How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

Right now someone in the United States is realizing for the first time that a loved one—a teenage son or daughter—is struggling with an eating disorder. Perhaps there were warning signs along the way, or maybe the revelation hit all at once. Either way, there’s no denying the problem, and it’s not going away on its own. It’s time to do something about it, but what? In this post, we’ll offer our suggestions for how to help someone with an eating disorder, starting with a carefully orchestrated, honest conversation with your loved one.

A group of teenagers sits together on a couch.
Talking to teenagers about eating disorders is hard, but it’s the first step to getting the help they need.

Talking to Your Child About an Eating Disorder

Parents know that talking to teenagers is sometimes difficult. A conversation about an eating disorder might prove especially challenging to navigate. To help you prepare, here are our tips for starting an eating disorder conversation with your daughter or son.

1. Do Your Homework

Eating disorders are complex mental health problems that are often accompanied by a variety of underlying or co-occurring conditions. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to go into the conversation with a basic understanding of what eating disorders are and how they are treated.

2. Avoid Accusations & Lectures

There’s a big difference between an honest inquiry about your child’s health and a confrontational accusation. Start the conversation by expressing your concern and showing empathy for the pain your child is likely experiencing. As a result, your child may feel more comfortable opening up and engaging in a dialogue with you. Remember, eating disorders are mental health conditions that deserve sympathy and compassion, not criticism.

3. Set the Stage for More Discussion

This probably won’t be the only conversation you have with your child about his or her eating disorder. So, don’t expect a resolution right off the bat. Instead, leave the door open for both parties to freely share their thoughts, concerns and observations in the coming days or weeks.

4. Listen as Much as You Speak

You have a lot to say, and rightfully so. But don’t forget that your child has a voice in this conversation too.
Whether your loved one agrees with your observations and concerns or becomes defensive, it’s important—not just to let her speak—but to show her that she’s truly being heard.

Take the Next Step

Ultimately, the goal of the conversation is to better understand your child’s eating disorder so that you can begin searching for the right help. What is the “right” help? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every teen. For some it could be guidance from a school counselor or working with a licensed therapist. For others, a treatment center that specializes in treating teens with eating disorders could be the best course of action for your child. Reach out to professionals like these for more information.

Adolescent Growth is Here to Help

If you believe your child could benefit from residential treatment for an eating disorder, partial hospitalization or an intensive outpatient program, you have many choices to consider. In a future post, we’ll show you what to look for when choosing a treatment program so you can make an informed decision for your son or daughter. Or, if you’re ready to learn more about eating disorder treatment at Adolescent Growth, call our admissions specialists for a free assessment today.