It’s incredibly difficult to know the best way on how to talk to someone with an eating disorder.
I bring this topic up because I received a long voicemail on my phone from a person I had never met before.
This person basically said they had a friend who they wanted to get help for, but their friend wasn’t listening.
Specifically, their friend knew they had a problem but just didn’t want to talk about.
What do you do in these situations?
- Do you give them a book?
- Give them a gentle, compassionate lecture? (don’t yell never helps)
- Just tell them to stop eating? (hint: don’t do this)
- Encourage them to see a therapist?
- Take them to an outpatient clinic?
- Show them a local support group?
These are all options, except #3.
Telling someone who struggles with food to stop eating is just downright dumb.
But the other 4 options can be valid ways on how to talk to someone with an eating disorder. This post today will review all 5 of these options.
At the bottom of this post when I cover option #6 …
I’ll provide links to my Bay Area Eating Support Group, which I host weekly as an Eating Disorder Therapist, and I’ll also include other resources in the Bay Area.
One quick note – eating disorders and struggles with food are incredibly common. You are not alone. There are more resources out there than you might know.
- Eating disorders are a daily struggle for 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States.
- Four out of ten individuals have either personally experienced an eating disorder or know someone who has.
- .9% of women will struggle with anorexia in their lifetime
- 1.5% of women will struggle with bulimia in their lifetime
- 3.5% of women will struggle with binge eating
- .3% of men will struggle with anorexia
- .5% of men will struggle with bulimia
- 2% of men will struggle with binge eating disorder 
How To Talk To Someone With An Eating Disorder – Option 1 – Book
This might sound trite.
Just give them a book? Isn’t that a cop out?
And yes, to be clear, a book can be a cop out.
Just giving someone a book and hoping for the best can be a way of avoiding problems.
However, it depends on the person you’re talking to.
- If I feel the person likes reading
- And I ask permission first
- And the person says yes
- Then I’ll oftentimes give people a book to borrow
- I make it clear that the book is for borrowing
- Remember – I say “no pressure to like the book”
I personally like to give people books to borrow. And to be clear, I do this because then I have a sense of agency, and that I can give the person a book and not wait for the person to get the book themselves.
However, you can also just recommend a book without giving the person the book yourself.
I like recommending the book “Intuitive Eating”.
Please keep in the mind to say to the person “you don’t have to like this book”. This way there is no pressure.
And again only use this option if the person seems open to it.
How To Help – Option 2 – Talk to them
Sometimes the scariest proposition of all.
How do you approach this?
Especially if it’s a family member where tensions run high around eating?
How to help someone with an eating disorder if you aren’t on good terms with them?
It’s a difficult question, one that goes beyond the scope of this blog article.
But … a few tips
- Don’t push – tell the person about resources (like books or group resources down below) but then stop!
- Don’t go on and on over and over again …
- You’ll need to bring this topic up more than once most likely so don’t make this conversation miserable
- Give hope – binge eating disorder and eating disorders are curable!
Someone this person needs to BELIEVE they can become HAPPIER without JUDGMENT and the process will be relatively PAIN FREE.
The good news is – all those things are true.
I don’t want to say that things will be entirely pain free… but in every single time the process feels better than the alternative … which is to remain in disordered eating, denial and negative cycles.
How To Talk To Someone With An Eating Disorder – Option 3 – Therapist
Now you can also give a person resources to look up therapists.
Fortunately, psychologytoday offers such a resource.
However, word of mouth is best …
But sometimes word of mouth isn’t enough.
The person has a serious problem.
In these cases …
An outpatient clinic might be best.
I made a video here with a parent whose child tried a therapist first, but didn’t get enough support.
He talks at length with his experiences with an outpatient clinic.
It’s expensive … but it changed his daughter’s life who is now eating disorder free.
Finally, support groups.
Here’s a list of Bay Area Support groups.
- Shrein Bahrami, MFT
- Oakland Eating Disorders Support Groups
- Center for Discovery
- Thrive Therapy Bay Area
The meetups are held in the library and serve to educate people on how to treat compulsive, stress eating, and other binge eating disorders.