Communication Skills 101 for Families of Eating Disorder Sufferers

Mother hugging her daughter while visiting her in eating disorder treatment

No one prepares you for the task of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. While there are many helpful and informative books written on the subject, the enormity of the information can be overwhelming on top of the stresses of being there for your loved one. This is why eating disorder communication skills are so important.

Here is are some quick eating disorder communication skills to help you settle into this role and understand what is happening to your loved one.

Eating Disorder Communication Skills

Lead with Love

Thankfully, I am sure this is something that you already know how to do. Eating disorders rule over their sufferer by instilling fear, darkness, helplessness, and hopelessness.

What better way to fight this than by showering them with unconditional, nonjudgmental, and empowering love? When you approach your loved one, use love as your guide and the golden rule that dictates each interaction.

Whether you are frustrated with their rigid thinking or food rules, overwhelmed with their treatment, or exhausted or unsure of how to help, start with love and go from there.

Be Open to Learning & Let Them Teach You

Many people don’t know the ins-and-outs of eating disorders until they, or a loved one, are struggling with one. You are not expected to immediately know what they are struggling with or anything in the realm of eating disorders at all, but eating disorder communication skills will absolutely help in learning.

Look up articles or search for answers to the questions you have about their specific disorder. Not only that, let your loved one tell you what their experience is and believe them.

While some of this may fall in-line with what you read, other aspects may be unique to their struggle, and knowing this will help you support them specifically in the ways they need it the most.

Say Goodbye Judgment

Teen boy working on Eating Disorder Communication Skills with momThis is huge. Nothing will make any person’s walls come up faster than feeling as if they are judged, especially when they are at their most vulnerable. Be sure that you are communicating non-judgment as you listen to your loved one’s story and help them through the treatment and recovery process.

Get Your Own Support

Equally important to foster positive communication is having your own support as you go through this process.

Whether it is your friend, family member, a therapist, a mentor, or religious leader, having someone to talk to in times of confusion, sadness, fear, frustration, etc. will be invaluable. It will help to make sure that these negative and complex emotions don’t spill out in your interactions with your loved ones.

This list may seem quite simple to you, and that’s because it is. Studies show that family simply being involved and supportive of their loved ones results in reduced psychological and medical difficulties related to their disorder [1].

There are absolutely more complex dynamics when it comes to communicating with a loved one with an eating disorder. Still, the basics are things that we all need when we are in a vulnerable, challenging, and scary place – love, nonjudgment, and openness.


[1] LeGrange, D. (2010). Academy for eating disorders position paper: the role of family in eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 43:1.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published November 22, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on November 22, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC