How to help

It can be very stressful to recognize that someone you love or care about may be suffering from an eating disorder, but there is hope. It is important to realize that when you confront them they might react with denial and anger. People dealing with eating disorders may be in denial and are often embarrassed if they are confronted, leading to difficulty with open, honest communication about their symptoms.

A good first step is offering your help, unconditionally and without judgment. Do your homework first so that you know how to help the person recognize their disorder, and then how to help them recover. Be patient and compassionate, as your offers of help may be met with defiance. Offer to set up an appointment with a health care professional as soon as possible; you may also want to offer to go with the person as a source of support.

If you have an eating disorder yourself, the sooner you ask for help the better. People can and do recover from eating disorders but professional help is almost always required. The longer symptoms are denied or ignored, the more difficult recovery will be.

Help can come in many forms, but it mainly depends on what the individual is most comfortable with. People who have just come to terms with acknowledging their own eating problem may feel that individual therapy is the safest route. Other options include group therapy, support groups, and self-help groups where individuals can come together to share their feelings and give and receive support.

Recovery means much more than replacing dieting, binge eating, and purging with healthy eating. It means identifying the underlying dynamics that have brought the person to disordered eating in the first place and then resolving them. The process requires skill, sensitivity, and training; in other words, it's a job for medical and mental health professionals. You can contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre in Toronto at (416) 340-4156 or 1-866-NEDIC-20 (1-866-63342-20); their website is

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