From helping them find the right treatment to reducing anxiety in their day-to-day life, here we explore different ways you can be there for your friend

Eating disorders are notoriously sneaky conditions. They thrive in isolation and are often accompanied by shame, making them difficult to talk about. But if you are worried about a friend, your support and encouragement could help them gain the courage needed to find help.

A helpful first step in all of this is to educate yourself about eating disorders. This can enable you to recognise any warning signs, giving you a nudge to reach out. It can also help you to understand how your friend may be feeling. It’s important to note that eating disorders affect people differently, so be sure to speak to your friend to acknowledge their first-hand, personal experience, and avoid making assumptions.

Once you’re ready to approach them, here are three steps to support your friend with an eating disorder:

Help them open up and get support

Starting a conversation with your friend about how they’re feeling can open the door to the topic of eating. If your friend isn’t ready to talk about it, they may insist everything is fine or that they can handle it themselves. Letting them know you are there for them when they do want to chat keeps that door open for the future.

If they do open up, offering to help them find professional support can be a useful next step. You might want to offer to go with them to see their doctor, or help them search online for a therapist.

Assisting with finding reliable and positive information can be a great support, too. There is a lot of eating disorder content online, some of which can be harmful. Seeking out recovery-focused, trusted information, and sharing this with your friend can help them navigate this.

Can my friend be forced to get help?

If your friend with an eating disorder has lost a lot of weight and is at risk, their doctor may need to section them according to the Mental Health Act, and admit them to hospital. The doctor will need to consult with their colleagues to agree to this before it happens. 

Help to reduce anxiety

Once you are aware of your friend’s difficulty with food, you can start to think about ways you can support them as they navigate recovery. An obvious, but important, thing to do is to ask your friend how you can best support them. They may have ideas for ways you can help, or it may simply remind them that you’re there for them.

Talk about topics outside of their eating disorder. It can be easy to let big issues like eating disorders become your sole focus, but it’s helpful to remind both yourself and your friend that they are not their disorder. Enjoying conversation on things that light them up, such as a hobby or a TV show they love, can help with this.

With this in mind, also try to avoid talking about calories, weight, body shape, diets, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods around your friend. Hearing others talk about these subjects can be distressing when you have an eating disorder.

Be mindful about the language you use when talking to your friend. For example, statements like “You look well” or “Can’t you just eat normally” can be unhelpful or misinterpreted by those with an eating disorder. Avoiding commenting on their eating/physical appearance in general is a good rule of thumb.

Keep inviting them to social events. Like many mental health conditions, eating disorders can lead people to isolate themselves, and withdraw from loved ones. By continuing to invite them, you’re reminding them that you care for them and want to spend time with them.

Consider activities that don’t revolve around food. With the previous point in mind, a barrier that can hold people back from socialising is when the event involves food – such as a dinner, brunch, or takeaway night in. Think about activities that don’t focus on food, such as crafting, watching a movie, or playing games. Food may still be involved, but having it not be the centre of attention can feel more manageable to those with eating disorders.


Help yourself

Having a friend go through something difficult can be hard for everyone involved. You may feel as though you’ve lost your friend, or that things won’t ever be the same. It’s important to know that recovery is entirely possible, and that your friend is still there.

Giving your friend compassion, support, and understanding is key – so is supporting yourself. You may find it helpful to reach out to a professional, or to speak to others going through something similar. Take time for self-care and remember, looking after yourself will only help you provide better support for others in the long run.

Your friend may be going through something difficult right now, but by being there to listen without judgement, you are already supporting more than you know.

Looking to help them find professional support? Visit to be connected to mental health and nutrition professionals.