Home / Blog: Time to destigmatize / Find Out How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder – 11 Tips

Find Out How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder – 11 Tips

How to Help Someone with an Eating DisorderEating disorder is a coping mechanism that a person knowingly or unknowingly conjures at times of crisis to help relieve emotional pain and achieve some degree of control. But what stimulates the development of this faulty relationship with food? The answer isn’t one or two – it’s too many. Many biological, psychological, and social factors can negatively influence someone’s relationship with food. Hence, it can happen to people of any age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Typically, the disorders develop in teenagers and young adults whose life is often characterized by turmoil within and without. Unfortunately, the signs and symptoms often go unnoticed, and diagnosis doesn’t occur earlier than later adulthood. Eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia can significantly affect the person suffering. And as time goes on, the condition grows severe. Hence, it’s essential that when you notice any signs, you extend your helping hand as soon as possible. But how? Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind –


Educate Yourself About Eating Disorders

Imagine helping your friend traverse and figure out the exit of a maze while both of you are blindfolded. Your friend’s vision is compromised due to their unhealthy thought pattern and yours due to lack of knowledge. To get out, one of you has to see clearly, and when it comes to eating disorders, you must take the first step. Educating yourself about eating disorders will help you grasp the disorder’s extent and specifics and tailor your approach to helping your loved one accordingly.

Be Supportive & Non-judgmental

Seeing your loved one struggling with difficult emotions and eating disorders can be challenging. The scenario can be so affecting that you may end up judging their choices instead of empathizing. Judgment is the urge you must sustain and practice being supportive. Supporting doesn’t mean promoting their choice to stop eating or binge eating. You can support them by talking to them about their feelings, putting effort into understanding the motivation behind their choices, and offering assistance. Be a rock that they can hold onto. And, if you need help, seek guidance from a mental health professional.

Encourage The Person to Seek Professional Help

Someone with unhealthy eating behaviors may not realize their detrimental mental health condition. They don’t know what they’re experiencing, so they may not ask for help. So, it’s essential to talk to them and help them realize they need help. However, you must be tactful in your approach and ensure your loved one doesn’t feel ashamed and defensive. Before getting into a conversation, it’s essential to destigmatize the idea of getting help from a mental health professional. Then, pick a safe and private space to engage in the conversation and maintain an attitude of care. Be ready with some examples, as the person may ask why you think they are struggling with a mental condition. If they resist, be respectful, listen to them, and ask questions. It may take a handful of dialogues to reduce their apprehensions. But if they don’t come around and are adamant about not seeking professional help, avoid getting aggressive and pushy. You can’t make an adult talk to you or get help before they’re ready.

Help the Person to Create a Healthy Meal Plan and Encourage Them to Stick To It

People with eating disorders have unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors, which meal planning can effectively address. Meal planning is crucial for people recovering from eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and others. Why? A healthy diet plan can introduce a new robust structure to their eating habit, instilling a sense of stability and routine. Along with a plan, you can introduce a Hunger-Satiety Scale to help your loved one recognize their body’s hunger cues and act accordingly.

Take Strong Measures If Need Be

Some situations demand quick action, and there may not be time to wait for them to open up to seek help. Suppose the person has lost an extreme amount of weight; they may be in danger of developing severe complications. The lack of nutrition can hinder their ability to decide for themselves; in that case, you can force them into life-saving treatment.

Encourage the Person to Engage in Self-care Activities

Engaging in self-care activities like exercising, journaling, meditating, and even going out with friends can go a long way in addressing disordered eating. Self-care can rejuvenate the spirit, renew motivation levels and help your loved one remain resilient in the face of stress. If they can’t push themselves, accompany them and embark on a self-care journey together.

Help the Person to Identify and Challenge Negative Thought Patterns

People with eating disorders may indulge in negative self-talk, often repeating sentences like – “I’m not good enough unless I’m thin.” “I need to be perfect in order to be worthy.” “Food is the enemy.” The first step to avoiding such talk is to identify that you have it and then rationalize. If your loved one struggles with addressing negative thought patterns, you can help. First, you need to find out what is causing them to indulge in negative back talks. You need to figure out where it comes from. Try:
  • Asking questions like – Why might you be saying this?
  • Diverting the conversation to a positive side.
  • Highlighting the positives that you see in them other than their looks.
  • Having a discussion about the unrealistic expectations that the media’s portrayal of “perfect” body image instills in us.


Don’t Try to Force the Person to Eat or Change Their Behavior

Unless the person shows severe signs of self-harm, it’s best to maintain easy-going empathetic conversations. You cannot change the behavior of an adult by force. The only thing you’ll be doing with aggression is causing them to feel more ashamed and defensive about their situation.

Don’t Criticize Their Appearance or Weight

People with eating disorders view their bodies with a negative twist. So, even harmless comments you may have directed strictly for fun can cause them to interpret them negatively, further harming their self-esteem. So, it’s best not to avoid commenting on and criticizing their weight and appearance, even jokingly or in passing.

Don’t Ignore The Problem

Ignoring your loved one’s eating disorder and thinking it’s just a phase that’ll go away can have severe consequences. Here, early intervention is the key. For 28.8 million people in the United States with eating disorders, addressing the condition as early as possible leads to their best chance at recovery.

Important! Seek Support Yourself

Helping a person, let’s say a family member, cope with their mental health condition can also take a toll on you. At times you might get overwhelmed and stressed. So, you must seek support and focus on your well-being. You can join support groups for family members, such as those available through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA). These groups can be valuable sources of information and mutual support. If you want personalized advice, you can also seek help from a therapist.

Bottom Line

Early intervention gives someone with an eating disorder the best chance of recovery. So, don’t wait to take action if you see the signs. Educate yourself about eating disorders, keep the other dos and don’ts in mind and help them rise above their mental health condition. Talk to a therapist or join a support group if you need assistance. If visiting them in person is difficult, you can book an appointment for teletherapy. You can always do something to help; even a small step can go a long way.
SC Demo Author image Published by Admin, On Jan 09, 2023