How to help someone with an Eating Disorder – Talk to them

So you've seen some of the warning signs, and you suspect someone might have an eating disorder - but what do you do next? When you think that someone might have an eating disorder, it can be hard to approach them. Knowing what to say, or whether you should say anything at all is hard. After all, catching someone at the wrong time, or saying the wrong thing can make it feel like you've made things worse. Despite this, it is certainly worthwhile reaching out to them. Leaving an eating disorder to run its natural course can quite literally be a deadly. Here are some pieces of advice on reaching out to someone you suspect might have an eating disorder.

Make a plan

Arrange to meet with them at a low stress time, in a non-confrontational environment. Speaking out when you've just noticed something about what they are or are not eating, is not a good moment. Take the pressure off them, and try not to say 'you' too much as this can create resistance. They will naturally be defensive and prickly about their decisions around food as they are part of a way they have learned to cope. Speak in the first person, ask them to help you talk about your concerns, as opposed their behaviour.

image of two people speaking on a park bench
Make a plan to speak with them in a non-confrontational, calm, non-judgemental way

Be caring, be clear

Let them know that you care, and be specific about what your concerns are. Their behaviour might well make you upset or even angry, so ready yourself when you do speak to them. Maintain a calm and composed demeanour, no matter how seemingly irrational or strange their response.

Find out more

They might not want to talk about their problem or might not even be aware that there is one. Try to just investigate with non-judgemental curiosity what is going on. Communicate your openness and willingness to learn about what is going on both in general and specific ways.

Leave the door open and don't rush

How often when you've debated with someone on a difference of opinion have they immediately been talked around to your viewpoint? I'm guessing maybe never, or hardly at all. Chances are, the person you've spoken with will have a lot invested in their way of doing things. If they are going to change, it won't be overnight. It's important when you first speak to them, to let them know that 'your door is open' to discuss things again with them, on their terms, whenever they might be ready. Despite our intentions, we'll never truly be able to understand another's perspective, so if they do come back, listening very carefully, and again non-judgementally is key.