How to Help a Friend With an Eating Disorder

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Those of you who know me well, or have been reading this blog for a while, know that I had EDNOS in high school. EDNOS, or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (sometimes called OSFED, for Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder), and is a blanket term for disordered eating that does not meet all the requirements of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. That does not make it any less serious, or any less severe, than eating disorders that are mentioned more often.

  • 60% of adults with eating disorders have EDNOS. (source)
  • The mortality rate of EDNOS is 5.2%. (source)
  • The risks of EDNOS include kidney failure, osteoporosis, and chance of infertility. (source)

I lived with EDNOS for about three years in high school, and I have been in recovery for four and half years. If you'd like to read more about my experiences, you can do so here, here, and here. Because I've shared my story already, I wanted today's post to be something different. After thinking about it for a while, I decide to write about how to help a friend with an eating disorder.

1. Listen

If your friend comes to you to tell you they have an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is listen to them and their feelings. They are likely processing many emotions at once: guilt, anger, sadness, fear, and others. Try to be as supportive as possible. Ask them questions about how they are feeling and what you can do to help them right now.

2. Believe them

Eating disorders can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, size, or background. If your friend confides in you, don't question whether or not they're right about their behavior. Don't comment on size or appearance (“But you look so healthy!”). Believe them when they tell you about their experiences, and save any questions you may have for a better time.

3. Tell them you care

If coming to you, your friend is probably feeling very vulnerable. They may be worried that you will judge them or not take them seriously. Telling them that you care, or that you appreciate their vulnerability, is the first step in making them feel safe. The best response I ever got in a moment of vulnerability was “thank you for honoring us by telling us that.” I will never forget how those words made me feel in a moment that could have been very scary and emotional.

4. Offer to come with them to a counselor

If your friend is scared or unwilling to see a counselor, offer to come with them. You can sit in the waiting room or come with them during the session – having you there may help them feel more secure and be less afraid of speaking to someone they don't know.

5. Ask how you can help

No one knows what your friend needs better than they do. If you're unsure of how you can best help them, ask. Often it will be something simple, like sitting in silence for a while, coming with them to a doctor, or being with them when they eat a meal. If they can't think of something right now, let them know that you are still around if they need someone to listen or talk to.

6. Treat them normally

Continue inviting your friend to your usual events and activities, and do your best to act normally around them, even in a situations involving food. Recovery can be absorbing and exhausting, and it will be helpful for your friend if they feel like a normal person and not a patient around you. If you invite your friend to something and they say no, don't push or be discouraged; just ask again next time.

7. Be in it for the long haul

Recovery is a long process, and your friend may have good days and bad days. Do your best to be patient and supportive. After the first few weeks or months of recovery, your loved one's friends may start to lose interest in helping them recover. Be the person to stick around and love them even and especially when they are struggling most.

Remember also that if you need to talk to someone about what you're going through, that is totally okay. Often the caretakers and friends of those with eating disorders also have to shoulder a burden. If you need to talk to a counselor, parent, or professional, that is normal and healthy. In helping your friend, don't forget to take care of yourself.


For those of you who better want to understand eating disorders and what you can do, here are some resources:

If you think you may have an eating disorder, please consider reaching out to someone or getting help. Recovery is possible and so very worth it. You are worth it. You can start here.

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, recent grad, and American abroad. I graduated from college in December and promptly moved to the Netherlands, where I live with my boyfriend and our 11 plants. Follow along as I figure out my roaring twenties: I don't quite know what I'm doing, but that's not stopping me from writing about it!

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  • This is a wonderful list, Sara! I especially love that you add-be in it for the long haul. Eating disorders can be frustrating for both those who suffer with them as well as for the people who so desperately want to see their loved ones free from the bondage; it’s important to remember that while recovery may not happen in a week, a month, or even a year-it can and will happen if we continue to be loving and helpful in the fight 🙂 thank you for sharing!!

    • Thank you so much for commenting! I’m glad you liked the list, and I definitely agree that the length of the recovery process can be so frustrating. I am so grateful that we are both in a better place now!