“How do you talk to someone who has an eating disorder?”

—Jamie*, Winona, Minnesota

Jamie,
You may be hesitant to approach someone you care about who has an eating disorder, but showing your love and support is a good thing. Before you begin the conversation, be sure to educate yourself on eating disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association is a great place to start.

What should you say?
  • Respect the person’s privacy. If you are going to talk about the eating disorder, find time when you two can be alone without any distractions.
  • Focus on your feelings and what you value about your relationship. Remind the person that you care and want them to be happy and healthy.
  • Be honest. It’s okay to let the person know you’re concerned. You can give examples of behaviors that you’ve noticed that may indicate a problem.
  • Remain positive. Instead of saying, “You could stop if you really wanted to,” try saying, “I understand that this is really hard, so let’s talk about ways we can get through this and help you get better.”
  • Ask the person to explore options for professional help. You may even offer to make the appointment and accompany your friend to the visit.
What should you avoid doing?
  • Being judgmental. This isn’t something they chose; it’s a serious illness. Your friend needs support, not guilt, shame, or judgment.
  • Making comments about the other person’s weight or how they look. Instead, focus on complimenting what you like best about them as a person.
  • Using accusatory “you” statements. Using “you” statements such as “you have a problem” automatically puts that person on the defensive. Try using “we” statements instead such as “we are going to get help for you.”
  • Giving simple solutions. This is a complex disease that requires a lot of support. Telling them to just stop what they’re doing won’t help.

I know it’s tough seeing someone you care about struggle with an eating disorder, but try to be patient. Remember to take care of yourself during this time as well. You can listen, but you should not take on the role of a doctor or therapist. Remind yourself that you can be supportive, but only they can make themselves better.

*Name changed for privacy