How can family and friends help?

This section is for family and friends who want to support someone with an eating problem.

You may feel very worried if you think that someone you care about has an eating problem. It may feel difficult to know how to talk to them about it. You might have already tried to offer support, but found that the person you’re worried about is unwilling or unable to accept help. This can make you feel powerless.

In reality, there are lots of helpful things you can do:

  • Let the person you’re worried about know that you’re there, that you’re listening, and that you can help them find support. Let the person know they can talk to you when they are ready.
  • Do not to make assumptions. Many think that eating problems happen for certain reasons, like having been abused, or issues with body image. If you try to interpret someone’s eating problems in a particular way – without really listening to the person themselves – it could add to their feeling of being out of control, and make them less able to share their emotions.
  • Understand that the person you’re worried about might not see their eating problem as a problem. They may actually see it as a solution to coping with feelings of rage, loss, powerlessness, self-hatred or guilt.
  • Do not try to persuade the person to change their behaviour. This could make them feel attacked, ashamed, or guilty, and may make them hide their eating problem. For example, trying to persuade someone to gain weight may make them feel scared of the thought of gaining weight or ashamed for their fear of gaining weight. This could make them withdraw from you or try to convince you they are eating even if they are not.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help, such as seeing their family doctor or a counsellor. If they are worried about doing this, you could offer to go along with them.
  • Help the person find good information. This could include looking for online support while helping the person avoid websites or forums that could promote unsafe eating, unrealistic body images, and excessive exercise habits.
  • Include the person in social activities. If the person you are worried about finds it difficult to eat, organise activities which don’t include food. If the person you are worried about is a member of your family, you may want to consider family therapy. This means working through issues as a family with the support of a therapist. This may help you work out how to communicate with and support someone in your family who has an eating problem.
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