How To Support Someone You Care About Who Is Struggling With An Eating Disorder

Despite the stereotype that eating disorders only affect women, the reality couldn't be further from the truth. Anyone can develop an eating disorder and at any age, and that's a fact that needs to be given more attention than it does (via ANAD). When someone you love has an eating disorder, it's not always easy to tell at first. You may originally think they're just making lifestyle changes to the way they eat, but then there's a shift.


"There is a close link between eating disorders, and anxiety and depression," CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Claire Mysko tells Self. "You will notice a disruption in relationships and social engagement first. You'll generally feel a new disconnect with them."

But the problem with eating disorders is that they're usually done in secret (via Healthline). No matter what type of eating disorder someone has, it's not something they're willing to share. In fact, some people with eating disorders are in complete denial about their illness until friends and family step in to help them see there's a problem. It's when this intervention finally occurs that it's time to openly show your loved one the support and the nurturing they need.


If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Educate yourself

When it comes to eating disorders, or any type of mental health issues, trying to understand the illness is a good way to start your support. There's no one type of eating disorder, and each one is specific in how it's carried out and how it affects the body. Although anorexia and bulimia are usually the first two eating disorders that come to mind, there's also pica, in which the person will consume nonfood items (like paper and similar things), and rumination, which is the regurgitation of food, then re-chewing it only to swallow it again or spit it out (via Psychology Today). And there are more. 


While you may not fully understand why the person you love is living withthese illnesses or even the illnesses themselves, being proactive in educating yourself about them can give you a better perspective on the situation (via NEDA). Unless you've been there, it's hard to really comprehend the mental illness of someone else, so don't be hard on yourself if you don't "get it." It's not for you to "get" because it's not about you. 

Be there for them

Although being there seems like an obvious way to support your loved one, there are ways to be there that are good and ways to be there that can be triggering. For example, don't give your loved one advice that they haven't asked for or, if you're out with them, monitor what and how they eat — this is not a healthy way to support a friend with an eating disorder (via Society19). Also, avoid bringing up any conversation about weight. Even if your friend is gaining weight and looking healthy again, addressing their weight can backfire.


We tend to think that eating disorders stem from wanting to be thin, and although some do, some are because the person who's sick is trying to control an aspect of their life (via National Library of Medicine). Pointing out weight gain is basically saying they've lost the control they're trying desperately to hang onto. You don't want to put that notion in their head. 

The best way to support a loved one who's struggling with an eating disorder is by listening. Listen to what they're thinking about and how they feel about things, and do so without judgment or unsolicited input (via Cigna). As is the case with all mental illnesses, it's not about you and your two cents on the issue at hand. It's about supporting someone you love and being there in the most open and positive way you can.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.