How to help a loved one with an eating disorder

Knowing that someone you love and care about is suffering with an eating disorder or with other issues around food, you may worry about how best to support them. Or perhaps if you are someone that is suffering with an eating disorder or have issues with your relationship with food - you may wish that your loved ones, friends and relatives knew how they could help you most.

Here are some tips for those that are supporting someone that has or may have issues around food or an eating disorder:

1. Stop talking about weight, appearance and our bodies

As a society we focus far too much on weight, appearance and the shape of our bodies. It is very common for us to see someone we haven't seen for a while and to comment that "you have lost weight" - intending it to be a compliment. However, any comments around weight or appearance can just reinforce eating disorders and unhealthy patterns of eating. Telling someone that is anorexic or orthorexic that they "are too thin" can even validate their food-restriction, showing them that they have been successful in not eating. Even simple comments such as "you look healthy" or "you look well" can be misconstrued by someone with issues around food - with them assuming that you think that they have "put on weight". It is best to stay away from the topics of weight, appearance and body shape completely. Sometimes the person with the issue around food will bring up the topic of their weight - because it is so frequently on their mind, they will want some validation of their thoughts from others - it is key that you don't engage in these conversations and move away from the topic to discuss something else instead.

2. Food may come up but it is important not to dwell on it either

When someone is struggling with an eating disorder, their mind is often very focused on food. Often the person suffering will themselves want to talk about food, diets, cooking or things like calories. Is important for you not to allow the focus of the conversation to centre on these topics. Do not talk about any diets you may have heard about or go into any in depth discussion around food. When an individual is struggling with their relationship with food, they may interpret what you say in a way that makes their eating disorder worse.

3. Just telling someone to eat more/less or asking why they don't just eat/stop eating - won't help