Talking about it is the first step

If you suspect someone you are close to has an eating disorder, then it’s important to talk to them about it. Why? Because an eating disorder can be very serious. People who develop eating disorders are at a high risk of developing medical complications. They may even die from their illness. In fact, eating disorders have a higher death rate than any other mental illness. But there is good news…

You can start early

Don’t wait until you think it is serious to talk about it. The earlier treatment is sought, the greater and quicker the chance of recovery. This is why treatment is encouraged as soon as possible. There is even better news…

People DO recover

Most people recover from an eating disorder. And recovery is always possible regardless of age and length of illness. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible. A multi-disciplinary treatment team of (at least) a doctor, dietician and therapist is recommended.

About denial

When someone with an eating disorder is approached about concerning behaviours, it is very common for the person to deny the existence or the seriousness of the disorder. Sometimes the shame around certain behaviours is so great that the individual feels they can’t be honest with anyone about what they are doing. This denial, ambivalence or shame can be a source of real confusion and frustration for families and friends who are keen to support their loved one to get well.


Admitting there is a problem is an important step in the road to recovery. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person with an eating disorder will act on this information. They may also choose to do nothing about it. This can also be frustrating for those around them wishing to help.

  1. Trust your gut
    If you think something is wrong you are more than likely right. Go with your gut feeling.
  2. Take notes
    It may be helpful to keep a note of behaviours that are causing you concerns – this can help keep a conversation focussed and it may also help to have it available when you (or the person you care about) visits with the GP.
  3. It’s not your fault
    It’s helpful to remember you are not the cause of or to be blamed for the eating disorder. Development of an eating disorder is complex and usually has more than one contributing factor – you can, however, can be part of the treatment and recovery.
  4. Be knowledgeable
    Before approaching your loved one, have some understanding of eating disorders. Reading suggestions at the end of this section
  5. What stage of change?
    It may be helpful to also read Understanding the Stages of Change in the Recovery Process. While reading, think about what stage the person you are concerned about is at.
  6. Choose the right time
    As with all important conversations, approach the person you care about when you can have time and privacy. It’s important that the conversation isn’t rushed. It’s also best to choose a time when you/they are not eating, or just finished a meal.
  7. Approach with awareness
    Approach them in a way that is appropriate to where you think they are in terms of readiness to change (in terms of stages of change point 5). Do not despair if you get a negative response initially.
  8. Care, don’t judge
    When speaking with the person, ensure you are not critical or judgemental. Instead let them know you care and want to help. Express your concerns are using ‘I statements’. But rather than saying “I am really mad at you, you are choosing not eat” you may want to say something closer to “ I am really concerned. I can see that eating is becoming difficult for you and I wonder if you may have an eating disorder. What do you think?”. It may be helpful to practice once or twice first.
  9. Seek professional support
    An eating disorder is a mental illness – and it is complex. You need to get professionals involved.

Talk it through with…

Eating Disorders Association’s counsellor:
07 3077 7320 Monday – Thursday 9-4pm (Queensland only)

Caring for a loved one with an Eating Disorder
A Carer’s Guide to Understanding the Illness and Keeping Well.  January 2015  [AUST]  Austin Health & St Vincents HospitalP 17-25 and also P.28 are particularly relevant

Download Here

Young People Resource NEDC

A good information booklet for all ages. P17 gives information on what to say .National Eating Disorders Collaboration.

Download Here

Approaching someone you care about
National Eating Disorders Collaboration [AUST]

Read about motivational interviewing as these skills will come in handy throughout the process of getting the person to recognise the disorder through treatment and recovery.

Read Article Here

Read about motivational interviewing as these skills will come in handy throughout the process of getting the person to recognise the disorder through treatment and recovery.

Read Article Here

Your Loved one has an Eating Disorder

This website has a good section for general reading and understanding for eating disorders and your role as a carer or someone concerned about them.

Read Article Here

Below are videos of people talking about the experience with eating disorders. They might help you gain further understanding and ideas about how best to approach the person you are concerned about.

Please note: Watching other people discuss their experience with eating disorders can be distressing and triggering. If you need support call:

My Eating Disorder – My Parents Answer your Questions
Parents and daughter talking about their experience with an eating disorder.
YouTube: Length: 25 minutes

EDA Part 3 – A Carer’s Perspective
Jill Carrier, a Queensland mother, talking about her experience with her teenage daughter with an eating disorder.
YouTube: Length: 8.45 minutes.

How to help someone with Anorexia | Eating Disorders
Medical Matters series: Dr Allegra Bocroft, psychiatrist, talks through how to help someone with anorexia.
YouTube: Length: 2.32 minutes

Talk it through with…

Eating Disorders Association’s counsellor:
07 3077 7320 Monday – Thursday 9-4pm (Queensland only)
Butterfly Foundation Support Services Monday to Friday 8am – 9pm AEST

  1. ED HOPE 1800 33 4673
  2. Web counselling
Or encourage your loved one to call The Eating Issues Centre on 07 3844 6055 for information and support Tuesday – Friday 9-4pm (Queensland Only).
If you would prefer to email we will respond to you during office hours