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Helping a Loved One 

Know Someone with an Eating Disorder? 

Suggested Dos and Don’ts for friends and family of someone with an Eating Disorder


  • Realize there is no quick and easy solution. Be aware of the long-term nature of these disorders. 

  • Encourage the person with the ED to get a professional assessment from a practitioner experienced in ED’s, into counseling and a support group if possible.

  • If you love someone with an ED you may need counseling to help you cope with the disorder.

  • Express honest love and caring for the person in your life with an ED. Affirm the person for who they are rather than for accomplishments, performance or looks. Value the person.

  • Realize the person with an ED is ambivalent about getting well and takes comfort in the behaviors and rituals of the disorder.

  • Try to do social activities that do not include food.

  • Learn everything you can about ED’s.

  • Encourage decision-making and being responsible for those decisions. Encourage initiative, independence, and autonomy.

  • Hold the person with the ED accountable for behaviors that impact you or the family. Help the person with the ED be honest with their ED. 

  • Allow the person to be in charge of his or her routine of daily life, but not of yours.

  • Recognize that your loved one’s behavior is likely to cause you to feel helpless and angry, Recognize and accept your feelings and get yourself some support.

  • Remember the person with the ED is not doing this to ruin your life.

  • Seek life saving treatment for anyone who is in jeopardy of endangering themselves.

  • Accept yourself.

  • Express your feelings honestly; they probably know how you are feeling anyway.

  • Please recognize that "relapse" is part of the recovery process and is a learning experience not a failure.




  • Don’t give up. The person with the ED needs you.

  • Don’t make comments about food intake, eating habits, or weight. Your involvement in the ED is a tool to manipulate you and take the focus off the real issues. Take the tool away.

  • Don’t ignore the problem, it won’t go away.

  • Don’t panic. Ask for help.

  • Don’t tell the person to "just eat" or "just stop eating so much."

  • Don’t comment on appearance or weight, at all!

  • Don’t feel you must walk on "eggshells" around the person with an ED.

  • Don’t let the persons’ rituals dominate the household.

  • Don’t neglect yourself or the rest of the family by overly focusing on the "sick" person.

  • Don’t be manipulated. Require the person to be responsible for their behavior. Setting appropriate limits and boundaries offers good role modeling.

  • Don’t force, encourage, insist or demand the person to eat.

  • Don’t try to stop the person with bulimia from eating during a binge or from purging. This is their disorder and you will only make matters worse.

  • Don’t try to control the person’s behavior.

  • Don’t get hooked into power struggles. Only impose rules which are necessary for the person’s or the family’s safety and well-being.

  • Don’t try to tell the person with the ED what they could have done differently.

  • Don’t feel guilty or dwell on causes. Most parents want to know "What have I done wrong?" There are no perfect parents. Your feeling guilty only makes the person feel worse. Do what you can to get help for the individual with the ED and then turn the problem over to them and the professionals who are there to help.

  • Don’t tell the anorexic who has gained weight they look better.

  • Don’t expect yourself to be a perfect person, family member or friend.

  • Don’t expect the person with the ED to be perfect.

  • Don’t assume the eating disorder is "all better" after treatment begins or the individual returns from an ED inpatient unit.

  • Don’t blame yourself.

  • Don’t be afraid to have your loved one separated from you, either at school or in separate housing, if it becomes obvious that their continued presence is undermining the emotional health of the family. The final separation is death; don’t be intimidated by threats of suicide, get help.

  • Don’t compare the person with an ED to others who have been successful in recovery.


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