There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to talk to someone experiencing an eating disorder and different approaches will work for different people.
The more you can learn about eating disorders and how to treat them, the better you will be able to understand and help the person you are caring for or supporting. The person you care about may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and/or denial or may not recognise that they have a problem with their eating and/or body image. It is important to understand this and take this into consideration if the person ever responds with anger or denial.
Choose a caring environment
Any approach needs to be carried out in a caring manner, and in an environment that can support an open and calm conversation. For example, it can be beneficial to speak with the person in an environment where they feel most comfortable and safe, such as at home. Avoid bringing up the topic if either of you are angry, tired, or emotional.
Use the right language
Some people experiencing an eating disorder may feel fearful to disclose the behaviours and/or feelings associated with the eating disorder. Let them know that you care about them and that you want to help them face the problem and support them through every stage of the recovery process.
Below are some helpful tips when talking to someone you suspect may have an eating disorder:
- Try to use ‘I’ statements; e.g. ‘I care about you’ or ‘I’m worried about you’
- Make the person feel comfortable and let them know it is safe to talk to you
- Encourage them to express how they feel; it is important to understand how they are feeling
- Give your loved one time to talk about their feelings – don’t rush them through the conversation
- Listen respectfully to what your loved one has to say and let them know you won’t judge or criticise them
- Encourage them to seek help and explain that you will be there with them each step of the way