How to Support a Loved One with an Eating Disorder

Today we have a post from Hannah Wise, one of our Master’s Level Interns. Hannah is a compassionate therapist at Anchored Counseling Co., dedicated to helping individuals reconnect with themselves and their bodies. She values empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability in her therapeutic relationships, aiming to create a safe and collaborative space for healing and recovery. Hannah believes in the inherent beauty and worth of all bodies, emphasizing their empowerment in overcoming daily challenges.

Specializing in eating disorders, body image concerns, women’s issues, trauma, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and OCD, Hannah employs a variety of therapeutic approaches. She is proficient in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Somatic Experiencing, mindfulness, and family therapy, tailoring her methods to meet the unique needs of her clients.

Hannah is deeply committed to walking alongside her clients on their journey of reconnection and self-discovery, offering her expertise and support every step of the way. We hope you enjoy today’s post from Hannah!

Addressing your concerns with a loved one can be daunting and challenging. We fear our loved one may respond to our concerns in a negative way, which may damage the relationship. That fear can be so consuming that we don’t say anything at all. I want to challenge you to overcome those worries and engage in those difficult conversations. Remember, eating disorders are rooted in emotional avoidance. They are used to communicate emotions that are difficult for that person to verbally express. Therefore, by initiating the conversation, you may just give that person the space to finally feel that they have the resources and the opportunity to reach out for help. 

In this post, I will outline ways to start a conversation with a loved one you fear may have developed an eating disorder or is engaging in disordered eating. Lean on these tools when you feel unsure about how to navigate these conversations. 

Create a Safe Space 

Timing and setting are very important when engaging in difficult conversations. Be sure to initiate a conversation about eating disorders when both you and your loved one are feeling regulated and have some privacy. When you are both calm and in a private setting, it creates space for a more honest and vulnerable conversation to occur. Additionally, try starting the conversation from a place of curiosity and care rather than judgement. This prevents the other person from immediately being put on the defensive. An example conversation starter could be: “I’ve noticed that you have been a bit resistant to eating with us during family meals. Could you help me understand why that is?” This statement expresses care, concern, and openness while setting you up for an open and productive conversation.   

Prepare for a Possible Reaction

No matter how gently you approach expressing your concern, you still may receive a reaction, including anger, confusion, and firm denial. Eating disorders often come with heavy shame and secret-keeping, which makes it difficult for someone to open up about their experience even in the safest of contexts. If you are on the receiving end of a hurtful response, try not to mirror the emotion dysregulation. This is why it is important to initiate the conversation when both you and your loved one are already in a calm and regulated state. Gently but firmly express that you care and are curious while also delivering a hard truth. For example, a response could be: “I see that my question upset you. It makes total sense that you feel this way. However, I have noticed you isolating yourself during mealtimes, so I wanted to check in with you.” 

Keep the Conversation Going

Continually check in on your loved one and hold space for them to come to you when they are ready. We cannot force anyone to do anything, but when people feel supported, they tend to feel more comfortable sharing, connecting, and reaching out for help. Encourage your loved one to reach out to a mental health provider and get the professional help that they may need. If the loved one is your child, work with them to find a clinician that they feel comfortable seeing because if they feel that they have autonomy in their mental health care, they will feel more hopeful and willing to receive help.  

While you navigate these difficult conversations and avenues, ensure that you are engaging in your own self-care. When you take care of yourself, it is much easier to show up for other people. So, embrace opportunities to engage in your favorite hobbies or rest when you can. 

If you would like to learn more about supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, I recommend reading By Their Side: A Resource for Caretakers and Loved Ones Facing an Eating Disorder. This book shares testimonials from parents, siblings, friends, and doctors of someone with an eating disorder and gives knowledge and tips for navigating it all. 

Finally, here is an affirmation to carry with you as you support your loved ones:

“I trust myself to give and receive love, support, and compassion.” 

You got this!

Hannah Wise

We hope you found Hannah’s insights on supporting loved ones with an eating disorder helpful. If her message resonated with you, this could be the perfect time to take meaningful steps toward your healing and peace. To initiate your work with Hannah, please feel free to call our office at 615.510.3797 or click here to learn more.

Anchored Counseling Company is a a group practice specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, body image concerns, eating disorders & disordered eating, substance use, trauma and PTSD, and spirituality in Brentwood, Tennessee and serving the greater Nashville, Tennessee area. We are easily accessible for clients living in Franklin, Tennessee and Spring Hill, Tennessee. 

Share the Post:
Skip to content