Helping a Loved One

Eating disorders affect not only the individual who is struggling, but also those around them. Loved ones desperately want to help their friend/family member, but often anything they say will be met with anger, frustration, denial, or avoidance.  It can be difficult to believe a loved one is capable of hurting themselves by means of an eating disorder. If your loved one displays signs and symptoms from the previous pages, seek help immediately. Early intervention greatly increases the likelihood of recovery.

It is also important that you, the family and friends of someone going through an eating disorder, get help and support for yourselves. Please consider attending family therapy and/or a family and friends support group. It is crucial that you maintain your physical and emotional health so you can help your loved one when they need you.


  • Learn about eating disorders
  • Find an appropriate time and place to talk to the individual in private
  • Communicate your concerns using “I” statements
  • Stress the importance of professional and specialized help
  • Take care of your own mental, physical, and emotional health
  • Validate your loved one’s feelings, struggles, and accomplishments and express your support


  • Don’t be scared
  • Don’t engage in a power struggle
  • Don’t attempt to solve or “fix” their problems
  • Don’t comment on calorie/food intake, weight, appearance, etc.
  • Don’t expect recovery to be perfect
  • Don’t blame yourself or your loved ones
  • Don’t promise to keep it a secret
Photo of two women hugging on bench

When Your Loved One is Recovering

  1. Validation and compassion are key! Validate their fears and struggles without judgment.
  2. Be willing to adapt to changes in a recovery plan.
  3. Have the ability to incorporate love and fun into the recovery process — recovery free time.
  4. Focus on the person, not the eating disorder. They are not their eating disorder.
  5. Remind your loved one that they are not alone.
  6. You don’t need to fully understand the disease, but be there and be present.
  7. Understand that the eating disorder did not happen overnight, nor will recovery. Progress, not perfection, is key.
  8. There is no “perfect” recovery— people recover to life, not utopia.
  9. Don’t tip-toe around your loved one— be real and honest but not pushy.
  10. Slips and falls will happen— acknowledge them but don’t catastrophize them. Every time they pick themselves up they will get stronger.
  11. Triggering people, places, and things will emerge—be there for support.
  12. Ask your loved one what they need from you— be their ally on their journey to recovery.
  13. YOU are an asset to your loved one’s recovery process. You are an expert when it comes to them; don’t be afraid to utilize those intuitions.
  14. Take care of yourself so you can truly take care of your loved one— breathe, and keep going.
Young woman drinking tea while looking out a large window

Things to Remember: Don’t forget CPR!


  • You didn’t CAUSE it.
  • You can’t CONTROL it.
  • You can’t CURE it.
  • You can learn how NOT to CONTRIBUTE to it.
  • You need to learn how to COPE with it.
  • Take CARE of yourself.


  • Avoid PANIC. It prohibits clear thinking and calm reactions.
  • Recovery is a PROCESS. Two steps forward and one backwards.
  • PROGRESS, not PERFECTION, is the goal.
  • PATIENCE is critical.


  • RESPOND instead of REACT.
  • REMEMBER to listen.
  • REFLECT and REASON before you speak.
  • RECOVERY is a journey, a long ROAD that may include RELAPSE.
  • REACH out to others for love and support.