Supporting Someone With an Eating Disorder

There's a lot you can do to support a family member with an eating disorder. These practical ideas - for mealtimes in particular - may help you and them on the road to recovery

If someone you know - perhaps one of your children, or another close family member - has an eating disorder, it's important to encourage them into treatment as quickly as possible to ensure the best chance of recovery.

But beyond that, there's a lot you can do to support them, no matter what your relationship with them. Below are some ideas on how you can do this, both in and around mealtimes - which are likely to be very hard for the person you are supporting - as well as at other times. Remember that each person is different and will need different things.


  • If you live with the person you are supporting, plan to eat together. Arrange with them and anyone else who will be present what time you'll be eating, what you'll be having, and portion sizes.
  • Meals should be balanced, with a range of foods and sensible portions, taking into consideration the dietary needs of everyone else at the table as well as the person with an eating disorder.
  • Make sure you have everything necessary for the planned meal. Last-minute changes could cause the person to panic, and in the case of anorexia and other restrictive eating disorders, they might limit their food intake.
  • Shopping together may allow you to introduce new foods that they're willing to eat in the case of restrictive eating disorders, and discourage them from buying food to binge on where bingeing is a factor in their eating disorder.
  • Keep conversation neutral, avoiding discussion of food or weight.
  • You could have the television or radio on to help distract them and to draw attention away from them.
  • Be aware that people with restrictive eating disorders may need to physically adjust to eating more, as well as mentally adjusting. Start slowly and be wary of pressuring them.
  • You may need to offer encouragement to help them start eating, and further encouragement throughout the meal. Be firm but acknowledge that this is a big effort for them.
  • After a meal, suggest doing something together, like watching a film, to take their mind off possible compensatory behaviours such as purging or exercising, or off the idea of bingeing.

Outside of mealtimes

Outside of mealtimes, there are lots of ways to support someone and show them you value them. You may find that their eating disorder causes them to withdraw, but keep inviting them to join in with group and family activities.

Offer compliments that don't relate to their physical appearance, these can sometimes be interpreted negatively - for example, "You're looking well" may sound like a comment on weight. Compliments on things other than appearance can help the person feel valued and is less likely to cause these worries.

Try and to find things to do with them that don't involve food. Don't be too critical of yourself if you do make a mistake - you can't always account for things the person you're supporting might feel sensitive about, and you'll be aware for the future.

Whether you live with the person you're supporting or not, just being there for them and showing them you understand this is not their fault and believe they are worthy of support will make a big difference.

And once they're in recovery, make sure that they feel able to approach you again if they need to in the future - full recovery is completely possible, but relapses are not uncommon.


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Support is also available via Beat's Helpline on 0808 801 0677


Eating Disorders: Advice For Parents