I think my friend has an eating disorder

My friend has an eating disorder

What do I do if I think my friend has an eating disorder?


I get this question a lot from friends and acquaintances. What should I say? What should I not say?


First off, thank you for caring. You’re asking the exact right question and I know you want to help your friend.


Next, you should know, just as important as what you DO say is what you DON’T say. I’ve created a cheat sheet for you so you can approach your friend with confidence and care and help her in the best way possible.


If you are a parent trying to support your child with an eating disorder, please read this post.


Here are the DOs and DONTs if you think your friend has an eating disorder:




– Gently say something! Silence isn’t going to help your friend. People struggling with eating disorders are terrified of someone finding out and of asking for help.


– Approach her at a time that is outside of eating. Make your friend feel comfortable by speaking to her one on one and in a safe environment.


– Use I statements! “I care…” or “I’m concerned and love you…” When I was working in private equity, the founder of the firm pulled me aside and said “I’m worried about you. Can we talk?” Him saying this to me was what ultimately led to me finding a therapist to get help.


– Listen. Actually really listen to your friend. Ask her if it’s okay for you to ask questions. If your friend with an eating disorder doesn’t specifically tell you how to support her, ask her. “I want to support you and be a good friend – what can I do?”


– Let your friend know that you are available anytime she wants to talk. Tell her you believe in her and even though you might not fully understand, you will listen.


– Validate your friend is she shares with you. Say things like “I’m so glad you chose to share with me.”


– Sometimes it helps to share your own struggles with life. Vulnerability begets vulnerability.




– Comment on her weight or body! This is all off limits. Even if it’s in the form of an I statement, don’t say it. For example, do not say “I’ve noticed you lost weight.”


– Avoid using FEAR as a way of motivating your friend to heal. Most people with eating disorders know they are causing damage. Avoid saying things like: “you know that you could die.”


– Give advice. Leave that to a therapist or coach. Do support your friend in asking if there’s anything you can do to help find a therapist or coach, etc.


– Unless you’ve truly had an eating disorder yourself, avoid talking about ‘food’ or ‘exercise’ as a problem for you. This can be triggering for a friend who has an eating disorder.


– Talk about food, bodies, dieting or exercise at all unless your friend brings it up. While eating disorders appear to be about food and the body (and they are to some extent), they are usually about something much deeper.


Say something


Saying something is better than saying nothing at all. If you are truly considering talking to your friend with an eating disorder, write a script out. Here’s an example script that a client of mine used to ask her friend if she had an eating disorder:


“Hi. Would this be an okay time to talk? I first want you to know that I really care about you. I’ve felt a bit worried lately and wanted to ask if you are okay? I’d love to listen.”


What happens if you approach your friend with an eating disorder and he or she denies having an eating disorder (and maybe she doesn’t!)? It helps to have a one-liner ready in the instance that you are wrong or that your friend doesn’t want to talk about it.


I’d simply say something like, “I understand. I value our relationship too much to not say anything. I love you and hope you can forgive me.”


By saying something, you have left the door open for if and when your friend is ready to talk. Finally, visit NEDA website for more resources and a specific video on how to help a loved one with an eating disorder.

Don’t DO these SIX things if your daughter has an eating disorder

help for daughter with an eating disorder

“My daughter has an eating disorder. What can I do to help?”


Parents email me nearly every week. Moms or dads share that their daughter has an eating disorder: anorexia, bulimia or other challenges with food and weight. They all want to know the same thing: what can I do?


Before I share what you, as a loved one, can do, I want to acknowledge that both sons and daughters struggle with eating disorders. If you are looking for signs or symptoms, here is a great article on what to look for. If you need treatment for your son, I’m happy to refer you to specialists who treat males with eating disorders.


Parents and loved ones can play a meaningful role in their daughter’s recovery! Below I’m sharing the six top things to do and what not to do!




1. Comment on your daughter’s appearance or weight. This includes compliments! Even “you look healthy” can be perceived as “I’ve gained too much weight” in the eating disorder mind. Also avoid talking about other people’s bodies or weight (including your own).


2. Try to convince your daughter that she won’t gain weight. You want her to know that you love her regardless of her weight. When she communicates she’s scared to gain weight, simply respond: “do you want to talk about it”? Let her talk. Validate feelings. Also, read what you can DO on #5 below.


3. Discuss calories, diets, exercise or her eating habits. Try to discuss things other than food. Try to discuss feelings. Do not compare dieting or someone’s weight loss to your daughter’s eating disorder. Eating disorder’s are mental illnesses. They have nothing to do with willpower or discipline.

diet plan exercise and food

4. Question her about whether she ate, what she ate or if she engaged in behaviors. Instead ask how her day was or about something specific she did unrelated to food.


5. Accuse her of lying about everything because she lies about the eating disorder behaviors. Understand that her lying about the eating disorder symptoms is from a place of guilt and shame and not wanting to disappoint you. If your daughter has an eating disorder, her lying is not indicative of her character but rather that she is struggling with a mental illness.


6. Talk during ‘sensitive’ times. Do not discuss treatment, your worries or important topics related to her recovery during meal time or other ‘charged’ times. Find a time outside of eating when your daughter is calm. Know that holidays can be especially triggering. Prepare for holidays by having any important conversations in advance of mealtimes.




1. Tell your child you care. It’s okay to share that you love her and feel scared. Always use “I” statements and make your feelings about you, not about your daughter or what she does. For example, saying things like “you’re hurting yourself” or “if you’d just eat more…” don’t help. Saying things like “I’m feeling scared and not sure what to do” are honest and reflect your feelings.


tell daughter with eating disorder that you care


2. Admit that you don’t know what to say all the time. Share that you can’t understand fully what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but that you will be there to listen and to help her get the support she needs. Always encourage her to reach out to her support team.


3. Validate your daughter’s feelings even if you don’t agree with them. You do NOT have to validate her actions. Your daughter with an eating disorder has feelings that are absolutely real and causing her pain. Your job is not to talk her out of those feelings but to empathize, reassure her that it’s okay to feel and encourage to write down her thoughts and share with her support team.


4. Role model. Take care of yourself. Eat foods that are fun to eat AND that provide nourishment. This means, eating ice cream when you feel like it. Let your child see that you don’t restrict, feel guilty or try to ‘earn’ foods through exercise or eating healthy other days. There’s no need tell your daughter about your habits, but rather show her. What we do is far more powerful than what we say.


5. Evaluate your own biases around gaining weight and fatphobia (see this video I made on how to respond when your daughter calls herself fat). Your daughter thinks she is scared to gain weight. The truth is that she is scared she won’t be loved if she gains weight. If you have any biases around ‘fat’ people or have commented on people being overweight, this can strengthen the eating disorder’s power in linking fat with bad.


food and exercise photo with weight band


6. Get help! Get coaching or therapy for yourself! This is not easy to navigate and you don’t have to do it alone. I offer coaching services for parents. Often one to two sessions is enough to help parents or loved ones feel equipped with what they can do. If you’re interested, email me: lindsay@outshininged.com.


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