What to Do
If you are concerned about a friend or family member, it can be difficult to know what to do. First, it is important to know that frequently, individuals with eating disorders resist the idea of help. This may be a function of shame, denial, and/or concern that treatment will trigger uncontrollable weight gain. For this reason, it can be helpful to express your concern by telling your loved one how you feel or what your concerns are specifically. It may make your loved one feel more at ease to say “I am worried about your eating habits” or “I have noticed you seem more preoccupied with food lately and it makes me concerned” instead of “You are not eating!”. While it can feel scary or intimidating to talk to a loved one about your concerns, often people suffering with eating disorders benefit from the help and encouragement of others to seek treatment.
If you are the parent of a child or adolescent with symptoms of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, you may need to mobilize treatment efforts without your child's complete cooperation. Statements such as "Because I love you, I want to find the help you need, even if that makes you angry," convey a message that blends firmness with kindness. Attempts to make your child as worried about him- or herself as you are (e.g., "Can't you see how thin you are?!") will likely fail.
If you are the friend of a person with an eating disorder, first try addressing the problem directly with your friend, in private, specifying the behaviors about which you are concerned. If your friend is a child or adolescent, it may be appropriate to share your concerns with an adult, such as a teacher, school counselor, or parent. Remember, eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses.