Helping a friend with an eating disorder

Helping someone with an eating disorder can be quite an overwhelming task. There are services that can help you, but there are also some things you can do to support the person that you care for including some do’s and don’ts that will help guide your actions.

This might help if you:

  • Want to know how to help someone who doesn't want help
  • Want to know do’s and don’ts for supporting someone
  • Think your friend or family member might have an eating disorder

Services that can help

It can be pretty upsetting to find out that someone you care about has, or may have, an eating disorder. However, it’s important to know that you don’t have to support them on your own. There are a number of support services available to help, you can find out more about where they exist in your state in our fact sheet on support services.

Do’s and Don’ts

In supporting someone with an eating disorder, there are a couple of key things you can do to help. 

Do encourage your friend or family member to seek professional help. Sometimes the process of seeking help can feel overwhelming, but it’s worth the effort. There are people who are trained specifically to help those with eating disorders and will be able to adapt a unique treatment based on individual circumstances. 

Don’t be critical of how the person is looking. A person with an eating disorder already has quite low self-esteem so focusing on what they look like will not help. Most importantly, avoid using insults to try and jolt them out of how they’re feeling. This is guaranteed not to work. 

Do show compassion and care. A person with an eating disorder is likely to be experiencing intense levels of emotional pain and self-loathing. Saying that you’re there to help and that you care is a really helpful way of showing your support.

Don’t get frustrated or annoyed by the person’s eating habits or try to force them to eat. Getting angry won’t solve the problem and will likely make the person withdraw even further. 

Do reiterate that eating disorders can be overcome and can be successfully treated. An eating disorder is not a life sentence and there are a number of treatments available to help a person recover. Recovery is not easy, but it’s possible.

Don’t try and guilt them into feeling bad about their behaviour by focusing on how they’re affecting other people. A person with an eating disorder is probably already feeling guilty, so focusing on their impact on others is likely to make them withdraw and feel worse.

Do be patient. Eating disorders aren’t resolved overnight. People often take a while to change their behaviours and this is a normal part of recovery. Try not to get too upset if a person reverts back to their disordered eating, just encourage them to try again and keep aiming for recovery.

If they don’t want your help

Making the decision to get help can be really difficult. If your friend is finding it hard to accept your offer to help, don’t take it personally. Check out what to do when someone doesn’t want help.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 29 April, 2016
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