Talking to Someone with an Eating Disorder

Many family and friends worry that they will say the wrong thing to someone they love with an eating disorder. The important thing is to let the person know you care and that you are willing to listen and be there for them.

Friends like Olivia often feel so worried they don't say anything.

“I often feel helpless because it feels like I can’t give my friend the support she needs. I used to be so anxious that I would say the wrong thing, so I didn’t say anything at all. But that was really unhelpful – it’s much better to be proactive in offering support.”

So how can you offer support in conversations?

  1. Try not to take on the role of a therapist. You don't need to have all the answers. It's most important to listen and create a space for the person to talk.
  2. If you don't know how to respond to something, be honest and say so. No one has all of the answers.
  3. Talk your feelings over with a health professional, counsellor or friend, especially if you have strong reactions to the behaviour of the person you care for. This way, your feelings will not impact your conversations with the person, and you can remain calm and supportive during conversations.

What to Avoid

There are some ways to change small parts of your speaking to support your friend or family member:

• Avoid focusing on food, exercise or body shape and weight. Instead, try talking about how the person is feeling and focus on other aspects of their life.

• Do not use language that implies blame or implies that the person is doing something wrong. For example, instead of saying “You are making me worried,” you can say, “I am worried about you.” Implying blame can make it more difficult for the person to be open about what is going on.

• Avoid threatening statements. For example, “If you don’t eat right I will…” This can severely impact on person’s emotions and may undermine trust between the two of you.

Remember to be kind to yourself. Supporting someone through an eating disorder can be draining for all involved. Keep a check on your own mood and seek support when you need it.

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