How to help a loved one

It can be frightening when you are confronted with the possibility your loved one or family member has an eating disorder. However, it is important to remember that they are probably frightened too, and that this is when they will need you the most. The following recommendations are related to how to help for eating disorders in general and then a few specific to eating disorders and pregnancy.

Educate Yourself

Education is one of the most important tools you can have to combat an eating disorder. The more that you know about them, the more that you can help someone that you care about. Make sure you know the difference between the misconceptions about eating disorders and the facts so that you do not accidentally reinforce myths.

Talk to them About Your Concerns

Make sure to talk to them about the concerns you have. Use “I” statements so that they don’t feel confronted or accused and choose a quiet, private place to talk. This is an emotional topic, so keep to the facts of what you’ve noticed and why you are concerned, and be prepared that they may respond defensively. Make sure not to stigmatize their illness or offer simple solutions such as telling them to “just eat”.

Encourage them to Seek Help

Encourage them to seek help, and especially during pregnancy or postpartum, encourage them to tell their healthcare professional. Early identification of and treatment of an eating disorder results in the best outcomes, so it is crucial to not wait for help.

Body Image Concerns During Pregnancy

Your family member or loved one will probably face many body image concerns during pregnancy (even if they have a history of an eating disorder and not a current one). There are a few ways that you can be conscious of making this easier for them, but it might also be important to ask if them if there are other ways, too. They may feel uncomfortable having attention drawn to their pregnancy bump or size; if they are being weighed by the doctor or nurse, allow them to do that in privacy; and may need greater understanding if they have difficulty adjusting to the pregnancy weight gain or body changes. Being patient and listening to their concerns without judgment and asking how or if you can help is the best way to support them.

Other Resources

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has additional resources on how to help a family member or loved one. A NEDA webinar on the topic has also been included on the Family & Loved Ones page to provide additional insight.