I Think My Loved One Has an Eating Disorder: What Do I Do?

Husband holding his wife and Think My Loved One Has an Eating Disorder

Contributor: Montecatini Team at Montecatini

The moment you realize someone you care about may be struggling with an eating disorder can be overwhelming. There may be a lot that you want to say or do right away to help. But, what needs to be done if you think your loved one has an eating disorder?

These things take time, though. It’s essential to keep in mind that you can’t fix an eating disorder quickly or forcibly.

Here are six steps to guide you through this challenging time:

Remember to take care of yourself

It can be incredibly challenging to be there for someone as they deal with an eating disorder. The stress of just witnessing their condition is enough to jumpstart your own health conditions.

Throughout the process of being there for your loved one, it’s important to practice self-care. A common saying to remember is, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” If your energy is depleted, you can’t be there for someone else without first taking care of yourself.

One way you can preserve your energy is by maintaining clear boundaries. Boundaries aren’t lines in the sand; instead, they are rules you set to take care of yourself. This will mean figuring out what your values and priorities are.

Once you’ve figured those out, you’ll need to decide which limits you think are most important. Perhaps it means spending quality time with your loved one without being around food.

Boundaries like those may not need consequences like others. If you choose to set up rules with hard limits, you need to make sure that you communicate those clearly—and follow through with those limits when needed.

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Last but not least, remember that you’re a loved one—not a therapist. Don’t try to solve all of their problems. You can be there to support someone as they battle an eating disorder, but you cannot “fix” or “heal” them. Eating disorders are mental health conditions that require a highly trained team of providers to treat.

Research warning signs and learn as much as you can

It’s important to know if your concerns are based on legitimate symptoms. This will help maximize your ability to help someone who may be struggling.

While it’s important to remember that you’re not a medically trained professional, being aware of the various eating disorders and their symptoms might help you see what specific condition they are experiencing. Once you know that, you may be able to find excellent resources around specific topics to help you navigate the relationship.

When you see something that may be a symptom of an eating disorder, make a note of it. This might seem like spying, but these details can make a world of difference. Keeping a note in your phone can help you track these symptoms inconspicuously.

Stay close

While keeping your boundaries in mind, try to stay emotionally close with your loved one. Keep an open line of communication. Remind them that you care about them and are here for them—no matter what.

Consider talking with mutual friends or family members about your concerns, too. Try to see if they have more insight into what’s going on.

Check in with them without pressure

Keeping with the idea of staying close, ask them questions about how they’re doing and feeling lately. This is not the time to focus on heavily sharing your concerns. Instead, use this time to build trust and focus on being an empathetic ear.

The Talk

Portrait Of Loving Hispanic Couple In the CountrysideTaking this step can be daunting, but it may save your loved one’s life. Pick a good time to sit down and speak in private. Sharing your concerns in a public place is disrespectful and ineffective.

Consider inviting other loved ones to join in on the process. When someone knows there are multiple people who care about them and have concerns, it may help shift their paradigm just enough to see what’s going on.

Everyone involved needs to be ready for pushback, hostility, and frustration. This isn’t an easy conversation to have, regardless of whether you’re initiating it or receiving it.

Make sure that those who share their worries use “I” statements. It’s essential to avoid placing blame on anyone. Likewise, don’t give ultimatums. Either of these moves can easily lead to an argument and the end of the conversation.

Keep emphasizing your support. Remember that you’re here because you care.

Moving forward

If your loved one responds favorably, encourage them to seek help. It helps to be prepared with names of treatment centers that can help.

Offer to help them make phone calls, attend any necessary appointments, or even take them to the emergency room.

Even if they aren’t ready to get help, remind them that you’re there for them. Try to listen without judgment.

This process isn’t easy. It will try your patience and pull you through every emotion. Try to remember why you’re doing this—and how much you care for this person in your life.


About Our Sponsor:

Montecatini offers treatment for women age 16 and older for a variety of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, orthorexia, and body dysmorphic disorder. Montecatini also provides co-occurring disorder treatment programs for patients who need care for both an eating disorder and another mental health disorder simultaneously. Located just three miles off the Pacific Coast in scenic Carlsbad, California, Montecatini features gorgeous views and offers premier eating disorder treatment. Depending on their specific needs, patients who come to Montecatini can engage in residential treatment, partial hospitalization programming, intensive outpatient programming, experiential therapies, and a state-of-the-art wellness center. Treatment for eating disorders is possible in the right environment and with intentional and compassionate staff. We invite you to experience our dynamic and vibrant healing community here at Montecatini.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of 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 on May 7, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 7, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.