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Eating Disorders: How You Can Help

Know someone struggling with an eating disorder? Here's how you can support them on their road to recovery
Eating disorders - how you can help

Eating disorders are a scary and confusing thing to witness. Why is this person you care about hurting themselves by not eating, eating too much, or binging and purging? Can't they see how unhealthy it is?

If you suspect that one of your loved ones has an eating disorder, the reasons behind it might not make sense to you. It's possible that the person suffering from the eating disorder is even more confused about it than you are, and they need your love and support to get through it.

The cure may seem obvious to you: stop eating, eat more, or stop purging or exercising. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Eating disorders aren't really about the food. They are the result of a complicated mix of emotions, genetics, environmental factors, and more.

What you can do to help your loved one?

Start by having an honest conversation with them. Block out some uninterrupted time and in the most supportive tone possible, tell them that you're concerned about them because you have noticed (weight loss, behavior changes, etc.). The conversation should not be confrontational, and you should always phrase your comments so that they focus on the things that you have seen or are worried about (no accusations!). Know that this is a mental health issue, not just a physical issue.

Your loved one may be reluctant to open up about their illness or may not be ready to talk about it at all, so be patient, kind, and don't judge. Don't use scare tactics or threats to try to force them into treatment. Make sure they know that you are always available to them, and mean it. It may even be helpful to discuss future goals or events (such as children or a new job) to motivate them to seek recovery. Hopefully, your interest in helping them might just be the nudge they need to reevaluate their situation and realize that it is time to take action, but don't take it personally if they don't. The decision is entirely theirs and is not a reflection on you or your persuasive skills.

In the meantime, learn as much as you can about eating disorders and consider joining a support group for family members and friends. This will help you understand what is going on and how best to cope with the challenges ahead.

When the time comes for treatment, be willing to do whatever is needed to assist in the healing process. These behaviors have developed over a period of time, and they will not be resolved overnight. The sooner help is sought, the better the chances for recovery. You can and should offer to help them find a therapist who is familiar with eating disorders and offer to take them to appointments or watch their children if you have the resources to do so. Another option is to let your loved one know about the resources on 7 Cups, where they can get support from the convenience of their home.

The most important thing for you to do is remember that this is an illness and it is not anyone's fault. Continue the honest dialog and persevere. Recovery may take a while, but if committed, it will happen.

For more help, join our empathetic community, speak with one of our free, trained listeners, or get advice from an online therapist today.

References:,, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)

Posted: 22 February 2019
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Kathy Wenzel

Kathy is the editor of a leading regional publication in Michigan with personal experience with and a passion for mental health issues.

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