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When Someone You Love Has an Eating Disorder

One point to keep in mind above all others is that your friend or family member can completely recover. They can become confident, capable, successful people. They can become well!

Combat Misinformation

Many people mistakenly believe that eating disorders are only dangerous for people who are seriously underweight, but eating disorder come in many shapes and sizes.

Eating Disorder Muyths

Combatting Misinformation

What You Can Do

Positive Strategies for Parents

The following "rules" are presented in the book Surviving an Eating Disorder: Perspectives & Strategies for Family & Friends. Siegel, M., Brisman, J. & Weinshel, M., 1997. New York, NY: Hamper Collins.

Rule #1: Accept your limitations. Encourage your loved one to get professional help.

Rule #2: Accept the other person's right to an independent life. Don't take charge.

Rule #3: Don't purchase (or avoid purchasing) food solely to accommodate the eating-disordered person.

Rule #4: Each household member decides individually what he or she will or will not eat. No one should be forced to eat anything or be restricted in what can be eaten.

Rule #5: Don't make mealtimes a battleground. Keep discussion about food issues to a minimum.

Rule #6: Be willing to negotiate household chores involving food.

Rule #7: The person with the eating disorder is responsible for their behavior whenever it affects others.

Rule #8: Do not monitor someone else's behavior for them (even if you are invited to).

Rule #9: Do not use money to control another person's eating behavior.

Rule #10: Do not anticipate someone else's needs.

Rule #11: Don't make eating out a battle of the wills.

Rule #12: Do not play therapist.

Rule #13: Do not comment about, someone's weight and looks.

Rule #14 Seek support for yourself.

How Parents Can Help

Parents can help their daughters by doing the following:

  1. Do not treat this problem as just an academic issue, but rather recognize the emotional roots of anorexia and bulimia.
  2. Be open to feedback from teachers, counselors and others who can help.
  3. Educate yourself on the causes, impacts, and treatments of eating disorders through literature, books, seminars, and the Internet.
  4. Talk to your daughter about what is underneath the disordered eating behavior; don't just focus on the eating patterns.
  5. Recognize the need for proper assessment, dietary counseling, medical consultation and therapy treatments and options.
  6. Get involved in a parent support group.
  7. Talk about the issues and possible solutions to eating disorders with the whole family.
  8. Don't be fooled by a daughter's attempts to minimize and ignore the real problem, be firm about the need for recovery while being sensitive to not forcing the issues.
  9. Be a good role model around food, take care of yourself, don't blame yourself, and be patient.
  10. Recognize that recovery takes time and do not place unrealistic demands for a quick fix of your daughter's eating disorder.

Additional Resources for Friends and Family

What can you do if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, body image issues, depression, and low self-esteem?

One of the first things to do is to take care of yourself either by finding a good therapist or a local support group. You can read the book, "Surviving an Eating Disorder: Strategies for Families and Friends" by Michele Siegel, PhD, Judith Brisman, PhD, and Margot Weinshel, MSW. This is an excellent book and will be a tremendous support in helping you learn appropriate ways of dealing with your loved one.

Another excellent book is "Overcoming Binge Eating" by Dr. Christopher Fairburn. This book is excellent for anyone struggling with weight issues and binge eating.

For referrals, you can visit (including referrals for free treatment offered by certain facilities that have received government grant money). You can also find referrals at