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U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns

How to Help


Talking to someone who you are concerned may be struggling with disordered eating is valuable. This video demonstrates strategies for an effective conversation and addresses challenges that may arise in such a discussion.

Talking To A Friend With Disordered Eating brochure


  • Create a safe environment for them to talk about their eating.
  • Encourage the person to seek help from a physician and/or counselor.
  • Encourage reaching out to a trusted adult if they refuse professional help.
  • Expect to be rejected or for the person to be mad or upset with you at first; this may be the first time they have been confronted with the eating disorder and the person may feel embarrassed or frightened at first.
  • Be patient - this is a long process and difficult issue.
  • Express your concern and desire to help. Plan your approach carefully - use "I" statements instead of "You" statements.
  • Speak with compassion and concern.
  • Model positive actions.
  • Be aware of your own eating patterns and beliefs - take a look at your own "fear of fat", attitude toward weight, body shape, and dieting.
  • Provide specific information for help (resources, brochures, books).
  • Increase personal responsibility for behavior.
  • Be willing to spend time listening and talking about related personal problems.
  • Attempt to discuss your feelings.
  • Explain what you suspect by describing the person's problematic behaviors and state your observations clearly - focus on facts, not opinions.
  • Allow the person to be in charge of his/her own eating - do not criticize or police their diet while they are attempting to get help.
  • Offer support.
  • Set realistic goals - they will not get better overnight and your one talk may not change their mind.


  • Nag, argue, plead or bribe.
  • Criticize yourself or anyone else for the person's eating disorder.
  • Blame yourself or anyone else for the person's eating disorder.
  • Give simplistic suggestions about nutrition or self-control - the disorder is bigger than that.
  • Comment positively or negatively on others' sizes and shapes.
  • Comment constantly on the person's appearance.
  • Treat the person like a child.
  • Use scare tactics.
  • Become involved in a power struggle.
  • Spy or interfere once the person is in treatment.
  • Monitor what the friend is eating.
  • Use food as a socializing agent.
  • Discuss weight, amount of calories/fat being consumed or particular eating habits.
  • Expect 100% recovery immediately - there will undoubtedly be times when stress increases and all the old tensions flare up again.  

Books on How to Help Those you Love:

Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and Food by Margo Maine, Ph.D.

Like Mother, Like Daughter - How Women Are Influenced by Their Mothers' Relationship with Food and How to Break the Pattern by Debra Waterhouse, M.PH, RD., Hyperion, NY 1997

Surviving an Eating Disorders: Perspectives and Strategies for Family and Friends by Michelle Siegell, Ph.D., Judith Brisman, Ph.D., and Margot Weinshel, Ph.D., Harper & Row Publishers, NY 1998

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher

Afraid to Eat: Children and Teens in Weight Crisis by Frances M. Berg, MS, LN. Healthy Weight Publishing Network, 1997  ( An informative website by author Francis Berg)

Things to remember about Eating Disorders:

  • Eating Disorders do affect men. About 10% of those who suffer from eating disorders are men.
  • Eating disorders are not only about food. They are often also about emotions, feelings, and control.
  • People who struggle with eating disorders are doing the BEST that they can. They are trying to solve their problems the only way they know how.
  • Many people develop eating disorders to cope with pressures they receive from the outside world.
  • Know that eating disorders are not only about food, and underlying a disorder may be anger, helplessness, low self-esteem or a feeling of failure.

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