Every person with an eating disorder has a multitude of reasons for becoming ill, and that in each individual the eating disorder manifests in different ways. Therefore, each person’s route to recovery will be an individual one. It is no one fault they are ill. You are not to blame and neither are they.

Looking back mine was triggered by stress and depression. It was the only thing I felt I could control in my life. It became almost like I needed the Hunger to take my mind off my other stresses. This lack of food combined with the excessive exercise, which was the only thing that made me feel good at the time. My aim in sharing my story of recovery is to hopefully provide some new insight into how a person with an eating disorder may be thinking, so that you can respond to their behaviour in a positive way in terms of aiding their recovery.

Regrettably I can’t give any magic answers, as there is no immediate cure, but I will say be strong, as eating disorders have and can be beaten. Obviously my advice comes from things that helped me and my family with the baffling world of anorexia. Please remember that first and foremost you need to keep yourselves strong and healthy because carers are crucial to a person’s recovery. Your health is as important as theirs.

Not a choice

First and foremost no one chooses to have an eating disorder and no one particularly likes having one.

You can tell the sufferer how it is affecting the family, but DO NOT BLAME THEM. They will be confused and scared and often feel as helpless as you. Instead try to understand as best you can why they are feeling like this. Make it clear that it is the illness causing the upset, not them. At this point you must remind them you are their to help them get well no matter what or how long it takes.

A Different Person

This is not a physical illness, it is a psychological one. You are dealing with a massive personality change, so in essence the sufferer becomes another person. It is worth remembering this at ALL TIMES, especially when they lie or become deceitful. Often they will not even realize they are doing it. This doesn’t excuse their behavior but will help explain it. My mum used to refer to me as 2 people “her Helen” and “the anorexic Helen”….you could call it something you both decide. Sounds mad but it can help. For instance my mum would say “that sounds like the anorexic Helen talking…..what would my Helen Like or say….”. They will sufferer huge mood swings and will struggle to manage their emotions. It is an emotional rollercoaster for everyone affected, with highs and lows. It is all about feelings not food.

The only common ground is all sufferers have low self esteem. Eating disorders are a form of self punishment and an expression of a belief they do not deserve personal happiness. It is a form of control, and something they will not fail at. Sufferers are very intelligent, determined people and often have other OCDs (Obsessive Compulsive Disorders)

They have a compulsion to continue their behavior and see no other way. You can help them find a reason to change their behavior. At that moment they think that little of themselves and the life they live they have no motivation for doing so.

Time and care

Spend quality time with them which is not focused around food or stresses. Encourage them to participate in something relaxing and maybe that they enjoyed before the ED became an issue. But do give them space when they need it. Ask about their lives and show a genuine interest.

The Eating Disorder is only part of them and you need to help them remember that.

If you are not a tactile person, force yourself to be. A hug is one of the most valueable things you can give them along with your time. Don’t just say you love them, show them.

Also it is important to respect personal space as this may be a very hard time for them to be physically close to you


Encourage the sufferer to talk about how they are feeling without mocking, and don’t lecture. ie: if they confide something completely ridiculous to you, try not to show how shocked or saddened you are by what has been said, don’t judge. Ask them to describe what is upsetting them and try to calmly share your point of view on the situation. Together try to find a biological/sensible way of explaining why it makes no sense. When everyone is frustrated the tendency is to shout, lecture and to try to awaken some sense of rationality or conscience in the sufferer. More likely they will rebel against you and get more angry. This is a malicious illness that often thrives on attention and argument. If you ignore it a little the healthy person can be seen more.

Ask the sufferer to describe how they think and feel during a panic while they are calm. Perhaps they can help you to understand why they are acting in such a way and the thought processes they are going through. You may be able to work out how to deal with the next panic.

Don’t talk about food at meal and snack times. Encourage happy, positive conversation that is meaningful to them.

Being Different

It is possible that it is a cry for help, be it an extreme one. They may think they need to be different and the way to do this is visually. You can show them that they are but in other ways through praising them for their qualities, skills and strengths….which you may have to keep reminding them as their self belief is very little. Appearing “normal” may be more frightening than the consequences of their disorder.

