How to Talk to Your Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Article Contributed By Staff of The Meadows Ranch

Completing treatment is a beginning, not an end, to the long road to recovery. For families, coming home is a time meant for joy, with possible plans for festivities and socializing. These are times meant for families to draw closer together and to re-affirm love and support, a time to catch up on what has been going on and share with one another hopes for the future.

To the individual suffering from an eating disorder, or in the throes of recovery, these occasions can be overwhelming and threatening. We want to be helpful and supportive, but nothing seems to come out right. What do we say? How can we let them know that we care and are there for them, without being so awkward about it?

Those patients who are struggling are often at a loss during homecoming. They, too, have expectations; and, oftentimes being perfectionists, they don’t want to let down their loved ones who are worried about them. Not only do they have to deal with the normal stresses of life and recovery, they worry that they will fail—either their families by engaging in their eating disorder; or, conversely, their eating disorder by losing control and gaining weight.

Surely, everyone is looking at them, wondering if they are eating enough, eating the right things, getting enough rest. Surely, everyone knows that they just got out of treatment and are talking about them. They smile and put on a brave face. They wonder if people are avoiding talking to them. Maybe it’s for the best.

How to Ask About an Eating Disorder

Some family members ask innocuously: “How are you doing?” Well, they think, before they respond with an obligatory, “+ they feel…pretty much like a failure. Some of them have had to drop out of school, leave jobs, see their friends move on with their lives as they stay stuck.

Friends talkingWhat happened to the person who was an honor student, track star, the one voted most likely to succeed? You’re at home with your parents? That’s great.

Maybe you can use this time to get closer together. There’s always a silver lining to our struggles.

Even worse: “You’re looking really good. You look…healthy.” Great, they think, I look fat. This dress is making me look fat. My face is all puffy. Everyone is talking about how fat I am. Maybe I need to stop eating right now.

No wonder they sometimes hide in corners, avoiding eye contact, during family get-togethers. Their body language is closed, forbidding. Don’t talk to me. Don’t tell me that things will get better. Don’t ask me how I’m doing or if I’m going back to school or if I’m done with treatment. Don’t ask me anything.

A person who has been in recovery from an eating disorder may or may not be in a place where they feel able and/or willing to communicate about their journey or details about their treatment, and a conversation does not necessarily need to revolve around this, especially at a family gathering. While it may feel uncomfortable to initiate a conversation with someone who has been through such a delicate situation, they are in need of love, attention, and support, and feeling seen can speak volumes.

The Best Approach

The best approach is not to ignore the eating disorder individual’s presence, but to approach them with kindness and sensitivity. Let them know you are glad to see them. Avoiding direct comments about their appearance and communicating compliments that are not related to how they look can be helpful. Maybe you have a happy memory that you want to share with them to let them know that they are an important part of your life. Maybe you want to share something interesting that happen to you to help take the perceived focus off of them.

Male friends showing a storyTo engage in conversation is important and a positive optimistic twist such as talking about their pets, new people in their lives, or television shows will go a long way to diminish the awkwardness. Getting together as friends and families are a time to connect—a time to let each one of us know that we are not alone, that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we are part of a family.

If you feel unsure about how to best approach a loved one recovering from an eating disorder, consider talking to a close family member who has been more directly involved, as they may have more specific insight to share.

Family members and friends can play an essential role in the recovery process for an individual struggling with and healing from an eating disorder [1]. Simply being there, being involved, and showing you care can make all the difference for a loved one, knowing they are not alone in their eating disorder recovery journey.

Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch:

For over 25 years, The Meadows Ranch has offered an unparalleled depth of care through its unique, comprehensive, and individualized program for treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions affecting adolescent girls and women. Set on scenic ranch property in the healing landscape of Wickenburg, Arizona, The Meadows Ranch allows for seamless transitions between its structured multi-phase treatment. A world-class clinical team of industry experts leads the treatment approach designed to uncover and understand the “whys” of the eating disorder through a host of proven modalities. Providing individuals with tools to re-engage in a healthy relationship with food – and with themselves – disempowers eating disorders and empowers individuals with a renewed enthusiasm for life. Contact us today at 888-496-5498 and find out why The Meadows Ranch is the best choice for eating disorder treatment and recovery. For more information call 1-888-496-5498. or visit


[1]: National Eating Disorder Association, “For Family and Friends”, Accessed 29 June 2017

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 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.

Edited & Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on August 18, 2017.
Recently Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 2, 2018.
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