Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder

By Kirsty O’Leary, 3rd Year Fashion Marketing and Branding Student

Content Warning: Mention of Eating Disorder

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness and educate people on Eating Disorders. It can be difficult to know how to approach the situation when someone close to you has an Eating Disorder, and despite sometimes feeling helpless, there are various ways to support someone experiencing it.

It is completely normal to feel worried about the person, be unsure how you can help and put pressure on yourself to try and solve what they are going through. This blog post will highlight some of the things you can do to support someone with an Eating Disorder, and also address how to navigate a conversation surrounding Eating Disorders. These are things that I have learnt through my own personal experience in supporting someone with an Eating Disorder.

Let them know you are there to listen

This is one of the most important things you can do to support someone. By simply letting them know they are not fighting this battle alone and that you are always there to listen to how they are feeling.

Ask how they are feeling, don’t just assume

If you are able to have an open conversation with someone about their Eating Disorder, it is essential that you ask questions to try and understand their point of view. You might not be able to understand exactly how and why they are feeling these things, but you can try to sympathise in order to understand their emotions.

Encourage them to seek treatment if they feel ready

When someone opens up to you about their Eating Disorder, it can put a lot of pressure on you to try and help. You have to remember that you are there to support them, but may not be able to give them the help they need in order to recover. Guide them in the direction of a professional, such as a GP, but be mindful that they might not feel ready to seek help just yet.

Educate yourself, but do not inflict advice onto them

Do your own research to understand more about what your loved one is going through, but do not try and give advice or criticise. Eating Disorders manifest in different ways for each individual, so be wary of giving advice as it might not be right for the person you are supporting. Charities like Mind and Beat have websites which provide clear information about Eating Disorders which can be easily accessed online.

Recognise that it is an illness

It is easy to associate someone’s illness with who they are as a person. Remember to try and see the person beyond the disorder so they do not feel isolated and alone. By being able to recognise Eating Disorders as an illness, and understanding that your loved one is not to blame, you can continue to build a relationship and support them in their struggle.

Navigating conversations surrounding Eating Disorders

So, your close friend or family member has just opened up to you about their Eating Disorder, where do you go from here?

Don’t push them into talking about it if they don’t feel ready

One of the most helpful things you can do for someone with an Eating Disorder is to let them know that you are there for them when they feel ready to open up. Do not put pressure on someone to talk about it when they do not feel comfortable, and instead build your trust simply by letting them know you are there.

Ask if there is anything you can do

Everyone who experiences an Eating Disorder will have their own individual battles and what they struggle with, and this means that the best way to help someone is to ask them the best way to offer support. This may include avoiding certain triggering topics like body image or food, or suggesting to do a food shop together (particularly at University where the independence of having control over your own eating may be a particular struggle). Additionally, if they ask you to assist them in seeking professional help, you could offer to go to appointments with them, or be there to have a chat with them after.

Be sensitive about the language you use

Often, a lack of understanding or insensitivity surrounding Eating Disorders can make conversations difficult. It is important to have these difficult conversations and be as open as possible, but the language you use has a huge impact. Ensure your tone is supportive, and does not come across like you are blaming your loved one for their illness. Secondly, try not to comment on their appearance, and instead use language which shows them how valued and appreciated they are by yourself and others.

Talking about and supporting someone with an Eating Disorder can be challenging. But by reducing the stigma surrounding Eating Disorders, encouraging conversations, and letting people know you are there, you can support someone struggling.

If you or a friend is in need of support within Nottingham you can refer into FREED via your Nottingham GP. For more information go to our Healthy NTU webpage.

For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

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