How To Help An Anorexic: What You Need To Know

Millions of Americans suffer from eating disorders, yet many go undiagnosed and untreated – resulting in severe health consequences for the affected person. So if your loved ones, friends, or family members show signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait until it’s too late to show your concern and offer support!

Dealing with a complex health issue like an eating disorder can be quite difficult, and it can be overwhelming even if you aren’t the person suffering from it. Here are some things you need to know when getting ready to support a loved one plus tips to get you started.

Understanding People With Eating Disorders

Understanding is the first step towards a solution, and this is especially true when trying to support people with eating disorders. While you may not entirely understand what your family member or loved one is going through, knowing the facts can help you make the right decisions.

Here are some basic descriptions of three common types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.


Anorexia comes in many forms, with some of them overlapping with other types of eating disorders. Anorexia is generally characterized by overly restrictive eating behaviors and an intense fear of weight gain. Individuals suffering from this eating disorder usually also have self-esteem issues and may participate in excessive exercise. People with anorexia may or may not have dangerously low body weight.


Bulimia can severely impact people’s lives, with many people taking drastic steps to rid their bodies of any “excess calories”. This can involve using laxatives, diuretics, vomiting, or excessive exercise. Bulimic behavior is usually followed or preceded by uncontrollable binge eating.

Binge Eating Disorder

People that suffer from binge eating disorder usually consume thousands of calories within a short amount of time, despite feelings of self-loathing and guilt. Additionally, people may feel that their eating habits are uncontrollable, often eating long past the point of satiety.

Dispelling Myths About Eating Disorders

As with most things, folks sometimes make assumptions about the experience of having an eating disorder – this can be a problem if it gets in the way of recovery and seeking professional treatment.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions about eating disorders and the truth behind them:

  • Only people who are underweight have an eating disorder: While rapid weight loss is the biggest indicator of an eating disorder, that isn’t always the case. A person can have average body weight or even be overweight and still suffer from eating disorders – the behavior matters more than what someone looks like.
  • Only women suffer from this problem: Contrary to popular belief, anyone – man, woman, or child – can develop an eating disorder. Discounting a person based on their sex or age can lead to dangerous consequences.
  • Vanity is the reason people develop eating disorders: One of the ways food-related disorders manifest is through an extreme preoccupation with the body and its appearance. However, the reality is that it isn’t caused by vanity, but trauma.
  • Eating disorders aren’t dangerous: People with eating disorders need to seek treatment as soon as possible. Being constantly underfed or deprived of nutrients can have long-term effects on a person’s health and can sometimes be fatal.

Warning Signs And Symptoms To Look Out For

It’s one thing to be concerned about the way you look, especially when you’re a teenager or otherwise pressured to be “attractive” in the conventional sense. However, someone who has serious issues with food and weight may need extra support from their family or friends.

Here are some of the main signs or symptoms you should look out for if you’re concerned about a family member or friend:

Excessive Dieting

  • Making excuses to skip meals often
  • Eating exceedingly small portions of food or avoiding specific food types altogether (e.g. carbs, fats, etc.)
  • Obsessively counting calories or reading food labels and menus for low-calorie options
  • Taking diet pills, laxatives, or stimulants to suppress appetite

Binge Eating

  • Large amounts of food disappearing in a short time
  • Hoarding and hiding high-calorie food from a friend or family member
  • Eating normally around others but bingeing late at night so they won’t be disturbed


  • Eating normally only to make frequent trips to the bathroom right after
  • Using mouthwash or breath mints excessively to hide the smell of purging
  • Laxative or diuretic use
  • Compulsive, excessive physical activity after eating
  • Upset stomach
  • Discolored teeth

Distorted Body Image

  • Extreme preoccupation with their body
  • Constant criticism of how they look
  • Frequent comments about feeling fat or overweight
  • Wearing baggy clothes to cover themselves

How To Talk To Them About Your Concerns

When a friend or loved one shows signs of anorexia or other eating disorder, the natural response is to figure out a way to help. However, figuring out the right way to approach such a sensitive topic can be a challenge. Additionally, you may want to consider thinking hard about how to say things.

Here are some professionally-vetted tips for when you open the floor to a discussion on concerning behaviors:

Pick A Good Time

The responses you get when approaching someone with an eating disorder depend greatly on the conversation’s timing.

You want to choose a time where both you and your loved one are free from other obligations and are clear-headed. After all, talking about eating disorder treatment can be a sensitive topic, and your friend/loved one may not be open to the idea at first.

We recommend mentally preparing yourself for pushback and using gentle language that doesn’t blame your friend.

Clearly Explain Your Concerns

When approaching someone with an eating disorder, we recommend focusing on feelings first before solutions. You don’t need to find a local treatment center right away. The aim of this initial conversation isn’t to connect them with services or resources to help them find treatment but to express your love and support. Tackling a problem as serious as an eating disorder requires them to face the facts, but that’s not your responsibility.

Additionally, you should avoid placing blame on your loved one for their actions. Instead, we suggest telling them about the specific behaviors you’ve noticed and why they worry you.

Be Prepared To Hear Their Thoughts

More often than not, the person you’re concerned about may not see that they have a problem – and that’s okay. Your role is to lend a supportive ear and be sensitive to their feelings, even if they may respond angrily or defensively. After all, any conversation about mental or physical health issues can be challenging when you’re on the receiving end.

But if they’re willing to change and seek professional help, ask them about why they’d like to improve their wellbeing. It can be for themselves, for their careers, or for someone they love – it doesn’t matter, as long as you give them the support they need.

Be Patient And Supportive

The person you’re concerned about may not always be open to the idea of eating disorder treatment, and it’s important to be patient while they work through their initial feelings about it. While they speak, it’s important to withhold judgment and try to see the situation from their perspective. Be sure to let them know that you’ll be by their side throughout the whole process, no matter how long it takes.

Encourage Your Loved One To Get Professional Help

Dealing with an eating disorder is extremely difficult. It requires a long process of unlearning the beliefs we have about ourselves and the world – and it can feel near impossible without a stable support system. If you or a loved one may be suffering from a food-related disorder, get in touch today so we can plan the right treatment strategy for you.