What do I do if someone I know has an eating disorder?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions, and probably one of the hardest to answer. Treatment and recovery are ultimately up to the individual. Getting help for an eating disorder can often be a difficult and scary first step for the individual suffering, one often met with resistance. Therefore, it is important to know that recovery can be a long process. Caring for someone with an eating disorder requires patience. It is important for individuals affected by another’s eating disorder to find their own support networks, and find ways of caring for themselves too.

Ways to help

  • Address your concerns in a confidential, safe environment. Be open and direct in an emphatic and non-confrontational way. Let them know what you have seen and how it makes you feel.
  • Listen to their responses and what they say. Let them know their responses are important.
  • Education is key. Know the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and most importantly the causes.
  • Be familiar with available treatment options in the area. Suggest they make an appointment. Offer to be present when they make the first call. If the person is a minor, tell their parents or a trusted adult about your concerns.
  • Remember, an eating disorder is not a choice. Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses with medical consequences.
  • Be careful about the comments you make about food and weight.
  • Celebrate internal qualities and talents rather than physical appearance. Avoid talking about sizes, calories, fat grams and diet plans.
  • Avoid comments about others weight and body shape.
  • Avoid trying to “fix” the situation. Instead listen and be supportive.
  • Do not make comments such as “If you would just eat.”
  • Avoid power struggles about food.
  • Ask what is helpful and the best ways you can offer support and care.
  • Do not avoid the topic of the eating disorder for fear of saying the wrong thing. Avoidance gives the eating disorder power!

Most importantly, remember recovery is a process, but it is possible!