How to approach someone you think may have an eating disorder

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February 22 through 28 marks National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I often get asked how to approach someone who may be experiencing an eating disorder. Clients throughout the years have shared with me pointers that you may find helpful. Let me know what you think.

Before you approach

  • Be prepared with an eating disorder provider resource list (Greensboro’s professional eating disorder alliance Space For All’s website is a handy resource for local folks:
  • Timing is everything. Only approach in private and allow for enough time. Be extra sure peers cannot overhear.

Choosing your words

  • Calmly express your thoughts. Include examples that have brought about the concern such as:
    • Friends and teachers notice you isolate yourself.
    • We notice you are avoiding trips to restaurants and outings.
    • Your teachers report you’ve had trouble concentrating in class/not participating/falling asleep.
    • Your medical provider has said your lab work is abnormal.
  • Do not go into specific eating disorder behavior details because they can be too threatening and easily denied.
  • Avoid using words that would describe the person’s physical appearance like sickly, skinny, bloated, and weak. These tend to promote shame rather than motivate. I have never heard a person say these body comments motivated them to seek help.
  • Don’t be judgmental, insensitive, or make this conversation trivial. Eating disorder recovery is not easy so don’t
    National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015
    National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2015

    say it is. This will minimize experiences and an eating disorder already does a darn good job of this.

  • Allow the person time to respond to your concerns. Listen carefully without judgment.

Supporting after the talk

  • Keep the door open to continue the conversation. It may feel uncomfortable yet continuing to connect with this person can help lessen the shame of an eating disorder. Don’t worry if you don’t have any advice; better to not give any. Instead let the person know you are there to listen.
  • Be sure to not judge.
  • Don’t enable.
  • Continue to be there to listen more.

Has anyone approached you with concerns about your eating and exercise behaviors? What helped or didn’t? Share in comments. It can have the power to help many.