- Educate Yourself. Read as much material as you can to learn the difference between facts and myths about weight, nutrition and exercise. Knowing the facts can help you challenge inaccurate ideas that may be fueling their disordered eating. Educating yourself can also help with avoiding overly simplistic solutions. Being told “Just eat” or to “Just stop” isn’t helpful and can leave your loved one feeling frustrated, defensive, and misunderstood.
- Be Mindful. Be mindful of potential triggers to their eating disorder. Try to avoid any discussions about food, eating, or weight. Be aware of your own perspective or negative statements you may make about your own body. Eating normally (e.g., honoring biological signals of hunger and fullness) in front of someone with an ED can help set an example of a healthy relationship with food. Understand that eating disorders are very complicated and recovery can take a long time.
- Offer Social Support. Even if their eating disorder causes them to withdraw, keep inviting them to join in with group and family activities. Try to think of social events that don’t involve food or exercise, such as movie nights or board games. In terms of mealtimes, ask your loved one what would be most helpful while eating. Some examples of things that may help include having the television or radio on, coloring, doing a puzzle or being involved in conversation. Come up with a list of distraction techniques together for them to use when they are struggling – this can also be helpful outside of mealtimes.
- Listen. People with EDs often feel overwhelmed or silenced, so when they reach out, they are often looking to just feel heard. Ask them questions about how they are feeling and what they are thinking instead of making assumptions. Do not try to “solve the problem.” Try to listen without judgement, criticism, or advice, and instead validate their feelings and offer your support. Also make sure to discuss things outside of their eating disorder; identify ways of expressing your love that have nothing to do with weight or foods being eaten or rejected.
- Practice Self Care. If you are emotionally or physically exhausted, you won’t be able to provide emotional support to your loved one in the way you would like to. Setting aside time to care for your own social and emotional needs will not only support your own wellbeing, but also model a good example for your loved one. There are also support groups for family members of people with eating disorders that can be helpful. Eating disorders are complicated, so be just as patient with yourself as you are with your loved one.
Center for Change. (2017, November). Anorexia and Bulimia-How Friends and Family Can Help.https://centerforchange.com/anorexia-and-bulimia-how-friends-and-family-can-help/.
National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, July). How to Help a Loved One. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers
Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders. (2019, June). How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder. https://www.rosewoodranch.com/help-someone-with-eating-disorder/
Beat Eating Disorders. (2020). Tips for Supporting Somebody with an Eating Disorder. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/supporting-someone/supporting-somebody
Eating Disorder Hope (August 2012). Resources for Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/resources-for-anorexia-bulimia-and-binge-eating-disorder