Supporting Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder

Supporting Someone Who Has an Eating Disorder


When someone you care about has an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating and is in treatment, it is important that you show support. Try the following ideas.

  • Show personal support.
    • Show and state how much you care.
    • Avoid the temptation to control the person.
    • Trust that they have developed their own high values, ideals, and standards.
    • Encourage self-responsibility for their actions, both successes and setbacks.
    • Offer support during times of discouragement.
  • Do not urge them to eat or not eat, unless this is part of the plan for treatment.
  • Avoid comparisons with other people.
  • Listen to feelings.
  • Do not be controlled by their behaviour.
  • Remember the big picture.

    Eating disorders happen for many different reasons. Many people who have an eating disorder come from families in which other members have eating disorders or have other conditions such as depression. This doesn't mean that a family member caused the disorder. It simply means that these conditions seem more likely to happen in that family.

  • Avoid guilt and self-blame.
    • Show support. Say things such as, "I can see how hard this is for you. You're doing a good job."
    • Don't focus attention only on the person who is in treatment. Spend time with other members of your family and your friends.
    • Remind yourself that this is a long-lasting disorder. It will take time for changes to happen.
    • Do not look for the reason for the disorder. Work toward changing things for the better.

Family therapy and counselling

Many people struggle with handling their feelings and interactions with someone who has an eating disorder. Counselling, such as family therapy, can help you learn ways to encourage healthy eating behaviours in children and teens who have eating disorders.

Counselling can be a big help to everyone in your family. This can mean seeing a counsellor alone, as a couple, or as a family. Each family member may need reassurance or counselling at different times during the course of the illness.

  • Use a professional counsellor to help you work through your concerns and reduce the eating disorder's impact on you and your family.
  • Make time for other children in your family to receive one-on-one love and attention.
  • Use a family therapist to help your family members find new ways to support one another.
  • Use a family therapist to find new ways to support your loved one's eating disorder recovery. For example, a person who has anorexia is likely to do better in an organized environment that is free from chaos and emotional outbursts


Current as of: October 20, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
W. Stewart Agras MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry