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How to Help a Friend who has an Eating Disorder

When I was struggling with my eating disorder my family & friends were concerned about me. They tried various ways to help and/or to convince me to get help. Unfortunately, their tactics didn’t work. Their efforts made me want to isolate more, and delve deeper into my disordered eating and exercise behaviors. What could they have done instead?

Here are some ways to help someone who you are concerned may have an eating disorder.

  • Learn more about what eating disorders are. It’s very important to know the facts. The individual struggling will often use many myths and misconceptions to protect their eating disorder and you need to have facts to back up your concerns.

  • Plan ahead of time when you will talk and what you will say. It’s important to pick a private place and have enough time to have a conversation. You don’t want others around and/or to feel rushed.

  • Use “I” statements and be as honest as you can. Stay away from blaming language that will often make the individual feel they need to defend themselves or retreat.

  • Talk about the FACTS. What specific behaviors are you noticing that can’t be refuted. For example: I’ve noticed you don’t eat at lunch and only drink water. Or, I’ve noticed you have been spending 3 hours at the gym each day. While the person may offer excuses for anything you say, this language focuses the discussion on facts, rather than emotions.

  • Be understanding but firm. The individual may become angry and possibly hostile with you. It’s important to hold your ground, while reminding them they’re not a bad person and others also struggle with similar issues.

Don’t threaten or make promises.

  • Don’t threaten or make promises. Threats like “I won’t be your friend” or “You’re going to lose your job” only cause more anxiety and embarrassment for someone struggling with an eating disorder. They already wrestle with feelings of low self-esteem. Comments like this only fuel those emotions. Making promises like “I won’t tell your parents” isn’t something you can guarantee and often might not be in their best interests.

  • Try not to use overly simplistic language. Hearing “Just eat” or “Just stop throwing up” isn’t helpful. What might seem like an obvious way to change behavior to you is not to them.

  • Encourage them to seek professional help. Offer to help them find a doctor or therapist if they don’t have one. It’s important to find professionals that have knowledge about eating disorders.

  • Tell someone, especially if the individual is a minor.

Some of the information in this article was provided by National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).


By Shoshana Gordon

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