How to Help Someone With an Eating Disorder When They Let You Into Their World

Eleven years is how long it took me to get help. The first night in counseling I sat across from my therapist and spun an elastic band so tight across my fingers they turned red.

My therapist smiled at me reassuringly and said, “How can I help?” At this point, I didn’t know the answer, mainly because no one had asked it before.

Shortly after, I was diagnosed with Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). Ever so slowly, the eating disorder that had isolated me for so many years began to unravel.

Part of recovery is accepting help and utilizing a support system. When individuals recovering let you into their world, how can you help?

For me, I explain how fighting an eating disorder is broken up into small steps. I might not eat a full meal for a while because it’s still too much. So when those outside my treatment team push me to eat certain foods or amounts of food that are too hard to accept – even when it comes from genuine concern – I push back.

I lovingly remind them I’m not looking to hire the “food police.” Let my treatment team decide what and how much I eat.

So what can you do instead? Offer an encouraging hug. Ask how my week has been and listen to the answer. Accept times where I might retreat for a little while if only to recollect my jumbled thoughts. Invite me to outings that have food because meals are about laughter and memories, not just calories. Send an encouraging text. Talk about food when I want to, but remind me food doesn’t have to take up every minute of every day anymore.

Remember, helping can take on a different form day by day and meal by meal. Ask how to help in the moment. The best way to help is loving me in spite of my eating disorder while I learn to do the same.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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