Thursday, April 18, 2024

How To Help Someone With An Eating Disorder

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What You Can Say To Your Friend With An Eating Disorder

How to help someone with an eating disorder

It can be really hard to find the right words you want someone to know that you care but you dont want to trigger someone or make things more difficult.

Generally, it is better to start sentences with I and not You and to stick to what you have observed. For example instead of saying You need help! which can sound accusatory say I would really like to help you feel better about yourself and would like us to try and get some help. Ask the person questions and try not to make any presumptions about how they might be feeling or their circumstances.

Here is a list of phases you can use to start conversation or simply to show that you are there to support your friend.

I love you/ I care about you and I dont think of you any differently.

I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to, I will help as much as I can.

How are you doing today?

How can I best be a friend to you during this time?

Lets together.

I will never stop caring about you.

I will be here for you whenever you need my support.

I believe in you.

Im really proud of you this must be really hard.

Oversimplifying Or Making Light Of It

In an attempt to ease the emotional tension, some people might say something like, I wish I could get that and get fit, Or, Well, you just have to stop binging.

Making light of their eating disorder or oversimplifying it can make your loved one like you dont understand their depth of his struggle or how painful it is.

What to Do Instead?

Show your understanding and support. You can say something like, I understand how hard it is for you to stop doing what youre doing, and I am here to support you.

Dont Pretend Their Eating Disorder Doesnt Exist

Of course acting like things are just like they always were is not helpful, either. Things clearly are not the same.

So while its important to connect in the same ways you used to, pretending the eating disorder doesnt exist will just feel uncomfortable for you and the other person.

Its normal to mention the eating disorder. Just do it in a sensitive way. Keep the conversation between you and them, ask questions and listen without offering advice, and then just let them know you are always there if and when they want to talk.

If this is not true, and you are unable to be a support, its better to be honest about that. Not everyone is good at helping, and promising something we cant deliver can be a disappointment the other person just doesnt need at this time. Instead, offer to help find support. I wish I could be helpful but I am not very good at these things, but I would be happy to help you find support elsewhere.

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Lets Do : : : : Together

As you find ways to comfort your friend or family member with an eating disorder, engage your loved one in activities that you enjoy doing together. By offering a specific suggestion it takes the pressure off of them to have to figure out something to do, and you can spend time with them and help them to get their mind off of their problems.

Interact Outside Of Meals

How To Help Someone With An Eating Disorder

Eating disorders can be painfully isolating illnesses because they make it hard for the person to socialize. To the extent you are able, continue to spend time with your friend or loved one with an eating disorder outside of meals.

Try to engage the person in activities that dont revolve around eating or exercise. Run an errand together, go to a show, watch a movie, or just hang out. Even if they refuse or resist, dont give up on them. Keep trying and maintain the connection.

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What If You Arent Sure He Or She Has An Eating Disorder And Want To Ask

Asking a loved one if they have a problem is actually a good idea. Yes, you might be wrong. He or she might just be stressed. Even so, an honest conversation can help them. And if it is an eating disorder, you might help save their life.

Often people who suffer from an eating disorder feel ashamed about their problem. So they will avoid reaching out for help. If you reach out first, it can be a lifeline.

Again, this is very much about choosing the right moment and being very sensitive. Wed recommend you read our article on Telling Loved Ones They Need Counselling, as all the same rules apply. Pick a good moment, be educated and prepared, keep it between them and you, listen, dont judge.

Where Can You Access Support Services

There is a wide range of support services available to employers either directly or via group insurance products. Employers would be wise to take the time to look in detail at the content of mental health support services, some can be very light touch, with complex conditions such as eating disorders excluded.

Good quality support services can include access to experienced registered mental health nurses providing long-term, confidential, one-to-one support which is an important factor in the recovery from an eating disorder. They can also be the vital link in organising tailored therapies, signposting to specialist charities and support groups and helping individuals to navigate the NHS, all ensuring that the individual has the best opportunity to make an effective and sustained recovery.

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Other Types Of Eating Disorders

There are other types of eating disorders that dont fit neatly into the three categories above. These include:


A disorder characterized by cravings to eat non-food items like dirt or paint chips.

Rumination Disorder

In this type of eating disorder, people regurgitate food and then re-chew and re-swallow it.

Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder

A condition that causes people to lose interest in eating or become full after only small amounts of food.

Orthorexia Nervosa

It is an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Such as eating processed foods, greasy chips, a high-cholesterol diet, etc.

NOTE: People with some types of personality disorders may also be at risk for developing an eating disorder. Such as those who are perfectionists or have low self-esteem. If youre concerned about your eating habits or those of a loved one, its important to get help as soon as possible.

