eating disorder, here are some important dos and don’ts to keep in mind if someone you love has an eating disorder.

Do encourage them to seek professional treatment

Eating disorders are much more complex than many people realize and can profoundly impact a person’s life in the short and long term. In extreme cases of anorexia, some people can lose their lives if they do not receive the right treatment. You could provide support by researching the best local treatment centers and possibly attending their initial appointment with them. To find out more about treatment for anorexia and other eating disorders, head over to

Do not comment on their weight or appearance

Eating disorders are connected to low self-esteem and poor body image, so discussing their appearance is not helpful. Of course, criticizing their appearance is not going to help them in any way, but giving compliments is unlikely to make any tangible difference to how they feel about themselves and will only encourage them to focus on their body’s appearance. Click here for more on eating disorder triggers.

Listen to them

Hopefully, they will feel comfortable enough and trust you enough to confide in you and express their emotions. When they do so, listen to them with compassion and avoid being judgmental. They are already likely to be feeling a degree of shame and distress, and you cannot claim to know exactly how another person is feeling. Let them speak freely and let them know that you care about them and what they say through active listening.

Do not judge their eating habits

Questioning, criticizing, or getting frustrated with their eating habits or routine will not encourage them to change. It is more likely that your judgment will only reinforce feelings of shame and self-hatred and cause them to withdraw. It is certainly never advisable to pressurize someone with an eating disorder into eating food that they do not want to eat.

Do not talk about how their condition is affecting you or others

Some people might try to motivate a person with an eating disorder by highlighting how their behavior affects the people around them. It is likely that they are already struggling with guilt, and intensifying these feelings will make them feel worse, which will not help their recovery.

Be patient

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time, so it is important to be patient and do not get angry or upset if/when they revert to their disordered eating habits. Recovery from an eating disorder is not quick or easy, and they are likely to have relapses and difficult periods. You can be there for them at those times to remind them how far they have come, and that recovery is possible.

Image credits: irishtimes

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