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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Supporting someone who has an eating disorder

Te tautoko i tētahi me te matenga kainga

Male friends have a supportive talkEating disorders like anorexia or bulimia are serious medical conditions. They can be fatal if left untreated.

If you suspect a friend has an eating disorder and want to approach them about it, be caring and non-judgemental.

Many people with eating disorders say they are fine and just want everyone to leave them alone. In reality they may feel scared and isolated. They may also be unsure how to stop the eating disorder from controlling their life.

They can put a lot of effort into hiding the condition, so it can be difficult to diagnose. But the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chance that they will recover.

Here are five tips for supporting a friend with an eating disorder.

Know your facts

Before you talk to your friend, make sure you have read up on eating disorders and know your facts. There are different types of eating disorders, symptoms and possible causes.

Be kind and non-judgemental

The last thing a person with an eating disorder wants is to feel judged. They may already feel alone, confused and ashamed. Knowing they have a friend who cares and will listen is often the first step in helping them on the road to recovery. Try to be compassionate. Use language that is not critical or judgemental.

Try to avoid using "you" statements, such as "you have an eating disorder" or "you need help". Instead, say things like "I am worried you may have an eating disorder" or "I am concerned about you and would like to help."

Be honest

Being honest about your concerns shows your friend you care. While you might be nervous about having this talk with them, it is an important one that may be life saving. It helps to pick a time and place where you can talk face-to-face in private, and your friend feels comfortable and relaxed.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Let your friend know you are there to help. It is also important to encourage them to seek professional help. The longer an eating disorder is left untreated, the harder it is on their body and mind to recover. Encourage them to see their general practice team. They can provide a diagnosis and advice on where to get further help.

Keep supporting them

Be aware your friend may become defensive or angry and even try to deny they have a problem. You cannot force somebody to seek help, especially if they are an adult. Just keep letting them know you are there to support them. When they do seek professional help, keep supporting them throughout their journey to recovery.

Remember, if your friend's health or life is at risk, seek medical advice immediately.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed March 2024.

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