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If you’re a parent, partner, sibling, relative, friend or loved one of someone struggling with an eating disorder, chances are you’re facing down fears, confusion, stress, grief and a whole lot of questions. The most common question we usually hear is – how can I help?

Your mind may be swirling with “trying to do/say the right thing” and it can be overwhelming to enter this space you might not be familiar with. As a result, I offer the following 3 tips to help you build a solid foundation for any support network: 

  1. Offer Space 

Often, when someone is struggling they may not be able to discern exactly what they need and well-intentioned questions like “how can I help” can feel overwhelming on the receiving end. “I don’t know what I need aside from having you here” is a common reaction for people struggling with an eating disorder when thoughts, feelings and needs can change daily in the work toward recovery. 

As a support, when you offer space that is both consistent and non-judgmental you allow the one you love to show up authentically, messy and human. They don’t have to pretend to be ok or wait to arrive until they have a fully formed feeling – simply offering space (a heartfelt “I’m always here for you”) goes a long way. 

  1. Educate Yourself

One of the kindest things you can do for someone who is struggling is taking the burden off of them to educate you on their struggle. Personally, when my eyes were opened to the Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating principles it became a lifeline for me in my recovery process – but I also didn’t have the energy to “convince” those around me of its merits. My family and friends started reading the same books I was, listening to the same podcasts and watching the same lectures which helped in creating a support network that just “got it.” We learned together and having others to talk to with through each new bit helped me validate the entire experience. Wondering where to start? Check out our Resources page.

Also, in talking to others who have been there before, you can avoid common mistakes (e.g. telling someone to just eat) and learn ways to check your ego when showing up for those you love. 

  1. Lead with Love

At the end of the day if you lead with unconditional, unrelenting love then your support and help are undoubtedly “enough.” One of the sneaky parts of the eating disorder is the way it can convince someone that they won’t be really loved unless they’re recovered. Those who struggle with it can feel like a burden, “too much” or a heavy weight to those around them. But when your support network is built on genuine, true love, beautiful things can grow. 

The hard truth is that try as you may you can’t heal your loved one – that’s an inside job. But the love and support you surround them, and the safe place to land you create, can encourage them to take that next step. 

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image