​At a glance

The best way to communicate with someone who has an eating disorder is to use language that is supportive and be a good listener.

An eating disorder can result in:

  • constant concern about weight and appearance
  • constantly thinking about food
  • feeling out of control, especially at mealtime
  • overexercising.

When supporting someone with an eating disorder you should:

  • listen to what the person has to say, without being judgemental
  • sincerely acknowledge how hard it must be
  • never pretend that you know how they feel
  • ask how you can support them
  • stay positive and be patient
  • avoid making comments about their appearance.

Remember that when you are raising an issue, it is important to show concern and support, but avoid making the person feel shame or guilt.

Some tips to communicate effectively when raising issues include:

  • having a discussion in a place that the person will feel safe
  • using “I” statements to talk about your concerns e.g. “I am concerned about”, rather than “you are making me concerned”
  • asking how you can support the person, rather than providing solutions or telling them what they need to do
  • avoiding getting angry or showing frustration even if the person rejects your concerns.

Note: If this type of discussion is outside the scope of your role, then it is important to let your supervisor know of your observations. Also ensure you follow your organisation’s reporting and recording requirements.

Resources

Eating disorders first aid guidelines
These guidelines discuss positive and negative ways that a person may react to your concerns, and the importance of showing empathy, being non-judgemental, respectful and kind.
Type: Guideline
Length 5 pages
Produced by: Mental Health First Aid Australia

What to say and do
This web page provides tips on how to talk to someone about an eating disorder. Different approaches will work for different people.
Type: Web page
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Produced by: National Eating Disorder Collaboration

Caring for Someone with an Eating Disorder
This resource has suggestions for what to do when supporting someone with an eating disorder.
Type: Resource
Estimated reading time: 12 pages
Produced by: National Eating Disorder Collaboration

Things Not to Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder
People with eating disorders discuss some of the myths and things said to them to highlight what you should and shouldn’t say.
Type: Video | Closed captions
Viewing time: 6.40 minutes
Produced by: BBS Three
Warning – Adult themes

Current as at: Monday 20 January 2020
Contact page owner: Mental Health Branch