Supporting Someone with an Eating Disorder

It’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and figures show that 1.25 million people are suffering from eating disorders. Alongside them are their amazing networks of people supporting them, so we want to dedicate this blog to you, the supporter, to give you a helping hand and guide you through what you can do for them and for yourself.

If you’re worried that someone might have an eating disorder, then it’s important that you encourage them to seek professional support. The quicker the intervention, the higher success rate of recovery.

Recovery is not linear and it looks different for everyone. Your role is not to treat them, but to support them as a friend, family member or as a loved one. Remember, you also need to look after yourself. There is some great information on the Beat website here about looking after yourself while supporting another.

Here are some top tips taken from Beat:

General tips for supporting someone

  • Recognise that you are not to blame
  • Acknowledge to your loved one that they are not to blame
  • Recognise how distressing the illness is for your loved one
  • Educate yourself about eating disorders where you can
  • Ask your loved one how they are feeling and what they are thinking, rather than making assumptions
  • Avoid discussing about weight, shape, food, and diets in front of your loved one, and model a balanced relationship with your own food and exercise
  • Remind yourself that things can change and reassure your loved one that recovery is possible
  • Ask your loved one what you can do to help – for example, helping them to stick to regular eating, putting in boundaries following mealtimes, having a space to talk about how they are feeling. Your loved one may respond that you should ‘leave them alone’ or that you can’t do anything to help, so here it can be helpful to remind them you can hear their distress and how difficult things are, and you are there if they need you
  • Recognise any ‘accommodating or enabling behaviours’ – behaviours that you do to help reduce your loved one’s distress from the eating disorder, for example, cleaning up vomit or cooking different meals for them, but that collude with the disorder and cover up the negative consequences of the behaviours

There is a comprehensive list of charities and organisations that help carers and supporters here.

If you are concerned about a friend at university you are encouraged to contact Student Advisory and Wellbeing where they can follow up on your concern to help the student with the support they need. They are located in Founder’s West, or can be contacted via email or telephone: 01784443395.

How do I get help from the SU?

The Advice Centre is a free and independent service for all students here at Royal Holloway, based on the first floor of the Students' Union building. Our friendly, experienced and professional staff will provide a listening ear and offer general and specialist advice. We’re here to support you with a whole range of issues, big and small, and if we’re not the best people to help you with a particular issue, we’ll ensure we point you in the right direction to the relevant support.  

Email us at advice@su.rhul.ac.uk to book an appointment.

Pop along to the Union Helpdesk on the first floor of the Students' Union.

Alternatively, you can call the Helpdesk on 01784 276700.