Encourage the sufferer by praising their effort instead of by commenting on their weight gain. You can never win by doing that. Commenting on weight will always be the taboo. Never, never, never say “You look well”!!! Use words such as improving, progressing..... or “you seem happier”. At the end of the day it is the way they FEEL about themselves that has caused this, not always how they look.

Find a hobby for them. Your aim will not be to distract them completely from their weight and eating issues, but it may lift their spirits enough to pass the hard hours. Particularly following a snack/meal. Encourage relaxing hobbies and sociable ones where possible. It has to be suitable for that stage of recovery, i.e, while they are really obsessed with food let them cook if they want to, but as a “normal” person would. Don’t let them destroy your dinner that serves no-one. If their weight is extremely low then the cinema is a good idea, just make sure that anything requiring burning energy is made up for in “fuel”.


Maintain good communication in the whole family. Keep very close friends and family up-to-date with what is happening. One of the issues the patient is dealing with is the issue of acceptance without being perfect. They need to get used to not having complete control over everyone and every situation. They may be invited to join in with social activities to the extent that they can, and this way they know that they are being accepted without being perfect, although people are not making allowances for them. You will probably find that subconsciously they do things to provoke you or to test your acceptance of them out of a fear of rejection, but try to persevere. You need some good times too.

What not to say

Do not keep telling them they have a problem or try to convince them, as they either already know and are disgusted and scared or are in complete denial. Either way it will often make them more angry and upset and only make them less likely to open up to you.

Do not keep reminding the sufferer about the facts of nutrition and calories, and what happens to your body when it is starved. They do need the facts, but not over and over again. Scaring the sufferer once every now and then may be more effective. They will more than likely know it all already and it will often be more affective coming from a medical professional, as they will often believe you are just saying it to get them to eat. You could provide them with information to look at when THEY are ready.

Encourage and Praise

Set some positive and realistic targets or goals together, and stick to them. They need to have a big say in this, but sometimes if you take the lead it may help, as they may be afraid to. Encourage and praise them when you see progression, even if only very slight. It is also important to encourage them after a set back. Do not dwell on it but look forward./ Remember it is all about making them feel good about themselves again, and that they can succeed at lots of things. PTP-praise the positive

Don’t forget about you and your family

It is vital you look after yourself so you can remain strong and able to cope as this could be a very long journey. It is ok to take time out and explain to them why you are doing it. If you are having really tough time and not coping they will see this and it may make them feel even worse about themselves and hence worsen the eating disorder, as remember it is about feelings not food. Also ensure equal attention is paid to siblings,, as this could cause more friction and again negatively impact on the sufferer.

Now for what I suspect may be really controversial pointers - and may not work for everyone:

Try to separate your relationship to the sufferer with that of the medical practitioner. Let the doctors do the weighing as you are best being the support and not the authoritative figure. If weight is monitored at home, once they start to gain weight try to step back and trust them to do it themselves and tell you the figure. You have a right to know, but being weighed for a person with anorexia feels so personal and is a humiliating experience.

Hopefully this is not an issue, but NEVER interrupt or burst in on a person if you think they are being sick however much you want to stop them or to help them. It will only upset everybody. Hopefully you will reach the point in your relationship where you can discuss what goes on but as I’ve said before, in desperate moments you will not be able to get through to someone with anorexia or bulimia. If you choose to talk about these things do it during calmer periods.

Never Give Up

Always try to keep some positivity. Recovery is the only option and therefore you have to stay strong and have faith in the sufferer’s strength and yours too. If you believe in them they are more likely to believe in themselves. You also may have to accept they are just not ready to get better yet. Getting better is the fear of the unknown, and letting go of something that makes you feel safe. Be patient. You can not beat it for them. Use your friends and help available through helplines/groups and you will find a way out of the darkness eventually.

Overall this is a very individual mental illness which requires individual treatment…..


So remember TLC…..TIME…..LOVE…&.…CARE

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