How to Help a Friend with an Eating Disorder

By Katrina Helfand

Eating disorders are treatable, mental illnesses that affect an estimated 30 million Americans (20 million females, 10 million males) every year. In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, here are a few things you can do to support a friend with an eating disorder.

Educate yourself on eating disorders, know the facts and the myths

  • Eating disorders are not a choice nor a phase - they are a biopsychosocial disease.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. In addition to the medical complications that are caused by eating disorders, suicide is common among people who have eating disorders.
  • Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status.
  • Eating disorders are not always obvious.  An individual with a normal body weight may be suffering from an eating disorder.

Know the warning signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms vary with each eating disorder, and someone who is suffering may not show all of the symptoms at once. Here are some general emotional, behavioral, and physical signs of an eating disorder.

  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight or a dramatic weight loss/gain
  • A preoccupation with weight, food, calories, dieting, and/or exercise
  • Making comments about weight and body image
  • Refusing to eat certain foods or categories of food
  • Having trouble sleeping, concentrating
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Over-exercising

Address your concerns and when in doubt, ask!

Ask your friend how they’re feeling and what you can do to help. Show your support by listening, being patient, and validating their feelings. Continue to reach out to your friend, and bring up any concerns you may have while doing your best to avoid telling your friend what they should do.

Promote their self-worth

Remind your friend that they’re more than just their physical appearance. Compliment their personality, their accomplishments, and other qualities that have nothing to do with their physical appearance.

For more information about eating disorders, how to help a loved one, and seeking treatment, refer to the National Eating Disorders Association at or (800) 931-2237.

Centre Helps’ hotline is available 24/7 at (814) 237-5855. We are here to help with any problem, any time.






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