ARTICLES / General /Eating
Disorders: How to Offer Support /
By Christopher Clark
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:
Be willing to listen when he is ready to
confide in you.
Be empathetic, understanding the challenges
in overcoming an eating disorder.
Be patient with her, realizing that changing
thought patterns, habits, and behaviors takes
Be honest with him, but not judgmental and
Respect her freedom to make her own
decisions and choices. For example, what she
eats or decides not to eat.
Avoid power struggles over food and other
issues. He will only resent you for taking his
power of control away from him.
Do not monitor her food intake and behavior.
Refrain from giving advice.
Try to minimize, rather than maximize his
anxiety level. For example, don’t bring up
subjects at meals that might upset him.
Make her responsible for her own behavior.
For example, cleaning up the bathroom after
vomiting or buying food she binges on.
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.
Say things that build her self-esteem, such
as pointing out her strengths, her positive
character traits, and what you admire about her.
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.
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.”
Be a model of effective coping skills,
healthy food attitudes and behaviors, and
Watch your language. For example, don’t
label food as good/bad and safe/unsafe.
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
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.
Educate yourself about eating disorders, so
you are better able to help and support the
person with the eating disorder.
Be willing to participate in therapy, if
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 NAMEDinc.org or contact him at
Chris@NAMEDinc.org or 1-877-780-0080.