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HealthInfo Canterbury

Supporting someone who has an eating disorder

Male friends have a supportive talkEating disorders like anorexia or bulimia are serious medical conditions, which 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, and 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 a diagnosis is made, the better the chance that they'll 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 who will listen is often the first step in helping them on the road to recovery. Try to be compassionate. Use language that isn't 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'm worried you may have an eating disorder" or "I'm 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’s 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 is feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Encourage them to seek professional help

The most important thing you can do, apart from letting your friend know you’re there to help, is 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 GP, who 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 can’t force somebody to seek help, especially if they’re an adult, so just keep letting them know you’re there to support them. And once they do seek professional help, keep supporting them throughout their journey to recovery.

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

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Approaching your teenager about an eating issue

Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created January 2021. Last updated February 2021.

See also:

Reading in Mind book scheme

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