Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
10 Ways To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder
Published Oct 2nd, 2020 & updated on Jan 19th, 2022
You’ve noticed that your friend has been refusing food lately. They look tired and are dropping weight, but when you ask them if they’re ok they always say that they’re “fine.” You’re lowkey freaking out and the words “eating disorder” keep popping into your brain but you know your own limitations. You KNOW you don’t know enough. Anddd, you know it’s not your place to speak about it until your friend is ready for it.
One day, you invite them out to dinner at your favourite restaurant and they only get a drink or eat very little of the low-calorie meal that they’ve ordered. When you ask them again if they’re doing alright, they say that they “just aren’t that hungry today.”
Your same friend has also been exercising a lot. And I mean A LOT. They complain of brittle nails and a dry mouth. All of this scares the living shit out of you because you recognize they might be the signs of an eating disorder.
Approaching someone about their disordered eating can be a really difficult thing to do. It can be hard to even start the conversation! So, how do you help someone who may be dealing with an eating disorder, when they may not yet be ready for your help?
1. Patience Is Key
Trying to help someone enter recovery for their eating disorder can be a long and complicated process. It might take a while for them to open up to you about it and until they’re ready to do that, you can still find ways to support them.
Tell your loved one that you’re concerned about them, that you care about them, and that you’re here for them no matter what and no matter when.
Eating disorders can be a really isolating experience, so having someone walk down the long road to recovery with them will help give them the courage they need to continue.
Recovery can take years! They might relapse, they might try to give up, so you need to always have patience for them and their journey. There are many ways to offer emotional support while your friend or loved one is experiencing an eating disorder.
2. Educate Yourself
Eating disorders can come in all shapes and sizes. There isn’t one specific way that someone with an eating disorder looks because they affect everyone differently.
According to Psychology Today, eating disorders are “psychological conditions characterized by unhealthy, obsessive, or disordered eating habits.” The more educated you are on the different eating disorder types, treatments, and resources, the more likely you’ll be able to effectively help your loved one.
3. Let Go Of Judgement
Some people can hold a lot of shame when it comes to their eating disorder. You can support someone by being a non-judgemental pillar for them to lean on in their darkest times.
If they know they can come to you about literally anything, your loved one will trust you more and open up about their struggles and experiences.
4. Keep Calm During Hard Conversations
When you care about someone, it can be hard to not become emotional and not let those emotions show. You might be angry that they’re hurting themselves. You might be saddened watching them struggle with their mental and physical health. Maybe you’ll also see some pushback from them as they try to navigate this tough conversation. But try to keep your emotions in check as best as you can.
If you react with anger or frustration, it may damage your friendship without actually helping your loved one in their journey. Be as kind and understanding as possible. Remember it’s not about your feelings at this one moment in time, it’s about your friend’s feelings.
Keep your emotions in check and unload them later when you can work through them at home!
5. Watch Your Words
Make sure that what you’re saying doesn’t trigger them. People with eating disorders can be easily triggered by certain phrases and words. Don’t fat or skinny shame them, don’t bring up the topic of food or their disorder if you don’t have to, and always come from a place of love.
Here are some things you CAN say when supporting someone:
“I know that this is hard, but I am so proud of you for fighting!”
“I might not understand what you’re going through, but I am always going to be here to support you.”
“You are so strong!”
“I’m always here for you. I’m not going anywhere.”
“How can I support you?”
“How are you doing? Honestly.”
“I love you.”
We also have a more in-depth article on what not to say to someone with an eating disorder to help you out even more! (link to second article)
6. Support Them At Mealtimes
Eating for you might seem like a fun activity! You might look forward to mealtimes and have nooo problem finishing the delicious and amazing food on your plate.
Mealtimes with an eating disorder are a whole other experience. Because food is used to deal with uncomfortable emotions, your loved one may be soothing their sadness with excess food, or exercising control over their life by eating less and less. This difficult relationship with food can be overwhelming.
When this happens, be there for them. Ask them how you can best support them during mealtimes because they’ll really need you.
7. Include Them In Activities
Like we said, eating disorders can be super isolating. Your loved one can become withdrawn and feel overwhelmed with painful emotions relating to themselves and their eating disorder.
Don’t let them suffer alone. Invite them out to places! If you have a party, include them. Ask them out to coffee or even bring coffee to them. Find activities for you to do together so that they know that they aren’t alone and that they have you supporting them every step of the way.
8. Take Care Of Yourself
It can be emotionally and mentally draining to support someone with an eating disorder. So, be sure that you’re taking care of yourself too! It’s important that you are also well enough to continue to support them.
Sometimes taking care of yourself means setting boundaries, and other times it means going to therapy. Find out what works for you so that you can keep fighting the good fight!
9. Show Them That Recovery Is Possible
People with eating disorders can want to recover, but sometimes they don’t believe that they can. They might not think that it’s possible for them to get back to a healthy state of mind and repair their relationship with food.
Many people have posted about their eating disorder recovery online, so show these stories to your loved one. Say that you believe that they can recover just like the MANY people before them!View this post on InstagramView this post on Instagram
10. Call A Support Line
If things are really serious and you don’t know what to do next, call a support line and get their advice. The professionals on the other end of the phone will be able to guide you in the right direction. They’ll tell you how to help your loved one when you don’t know what else you can do.
The National Eating Disorder Information Centre has a toll-free helpline that runs from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. EST: 1-866-633-4220
Kids Help Phone also has a 24/7 confidential helpline that you can call for help if you’re 20 years old or younger: 1-800-668-6868
At the end of the day, the best way to help your friend is to love them. Yeah, we know that sounds simple, but it’s true! Let them know that you’re with them every step of the way on this journey and that you’re always going to support them. They’ll never feel alone if they have an amazing person like you right by their side!