How to help someone with an eating disorder

eating disorder helpWatching someone you love suffer with an eating disorder is incredibly painful. You want to be there for them but it’s difficult to know the right way to approach the situation and what to say. Although there is no right or wrong way and different approaches work for different people, below are some of the most effective techniques that can be used to help sufferers open up.


Be prepared

Educate yourself as much as you can about eating disorders before trying to speak to your loved one. They are more than likely going to be experiencing high levels of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, guilt or denial and may not even recognise that they have a problem. It’s important to take this into consideration and to be prepared to deal with the situation if they respond with anger or denial.

Choose the right environment

This is a difficult and sensitive subject to broach and it’s therefore important that it’s done in a caring manner and in an environment where the person feels comfortable and safe. Somewhere private is advisable rather than a public place where the sufferer may feel embarrassed.

Use the right language

This is one of the most important things to consider when approaching someone with an eating disorder. You need to take into account their fear of disclosing their feelings and behaviours so let them know that you care about them, want to help them and are there for support.

Try to use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I care about you’ and ‘I’m worried about you.’ Give the person time to open up and try not to rush them. When they do open up, listen respectfully to what they have to say and let them know that you won’t judge or criticise them.

What to avoid

* Don’t put the focus on food - try talking about how the person is feeling instead.

* Don’t use language that implies blame or that the person is doing wrong - for example, rather than saying ‘you are making me worried’ say ‘I am worried about you. Also avoid manipulative statements as well because this can worsen the problem and make it more difficult for the person to admit to it.

* Try not to dominate the conversation. It’s important to listen to the person and create space for them to talk.

If you’re worried that you or someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, please feel free to visit our Eating Disorder Treatment page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments available. You can also contact us to talk about Life Works eating disorder treatment.

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