The LGBT Health & Development Program

Families Blog – How to Support a Loved One Who is Suffering from an Eating Disorder


Posted on June 25th, 2015 by Dan in Families Blog, Featured. No Comments

Hand grabbing toilet. Written on it: "Why didn't they stop me?

Photo credit: Rega Photography, “Stop Me?”, December 3, 2010

Eating disorders can occur among all individuals, but sexual minority youth are affected at higher rates compared to their heterosexual peers [1,2,3]. Previous IMPACT blog posts have been written about this disproportionate prevalence as well as resources for LGBTQ people looking for help and support. But what can parents, family, and friends do to help their loved ones?

How do I know if a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder?

Eating disorders can develop from a combination of mental, social, cultural, and/or biological conditions. However, identifying that a person is suffering from an eating disorder is not as obvious as most people think. It can be challenging to figure out, and a lot of times it’s a surprise for family members and friends when they do find out. The National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) Parent Toolkit provides a list of warning signs of an eating disorder that you may witness in individuals experiencing disordered eating [4].

How can I support a loved one during their battle with an eating disorder?

Recovering from an eating disorder can be difficult and take a lot of time and effort. But, having the support of loved ones during this time of need can help aid in the recovery process. If you’re uncertain about how you can support a loved one during their battle with an eating disorder, you’re not alone. Below is a list of ways in which you can help provide support [4].

  • Educate yourself on eating disorders
  • Be patient and nonjudgmental
  • Ask what you can do to help
  • Encourage them to seek help and follow through with treatment
  • Seek to be involved with their treatment
  • Offer to help make the first appointment or go with them to see a therapist or health care provider
  • Avoid discussions about food, weight and eating, especially your own habits or those of others
  • Validate their feelings and emotional pain, especially when they share something difficult
  • Focus on positive personality traits and other qualities that have nothing to do with appearance

How do I talk to a loved one about their eating disorder?

It’s often difficult for a person suffering from an eating disorder to seek help themselves. Family and friends can play an important role in supporting and encouraging them to seek help. Talking to a loved one about these issues can be difficult, but remember, it’s important to approach the topic with empathy and compassion. Here are a few tips that you can use to help start a conversation with a loved one suffering from an eating disorder [4].

  • Set a private place and time to talk
  • Use “I” statements by focusing on behaviors that you’ve witnessed and avoid accusatory statements
  • Think about what you want to say beforehand
  • Remove potential stigma they may feel about admitting they have an eating disorder

The information provided above was taken from NEDA’s Parent Toolkit [4] that is available on their organization’s website. Please consider using this resource if you’d like more detailed information.

Like this article? Read more on our Youth Blog and Family Blog.
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References:

[1] Austin, S. B., Nelson, L. A., Birkett, M., Calzo, J. P., & Everett, B. (2013). Eating Disorder Symptoms and Obesity at the Intersections of Gender, Ethnicity and Sexual Orientation: Results from a Large Sample of U.S. High School Students. American Journal of Public Health, 103(2), e16-e22. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.301150

[2] Feldman, M. B., & Meyer, I. H. (2007). Eating Disorders in Diverse Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40(3), 218-226. doi: 10.1002/eat.20360

[3] French, S. A., Story, M., Remafedi, G., Resnick, M. D., & Blum, R. W. (1996). Sexual orientation and prevalence of body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behaviors: a population-based study of adolescents. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 19(2), 119-126.

[4] National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Parent Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/Toolkits/ParentToolkit.pdf





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