How to Support a Loved One With an Eating Disorder

Educate yourself! Do your research to understand the differences between eating-disorder facts and eating-disorder myths. This will help you to reason with your loved one when their inaccurate ideas and beliefs around food and body image fuel their eating disorder and interrupt their recovery. Educating yourself about eating disorders can also help you to more effectively advocate for your loved one.

Validate that what they are doing is difficult — because it is! Imagine having to confront your deepest fear four to five times a day. This is what your loved one is doing every time they eat a meal/snack. Let them know that you understand that what they are doing isn’t easy and that you admire them for their bravery and perseverance.

Ask them what you can do to support them. Don’t walk on eggshells. The best thing you can do for your loved one is to transparently ask them how they would prefer to be supported. They know what works and what doesn’t, and they will appreciate your taking the time to learn how best to help them.

Try to avoid talk about external and physical appearances — whether it be about yours, theirs or anyone else’s. Instead, comment on an internal quality that you admire such as bravery or sense of humor.

Try to avoid discussing diets or exercise regimens. This will only ignite the eating disorder and make your loved one uncomfortable and anxious. Try instead to eat nourishing meals with your loved one to encourage the notion that mealtimes can and should be positive experiences.

Be caring, but firm. Set strict boundaries regarding actions and consequences and stick to them! Being supportive doesn’t mean being manipulated by the eating disorder. What’s most important is following through on boundaries or expectations that you have set regarding your relationship.

Be a good role model for your loved one. Live your life as you wish they were able to live theirs. Practice self-care and self-acceptance, eat healthfully and exercise to feel good,not to look good.

Tell someone! Do not promise your friend that you won’t tell anyone if they disclose their eating disorder to you. Eating disorders are dangerous and life-threatening diseases, and it is not worth risking your friend’s life to avoid having them angry with you.