How To Deal/help With Eating Disorders

#LetsTalkAboutIt: How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to overcoming eating disorders, but there are a few general things that can help.

  • Firstly, its important to seek professional help. This could mean seeing a therapist or counselor who specializes in eating disorders or attending a support group for people with eating disorders.
  • Secondly, try to develop a healthy relationship with food. This doesnt mean you have to become a vegan or start counting calories it just means that you should eat in a way that makes you feel good and supports your health.
  • Finally, be patient with yourself. Recovery from an eating disorder is a long process, and there will be times when you feel like youre not making any progress. Remember that its okay to fall sometimes as long as you keep getting back up.

NOTE: It is important to remember that you are not alone in this struggle, and some people can help you get through it.

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Dont Underestimate Your Ability To Help

Many people with eating disorders report that it was only because of other people in their lives caring about them that they recovered. Keep this in mind when things seem hopelessyou can be enormously helpful to your friend or loved one.

Even if they are not engaging in treatment or seeming willing to accept help, reach out periodically to remind them you care about them and ask if theres anything you can do to support them. Offer hope and remind them that most people with eating disorders do recover.

What You Can Do For Your Friend With An Eating Disorder

Encourage them to seek professional help

Overcoming an eating disorder can be very difficult without assistance, so accessing professional help is important. You can contact the EDV hub for advice and assistance in finding suitable professionals in your area.

Become informed

Seek out information about eating disorders in general and learn about your friends eating disorder. The EDV website is a great place to start. The more educated you are, the more youll be able to empathise and understand what they are going through, which may help you to better support them and yourself.

Remind yourself that your friends behaviour is a symptom of the eating disorder, rather than a reflection of their character. Accept that your friends eating disorder is not their fault. By separating the person from the disorder, we are reminded of the person we knew before and the person they can become again.

Do things as you usually would and enjoy things together

It is important not to let the eating disorder become the focus of your friendship. Continue to enjoy things together that you have always done. Try not to make any changes to the activities you would normally do with them this includes outings, topics of conversation, meals out or other interests. Tell them about your own life and what is exciting or interesting to you. This may give them more hope towards recovery, when their mind wont be preoccupied with their body or food.

Take the focus off food and weight
Be patient

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Understand The Factors Of Eating Disorder

The factors behind your loved ones eating disorder are specific to them, and understanding these should be through an honest conversation or through the help of a professional.

But following are some common factors:


Whatever their body size or shape is, people with eating disorder usually harbor a deep sense of shame about it.

This sense of shame is usually connected to a deeper sense of shame about the self as a whole, believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

In an attempt to make themselves good, many believe that being thin is their way to become worthy an idea that is strongly reinforced by our culture.


Some people would use their eating disorder as a way to manage difficult emotions, such as anger, sadness, and shame.

Eating disorder narrows the emotional pain. Its hard to feel anything when youre overwhelmingly hungry or full. Also, thinking about food and calories all the time, makes it hard to think about anything else.

While this might work in the short term, these feelings are being left unaddressed. Overtime, they can intensify and come out in unpleasant ways, like outbursts, breakdowns, etc.


Some people who are struggling with anxiety and a strong need to control their lives, or trauma survivors, might use eating disorder to feel more in control.

Even if they dont feel in control of anything else in their lives, at least they are in charge of what goes into their body.

Practical Exercise

Pretending It Doesnt Affect You

Help Others Through An Eating Disorder. Guidelines

While being a food cop doesnt help, not talking about it at all, doesnt help either.

The eating disorder isnt about you, but its affecting you.

The key here is to find a healthy balance, where you dont take ownership of your loved ones eating disorder, but you do express how it affects you and the relationship.

What to Do Instead?

Speak up when the eating disorder is affecting you.

It is not okay for your partner to leave a mess after purging, or to take food without replacing it.

Express your concern when you feel worried about your loved one.

You can say something like, I feel worried when I see you skipping meals. Im concerned about your health.

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How Hr Can Help Manage Eating Disorders In The Workplace

In the wake of increased remote working, HR and wellbeing professionals need to educate themselves on how to spot the signs of an eating disorder, and put measures in place to help employees manage these debilitating mental illnesses.

According to Beat, the eating disorder charity, an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. These are complex illnesses thought to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors and can include: bulimia, binge eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder , other specified feeding or eating disorder and anorexia. The latter having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Eating disorders can affect any individual regardless of age, gender or weight. They can be extremely distressing and severely affect the quality of life for both the sufferers and those close to them. Feelings of shame are common and those affected often go to significant lengths to keep it hidden. However, full recovery from an eating disorder is possible with specialist help and support.

Whilst it is important to raise concerns with an individual, this needs to be approached with tact, sensitivity and in an appropriate confidential environment

How Are Eating Disorders Treated

Treatment will be different depending on the type of eating disorder your friend or relative has.

It will usually involve some kind of talking therapy because help with eating and putting on weight alone is usually not enough.

Your friend or relative will talk to a therapist about the emotional difficulties that led to their eating disorder, and they will learn healthier ways to cope with these feelings. Their treatment may also involve them working through a guided self-help programme.

During their treatment, they will also have regular health checks to look after their physical health.

Treatment will take place over a number of weeks so your friend or relative can get used to the changes slowly. The earlier they start, the better their chances of making a good recovery.

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How To Know If A Loved One Has An Eating Disorder

If there is a person about whom you are worried, the first step is that you are here and concerned about your friend’s thoughts or behaviors around eating. Sometimes it can be harder for a person with disordered eating to recognize the problem.

At onset, an eating disorder can often resemble behaviors that our culture admires. Maybe your loved one has been dieting, but has become increasingly fixated and restrictive. Maybe theyre eating less and less when they are with youor you never see them eat at all. Or maybe they eat a lot, and then immediately excuse themselves after the meal and disappear without explanation and do not return for thirty minutes. Maybe their exercise habits seem excessive or dangerous, or they obsess to you about their weight.

That’s why it’s so important to become better informed on the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder in a friend or loved one first.

Make Sure You Are Caring For Yourself Too

Know Someone with An Eating Disorder – Here’s How To Help with Marc David

Setting boundaries is critical as the treatment and recovery process for an eating disorder is a lengthy one in most cases. You cannot assist someone else if you are not taking care of you. Eating disorders are overwhelming and difficult to deal with for everyone involved. It is natural to need a break at times. Remember that you cannot be everything for your loved one. The wonderful thing about locating a team of qualified professionals to assist your loved one, is that you can return to the role of wife, mother, husband, father, sibling, child, or friend. You do not have to be a therapist, dietitian, and loved one all rolled up in one person.

It may be that you find yourself in need of counseling while your loved one is completing their own treatment. Having your own professional support is a good way to gain valuable knowledge about the disorder and learn ways to manage your own stress and anxiety about your loved ones condition. There are also support groups available for family members in many cities and treatment programs which offer peer support as well. This is invaluable to family members who often feel alone in dealing with the battle against an eating disorder and the havoc one can cause.

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Recognizing The Signs Of An Eating Disorder

You cannot always recognize the signs of an eating disorder based on a persons weight. People with bulimia may have an average weight while people with binge eating disorder may gain weight. Additionally, people with anorexia may not be losing weight despite their lack of food intake.

Additional signs to help you recognize an eating disorder include:

  • Very low self-esteem
  • Having a view of body or weight that does not match with reality
  • An intense fear of gaining weight or eating food
  • Lying and making excuses about eating or the lack of eating
  • Finding empty bottles, cans, wrappers and containers of food that were hidden
  • Someone always leaving the room or using the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Exercising excessively
  • Using laxatives or other pills to lose weight

Eating disorders can dominate a persons life. If your friend seems consumed with ideas of food, weight and how they look, they could have an eating disorder. However, when you recognize the symptoms, you are in a better position to help them with an eating disorder.

Ways To Help People With Eating Disorders

Kristin Rogers wrote in CNN Health some tips to help people with eating disorders.

1.Know the signs. This starts with knowing the signs of the disorder, especially when changes in body weight become apparent and the person is primarily suffering from these changes or is becoming more concerned about food. The National Eating Disorders Association said that some coon signs are changes in a person’s emotions, behavior, and physical appearance.

2. Rehearse your statement before confronting a loved one. Rehearsing what to say to a loved one can help people with eating disorders. Set a schedule to talk with them and use factual “I” statements, such as saying “Hey, I noticed that you’re fixated or that you’re talking more about dieting,” or ‘I noticed that you’re uncomfortable eating in front of people. Please know that I’m here to offer that support should you ever need it.”

Admittedly, many of them would be defensive of the educated advice and some would even get angry. Nonetheless, repeat your concerns and tell the person that you care, and leave the conversation open.

3. Advice them to seek professional help. Encourage people with eating disorders to seek professional help to heal. Recommend some physician or therapist, especially to those who are ready to start their recovery journey. Getting treatment as soon as possible increases their chances of getting treated.

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