Anger, despair, confusion, helplessness? Any of these sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that as the parent, sibling and / or carer for someone with an eating disorder you will have experienced some or all of these emotions at some point. You will almost certainly have asked yourself just how did we get to this position and, more painfully and destructively, am I to blame?

Let’s start by saying that dwelling on either of these questions is not helpful when it comes to finding a way in. You need to be strong, you need to be sensitive and you need to be patient but you also need to be prepared for the unexpected. Understanding what is happening in the mind of the sufferer will inevitably reveal things that you didn’t know and perhaps you feel didn’t want to know.  You need to be strong.

Clearly you’re not going to become an expert overnight, be prepared for a journey. We can help you along the way – but below are some of what we regard as the fundamental Dos and Don’ts.


  • Don’t pretend it will just go away.
  • Don’t be impatient with the sufferer …it takes time, a long time for a sufferer to change their habits and behaviour is not easy.
  • Unless you are asked for help don’t try to get the sufferer to stop exercising or to eat as this may well have the reverse action.
  • Don’t be an accuser – the sufferer may deny they have a problem and can easily become angry.
  • Don’t scream at them or try to bully them into eating.
  • Don’t tell them what to do all the time.
  • However, don’t try not to tip toe round the issue either be honest with them.
  • Don’t support the illness by colluding with the sufferer by keeping their situation a secret from other members of the family.


  • Do look after yourself and ensure you have enough support. You are inevitably about to embark on an emotional roller-coaster.
  • Do choose your time to talk and express your concerns … choose a calm environment.
  • Do tell them you care …. show you care … be calm and don’t hurry the conversation.
  • Each sufferer is an individual therefore do treat them as such …not one answer fits all.
  • Do seek professional help with a doctor
  • Do respect their space by knowing your boundaries as a friend or family member
  • Do listen and ask questions. Start with ‘I notice that’, rather than rather asking questions where a just yes or no answer can be given

Remember, a sufferer will be very attached to their illness. It’s their best friend and their rock in a sea of anxiety, any interference could be construed as an attempt to undermine them. Your task is to help them from the rock to dry land and it’s essential to gain the sufferers trust. Let them know that, if they are to begin to confront what for them may represent their greatest fears, yours is a hand they can hold.