How to Help People with an Eating Disorder to Recover: Guest Blog

The term “eating disorder” covers a wide range of conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. If you have a relative or friend suffering from one of these conditions, it is only natural that you will want to help.

The first thing you can do is learn about their particular eating disorder so you can understand what they are going through. There are many articles on our website. Another option is to persuade them to seek professional medical assistance. Unfortunately, this can often prove challenging. You cannot force someone to see a doctor if they don’t want to go (except in certain circumstances). It would be far better if you could encourage them to seek help willingly or even offer to accompany them.    

There are ways of providing support:

  • Help them build up their self-esteem. Tell them how much you appreciate having them in your life. This can give them confidence and help them feel better too.
  • Make them feel valued. A person with an eating disorder may feel depressed and less inclined to go out or join in with your usual activities. Nevertheless, ask them anyway; even if they decline, they will be happy that you made the effort.
  •  Lend an ear. This is sometimes not an easy thing to do, especially if your friend says something about themselves that you disagree with. such as that they are fine. Remember, you don’t want to argue, you just want to be there for them.        

Healthcare perspective on eating disorders

The NHS is aware of, and in fact alarmed by, the rising numbers of eating disorder sufferers. Many of these cases involve children. It is believed that the best option for people struggling with this type of mental health problem is for healthcare professionals to carry out an early intervention.

However, in the UK, only the most extreme cases get the help they need, or hospital treatment if it is appropriate. More often than not, your relative or friend if help is offered at all, they will need to attend counselling support as an outpatient. According to this article, one possible reason for this is that there are not enough mental healthcare nurses.

Treatment for eating disorders

The recommended treatment for an eating disorder is usually some form of talking therapy targeted specifically toward eating disorder behaviour. A therapist will try to uncover the motivation behind the patient’s refusal to eat, or behave in other ways that are harmful. Part of what keeps some one trapped in an eating disorder is that it has become a way to manage their feelings. The therapist could then help the person learn a better way of coping with emotional difficulties. Some people with eating disorders can benefit from a self help programme. They may also undergo regular health checks to ensure that they are sticking to their treatment. As a friend, you can accompany them on their journey and provide moral support.

Eating disorder treatment does not force people to change. Forcing people to eat is only possible if they have lost an extreme amount of weight or they are starving themselves to death. In either circumstance, a doctor’s approval is required for this type of drastic measure.

Recovery may take several weeks or even years if the eating disorder is severe. It is a slow process but it will at least ensure that your relative or friend has time to get accustomed to their treatment plan. The earlier the treatment is started, the better their chances of making a swift recovery.


People suffering from an eating disorder are likely to need the support of their loved ones, especially during the recovery process. It is important that you encourage them to seek professional help, especially if they are denying that anything is wrong or promising that things will be different tomorrow. They will also need to recognise how they can cope more positively even in challenging circumstances. An optimistic attitude is essential as recovery may take some time. Unfortunately, there is the possibility that they will relapse and return to their old ways. If this does happen, try to offer your support and help them get back on the path to good health.