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How To Talk About Eating Disorders If You Suspect Someone Has One

Eating disorders are considered to be a serious mental health condition that revolves around body image and a person’s relationship with food. With an eating disorder, distorted relationships between the two can affect a person’s well-being as a whole. 

Included in this classification are anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and other specified feeding or eating disorders. If these eating disorders go unaddressed and untreated, there can be severe, long-lasting effects.

Just like many other mental health conditions, opening up the conversation can be touchy. For the most effective outcome, how you address someone who you suspect has an eating disorder matters. Here are some tips for starting the conversation. 

Make Neutral Observations

When making neutral observations, it is important to approach the topic sensitively and with empathy. Use neutral language that isn’t triggering or shuts the door to the conversation before it can get started. 

You can say things like, “I’ve noticed you haven’t eaten today” or “I’ve noticed you’ve lost weight.” Stick to the facts and keep any judgments or assumptions from the commentary. 

Express Your Concerns

When you see a trend, note that behavior. When the timing is right, you can share your concerns. Be clear that you are expressing a concern for their well-being and use a tone that doesn’t appear to be threatening to them. People don’t necessarily like to hear negative feedback, and this one may hit differently. 

Be sure to tell them you are here to support them and available to help. You can try making statements like “I am worried that this weight loss (or behavior) will affect your health” or “I’m concerned that you are having a hard time.” 

Use Active Listening Skills

When you open the door for a deep and serious conversation, you must be willing to listen to what the other person says. So often, it’s human nature to partially hear what’s being said but also become focused on how you want to respond before the other person is done speaking. 

Give them ample time to finish their statements, no matter how long it takes to get the information out. Listen to them carefully and thoughtfully. Avoid interrupting and judging comments.

Use summarizing statements to show you’ve heard them. Ask questions to gain more information and understanding. Giving this validation can go a long way in terms of support. 

Provide Ongoing Support

Dealing with an eating disorder isn’t a one-time fix. This could be a lengthy recovery or one they struggle with over their lifetime. Be sure to let them know they will have your support in the long run. 

Be willing to look for and research information or resources that could be helpful to them. Sometimes, this type of support can help initiate treatment or at least a healthy discussion about what is truly going on. 

Encourage Professional Help

If the problem persists, it can become a significant health issue. No matter how deep into the eating disorder they are, professional services can be of assistance. 

Encourage them to seek out sources for professional help. Offer to help them in this process if it seems too overwhelming. Depending on who this person is to you, you may even be able to offer to make the appointment for them or go with them as support. 

Eating disorders can be a sensitive topic both for the person living with it and for the person trying to help address it. Compassion and a caring voice can go a long way. If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, contact us to learn more about how eating disorder therapy can help. 




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