How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

Talk to the person about your concerns

  • Let the person know you are available to talk whenever he/she feels ready.
  • When he/she is ready to talk, try to find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Use “I” statements (e.g., “I’m concerned about you,” “I know this is hard for you.”)
  • Provide specific examples of behaviors or events that have caused you concern.
  • One of the most effective things you can do is simply to listen without judgment, even when it’s difficult to understand or comprehend what he/she is saying.

Be supportive

  • Let the person know you believe in his/her ability to address the problem. To do otherwise will diminish his/her self-confidence.
  • Learning to problem solve is essential to emotional maturity. Be supportive rather than overprotective.

Avoid making accusatory “you” statements.

  • Avoid saying things such as “Why are you doing this to me?” and “You are ruining the whole family.”
  • If you are tempted to express negative feelings toward the person, take a moment to acknowledge what you are feeling, to feel compassion for yourself and for him/her, and try to say something positive instead.

Talk to him or her about subjects other than his or her eating.

  • Avoid monitoring his/her eating and weight gain or loss and becoming overly protective or controlling.
  • Accept that there are limits to what anyone can do to help him/her.

Encourage him/her to consider therapy.

  • Do not hesitate out of fear that he/she will hate you or become increasingly ill.
  • Contact the Counseling Center to find out about possible options for treatment. It may be helpful to offer these when talking to the person about your concerns.

Adjust to changes in the person’s attitude and behavior as he/she attempts to recover.

  • Be patient and aware that recovery will take time and may be uneven.
  • Backward steps can be an important part of growth and the learning process.

Remember to take care of yourself.

  • Accept that this circumstance is very difficult and usually requires the help of a professional, such as a counselor or a physician.
  • You need encouragement and information for yourself as well as your friend/family member. Support systems will help you with the anger, frustration and fear you may feel.
  • Avoid excessively sacrificing for the person or allowing yourself to become emotionally drained.
  • Participate in your normal, meaningful activities and gently encourage him/her to do the same.
  • Consider participating in family therapy or support groups.

For more information

Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends by Michelle Siegel, Ph.D., Judith Brisman, Ph.D., and Margot Weinshel, Ph.D. – Harper & Row Publishers, NY, 1988.