Talking to Someone with an Eating Disorder or Other Food+Body Concerns
You’re here because there is someone in your life that you’re worried about, and that’s not an easy conversation to have. We understand. These suggestions are intended to be a guide, so keep in mind that these conversations cannot and will not be perfect. That’s ok! It’s enough that you care about this person to try.
- To prepare, do some research. A continuum exists with healthy relationship to food+body on one end and full-blown eating disorders on the other. Most people fall somewhere in between. Getting some basic information about eating disorders before you sit down to talk will equip you to share some of what you know with the person. Look through our Glossary and FAQ’s for information on specific eating disorders and symptoms.
- Consider your own relationship to food, body, and exercise. Consider how you talk about and act in regards to food, body, and exercise. How might you be influencing this person with your words and actions? For example, do you or your friends ever say things like, “Does this make me look fat?” or “I wish I was as skinny as you.” We inevitably impact others and may not even realize it.
- Be willing to be vulnerable. If you’re willing to open up about your own struggles with food, body, or exercise, the person you’re talking to will likely feel more open to hearing your concerns about them and feel more understood.
- Find a neutral time and place. Avoid having the conversation during a mealtime or when food is present, and find a relatively calm place to talk. Also, be mindful of the greater context of this person’s life – having this conversation right after the person failed a big test, for example, may not be the best timing.
- Share your concerns. Try to be specific about what is worrisome regarding their eating or exercise habits so that your message is very clear. Avoid commenting on this person’s appearance or weight if possible and use “I” statements (e.g. “I notice that you only eat one meal a day. I’m concerned about the negative way you talk about your body.”)
- Don’t get stuck on the details. Focusing only on the specifics of eating or exercise habits can make for a too-quick, dead-end conversation. When it comes down to it, eating disorders are often a way to cope with much deeper, internal struggles regarding someone’s value, worth, identity, health, and wholeness. Ultimately, questions like, “How are you really doing?” or “What is this about for you?” are your best bet, along with phrases like, “I can see you’re hurting.” They need to know that you see past the symptoms and see them as a whole person.
- Avoid blaming the person and avoid getting angry. This person may deny your concerns, get defensive, or even get angry. Stay neutral and remind the person that you are discussing this because you’re concerned for their well-being.
- Offer to support. The best thin you can do is to listen and to come alongside this person in finding a therapist or other eating disorder resources when they are ready. Being support may also mean accepting that the person might not want help at that time. Letting them know you care and will be there for them in the future is still important.
Also keep in mind that, as a person supporting someone with an eating disorder or other food + body concerns, you may want to consider having your own support like a trusted friend, family member, a therapist, or support group. Be intentional about who you choose to share this sensitive information with. Being willing to have this conversation is a testament to your deep care for this person and to your courage, but it’s risky because you can’t be sure how this person will respond. You need support too.
Let us know how else we can help.