10 Tips for Understanding Someone with ED


Dear Readers,

Few tips for understanding someone with an ED. I received an E-mail from a father who believed that his daughter was refusing to maintain her weight because she wanted to punish the family for imposing rules on her. The sad fact about Eating Disorder is that it creates many problems and conflicts in the families.  Some families believe (where there is lack of awareness of this illness) that a person deliberately and consciously behaves in such distorted way (i.e. refusing to eat and refusal to give up dieting and exercise), when he or she is simply fine and nothing is really wrong with them.

Key is in getting equipped with the information and knowledge to understand ED.

Few months back, I was attending a workshop on PTSD and I was given this handout on heal my PTSD with


I’ve adopted the following information to help explain ED.

 10 Tips for Understanding Someone with ED

ED makes communication difficult. Many sufferers can’t find the words to express what they’re feeling. Even when they do, it’s very normal for them not to be comfortable sharing their experience. Elements of shame, fear, anger, guilt and grief often get in the way of a discussion.

Friends and family (and anyone else who is not the source of the ED but is standing by while someone attempts to heal) need something that translates ED language. Armed with knowledge, insight and awareness you’ll have an easier time knowing how to react, respond and relate to your ED loved one during the healing process. The more you appreciate things from the ED perspective the more helpful and supportive you can be. Now is the time for empathy, compassion and patience.

The list below will give you an overview of things to understand. For more in-depth information – plus content specifically geared for you, the caregiver – check out these booklets on ED.

How to Help Someone W ith an Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders

ParentToolkit- NEDA

#1 – Knowledge is power. Understanding the process of a triggering event, the warning signs and symptoms of ED, and available treatment options for ED allows you to help recognize, support and guide your ED loved one toward diagnosis, treatment and healing.

We need you to be clearheaded, pulled together and informed.

Please download this guide for free on Eating Disorder: EDA-Understanding-Eating-Disorders

#2 – ED changes us. In recovery we want to believe —as do you—that life can return to the way it was; that we can continue as who we were. This is not how it works. ED Leaves a huge and indelible impact on the soul. It is not possible to endure ED and not experience a psychic shift.

Expect us to be changed. Accept our need to evolve. Support us on this journey.

Supporting an Adult with an Eating Disorder Guide

#3 – ED hijacks our identity. One of the largest problems with ED is that it takes over our entire view of ourselves. We no longer see clearly. We no longer see the world as we experienced it before ED overtook our lives. Now every moment is dangerous, unpredictable and threatening.

Gently remind us and offer opportunities to engage in an identity outside of ED Prison.

#4 – We are no longer grounded in our true selves. In light of ED our real selves retreat and a coping self emerges to keep us safe.

Believe in us; our true selves still exist, even if they are momentarily buried.

#5 – We cannot help how we behave. Since we are operating on a sort of autopilot we are not always in control. ED is an exaggerated state of survival mode. We experience emotions that frighten and overwhelm us. We act out accordingly in defense of those feelings we cannot control.

Be patient with us; we often cannot stop the anger, tears or other disruptive behaviors that are so difficult for you to endure.

#6 – We cannot be logical. Since our perspective is driven by ED, we don’t always think straight, nor do we always accept the advice of those who do.

Keep reaching out, even when your words don’t seem to reach us. You never know when we will think of something you said and it will comfort, guide, soothe or inspire us.

#7 – We cannot just ‘get over it’. From the outside it’s easy to imagine a certain amount of time passes and ED gets relegated to the history of a life. Unfortunately, with ED nothing fades. Our bodies will not let us forget. Because of surging chemicals that reinforce every memory, we cannot walk away from the ED anymore than you can walk away from us.

Honor our struggle to make peace with events. Do not rush us. Trying to speed our recovery will only make us cling to it more.

#8 – We’re not in denial—we’re coping! It takes a tremendous effort to live with ED. Even if we don’t admit it, we know there’s something wrong. When you approach us and we deny there’s a problem that’s really code for, “I’m doing the best I can.” Taking the actions you suggest would require too much energy, dividing focus from what is holding us together. Sometimes, simply getting up and continuing our daily routine is the biggest step toward recovery we make.

Alleviate our stress by giving us a safe space in which we can find support.

#9 – We do not hate you. Contrary to the ways we might behave when you intervene, somewhere inside we do know that you are not the source of the problem. Unfortunately, in the moment we may use your face as ED’s image. Since we cannot directly address our ED issues sometimes it’s easier to address you.

Continue to approach us. We need you to!

#10 – Your presence matters. ED creates a great sense of isolation. In our depressed/struggling state, it makes a difference to know that there are people who will stand by us. It matters that although we lash out, don’t respond and are not ourselves, you are still there, no matter what.

Don’t give up, we’re doing our best.We want freedom as Well.


About Author

Islam and Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan, the blog creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.


  1. These are really good tips. My ED has made me act terribly towards people I love, and I think it’s important for others to realize that we don’t mean the awful things we do/say when influenced by ED. Also #10 – no matter how awful I do act, the fact that my family stands by me means the world; just their presence and support is so important

  2. This made me so sad. for 8 years i’ve been struggling with ED. My family thinks I’m intentionally pretending to be sick. If I get angry they say it’s unacceptable behaviour. I just wish they could understand these points. thank you for sharing.

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