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Supporting a Loved One with an Eating Disorder: Do's and Don'ts

Discovering that a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder can be a challenging and emotional experience. Providing effective support is crucial in helping them on their journey to recovery. However, navigating this path can be delicate, and it's essential to understand the do's and don'ts of supporting someone with an eating disorder. In this blog post, we will provide guidance on how to offer the right kind of support, while avoiding common pitfalls, and emphasize the importance of prioritizing mental and emotional well-being over appearance or dietary concerns.


Educate Yourself:

  • Do: Take the time to educate yourself about eating disorders. Understanding the condition, its causes, and its treatment options will help you provide informed support.

  • Why: Education equips you with the knowledge needed to have constructive conversations and to be a better source of support.

Listen Actively:

  • Do: Listen without judgment or criticism when your loved one wants to talk about their struggles. Offer a non-judgmental and empathetic ear.

  • Why: Active listening builds trust and shows that you genuinely care about their well-being.

Encourage Professional Help:

  • Do: Encourage your loved one to seek professional help from therapists, dietitians, or medical professionals who specialize in eating disorders.

  • Why: Professional guidance is essential for a successful recovery process.

Be Patient:

  • Do: Understand that recovery is a journey filled with ups and downs. Be patient and supportive throughout the process.

  • Why: Patience ensures that your loved one feels safe and supported, even during setbacks.

Offer Emotional Support:

  • Do: Be there emotionally for your loved one. Let them know that you are available to talk, and provide comfort during difficult moments.

  • Why: Emotional support is invaluable in helping your loved one feel understood and less isolated.

Set a Positive Example:

  • Do: Model healthy eating behaviors and a positive body image. Avoid discussing diets or criticizing your own or others' bodies.

  • Why: Setting a positive example can help create a healthier environment and reduce triggers.


Don't Blame or Shame:

  • Don't: Avoid blaming or shaming your loved one for their eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions, not choices.

  • Why: Blame and shame can exacerbate feelings of guilt and isolation, hindering the recovery process.

Don't Monitor Their Food:

  • Don't: Resist the urge to monitor or control their eating. Trust that their treatment team is guiding them in the right direction.

  • Why: Micromanaging their food choices can lead to resentment and anxiety.

Don't Offer Unsolicited Advice:

  • Don't: Avoid giving unsolicited advice or diet tips. Leave nutritional guidance to healthcare professionals.

  • Why: Unsolicited advice can be counterproductive and potentially harmful.

Don't Comment on Appearance:

  • Don't: Refrain from making comments about their appearance, whether it's about weight loss or gain.

  • Why: Comments on appearance can trigger negative feelings and reinforce body image concerns.

Don't Use Food as a Reward or Punishment:

  • Don't: Avoid using food as a reward or punishment in any context.

  • Why: Associating food with rewards or punishments can further complicate their relationship with food.

Don't Ignore Their Struggles:

  • Don't: Don't ignore the issue or pretend that everything is fine. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away.

  • Why: Acknowledging their struggles shows that you care and are willing to provide support.

Communication Tips:

Use "I" Statements: Express your feelings and concerns using "I" statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, say, "I'm worried about your health," instead of "You need to eat more."

Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage open communication by asking questions that require more than a simple "yes" or "no" answer. For example, ask, "How are you feeling today?" instead of "Are you okay?"

Avoid Triggers: Be mindful of sensitive topics that could trigger your loved one. Avoid discussions about diets, weight loss, or appearance.

Respect Boundaries: Respect their boundaries when it comes to talking about their eating disorder. Some individuals may be more open to discussing it than others.

Offer Support, Not Solutions: Instead of trying to solve their problems, offer your support and empathy. Sometimes, just knowing someone cares can make a world of difference.

Supporting a loved one with an eating disorder requires empathy, patience, and understanding. By following the do's and avoiding the don'ts, you can create a supportive environment that fosters their recovery journey. Remember that recovery is a process, and your unwavering support can be a source of strength during the challenging moments. Prioritize their mental and emotional well-being above all else, and encourage them to seek professional help for a more comprehensive and effective recovery plan.

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