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Eating Disorders: How to Offer Support

By Christopher Clark

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The next question is, “How do I continue to give on-going support to a family member or friend with an eating disorder?”  If someone remains in denial of their eating disorder, continue from time-to-time to express your concern for the person and encourage him to seek treatment, but do so without pestering.  If the person acknowledges his or her eating disorder and seeks professional help, support him or her in the therapeutic process.  Eating disorders may involve a lengthy time in therapy and most likely will be marked by steps forward and steps backwards.  Be patient and understanding of the person with the eating disorder.  The following offers a list of ways to support a person with an eating disorder:

  1. Be willing to listen when he is ready to confide in you.

  2. Be empathetic, understanding the challenges in overcoming an eating disorder.

  3. Be patient with her, realizing that changing thought patterns, habits, and behaviors takes time.

  4. Be honest with him, but not judgmental and critical.

  5. Respect her freedom to make her own decisions and choices. For example, what she eats or decides not to eat.

  6. Avoid power struggles over food and other issues. He will only resent you for taking his power of control away from him.

  7. Do not monitor her food intake and behavior.

  8. Refrain from giving advice.

  9. Try to minimize, rather than maximize his anxiety level. For example, don’t bring up subjects at meals that might upset him.

  10. Make her responsible for her own behavior. For example, cleaning up the bathroom after vomiting or buying food she binges on.

  11. Don’t be an enabler by inconveniencing yourself to accommodate his eating disorder needs, such as by only preparing foods he will eat or avoiding social eating situations.

  12. Say things that build her self-esteem, such as pointing out her strengths, her positive character traits, and what you admire about her.

  13. Acknowledge his progress in therapy by pointing out his changes in his behavior and way of thinking, ability to better connect with others in relationships, and improvements in character, functioning, and mood.

  14. Don’t make comments, even positive ones, about weight, appearance, eating, or exercise as these may be taken the wrong way. For example, don’t say “you look healthier” as this may be interpreted by the person with the eating disorder as “I look fatter.”

  15. Be a model of effective coping skills, healthy food attitudes and behaviors, and moderate exercise.

  16. Watch your language. For example, don’t label food as good/bad and safe/unsafe.

  17. Don’t talk about other people’s appearance and weight and dieting to her or anyone. Talking about these things objectifies people, basing their worth on external, rather than internal qualities.

  18. If you hear others making comments about someone related to appearance and weight, shift the emphasis to the person’s internal qualities. If someone is talking about dieting in order to lose weight, shift the emphasis to health.

  19. Educate yourself about eating disorders, so you are better able to help and support the person with the eating disorder.

  20. Be willing to participate in therapy, if asked.

  21. Be willing to seek professional help for your own issues or to get help coping with your loved one’s eating disorder..

Christopher Clark is the founder and executive director of The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Inc. (N.A.M.E.D.) In 2006, N.A.M.E.D was founded in order to bring much needed support to males with eating disorders who are an underrepresented, underreported, and mostly undiagnosed and untreated population.  Clark’s passion to start this non-profit organization came out of his need to give meaning to his many regrettable years with anorexia nervosa. Visit the website at or contact him at or 1-877-780-0080.  


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