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How to support a friend with an eating disorder

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According to Beat Eating Disorders, an estimated 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. 

Eating Disorders can come in many different forms – whether this is Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating and OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder).

Image credit: Anthony Tran on Unsplash

It can be really difficult to know how to support a friend who is suffering from an eating disorder – they can be hard to comprehend without first-hand experience. It’s also important to look after yourself in the process of supporting your friend. Don’t lose yourself in another person’s problem. As mentioned on The Mix, it can be especially a burden if your friend is hiding it from everyone else, so don’t hesitate to involve a third party - we have a list of charities to contact at the end of the article.

Here are some ways you can support a friend or loved one with an eating disorder:  

1. Educate yourself

  • Know the signs of an eating disorder so that you can be aware of friends who may be suffering, especially if they are trying to hide it. This can include an expression of concern about weight or dieting, an increase in exercise and physical activity without increasing calorie intake too, control over food, change in mood. It will enable you to be considerate and sensitive when handling the subject. You can find more information on Beat’s website.
  • Start a conversation with them and to plan what you want to say. Beat recommends remaining calm, especially if the person gets angry or defensive, as well as trying not to be accusatory, for example, saying ‘I wondered if you wanted to talk’ rather than ‘you need help’, and not focusing the conversation on weight or food. Be sympathetic, as this is likely to encourage and prolong communication.
  • Encourage professional support – offer to go with your friend to a GP, teacher or colleague if you think it will help them. This will help your friend in the long run, even if they are initially reluctant.

2. At mealtimes

  • Beat suggests that, if you live with your friend, shopping for and arranging for a meal is a good way to encourage more regular eating, trying new foods and discouraging them from buying food to binge on if that behaviour is part of their disorder.
  • Make sure you have everything prepared for the meal – last minute changes could incite panic, which could limit food intake in the case of Anorexia and other restrictive eating disorders.
  • Plan the meal to make sure that it is well-balanced and has sensible portion sizes. Co-op has some great ideas for healthy meals, and suggestions to make sure they’re well-balanced with different food groups.
  • Be patient and do not pressure your friend – they may need encouragement, but also be aware that this may be an extremely distressing situation for them.
  • Suggest watching a movie or doing something fun after a meal – this may distract your friend from post-meal compensations, such as exercise, purging, or the idea of binge-eating.

Image credit: Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

3. After mealtimes

  • Encourage social activities that don’t centre around food and give compliments that don’t centre around appearance. Your friend will likely be isolating themselves socially and suffering from low self-esteem. Inviting them to events is important because it will help them to feel valued and wanted, even if they decline.
  • Lead by example – do this openly without making it a big deal. Try and maintain a routine of a well-balanced diet and a regular, healthy amount of exercise without putting too much pressure on yourself to be a ‘role model’.  You can find out about the positive effect of exercise on the mind and body from Co-op. They have also recently partnered with Parkrun to promote a healthy lifestyle.

The above content has been compiled from many specialist charities' and NHS websites. We aren't offering medical advice or suggesting that eating healthily should replace medication or treatment programmes. 

If you are worried about a friend or are suffering from an eating disorder yourself, you can visit your local GP or contact the following for advice:

Beat -

Mind -


For information on local services, visit Hub of Hope

Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card. Find your local Co-op here.

For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood

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