How to help someone recover from anorexia

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia is an eating disorder. When thoughts of dieting and losing weight consumes one’s thoughts and existence and overpowers his or her ability to reason otherwise, he/she could be suffering from anorexia. People with anorexia don’t really know “how thin” they want to get- it’s like chasing an elusive goal. No matter how thin they get, they never feel thin enough.

Anorexia kills- left untreated, it can lead to severe physical and mental problems, resulting even in death. If a friend or loved one shows anorexia symptoms, you could help him/her recover. Learn how.

Understanding the anorexia psychology

For an outsider (someone who doesn’t have anorexia), understanding your friend’s explanations about their anorexic lifestyle can be difficult. But if you can’t get inside the anorexic’s mind, it is easy to beat your purpose.

In fact, anorexia is not about weight loss at all. At the core, it is psychologically triggered by feelings of low self-esteem, distorted self-image, insecurity etc. The lack of control that such people experience in other facets of their life is what they try to make up for by relentlessly controlling the only thing they can- their eating habits. In the words of an anorexic herself, anorexia makes them feel safe. It is like their friend. They take comfort in their anorexia, when there’s no one else to understand them.

How to confront someone about an eating disorder

Don’t pretend that your friend will grow out of his/her problem

Left untreated, it could be life-threatening. If you realize someone is anorexic, don’t pretend the problem will just go away. Instead, make yourself an important part of their anorexia recovery.

Don’t try to force them to eat or stop exercising

Coercion doesn’t work. Don’t cut out the “food police” image for yourself in their minds.

Be compassionate and understanding

Simply let them know you’re available, that they can talk to you openly. And when they do, lend them a patient ear. It’s hard, especially when you don’t agree with most of what they say.  But remember, an eating disorder is not about food- try and figure out what is the real driver behind their anorexic behavior.


Be honest and frank and don’t let your fear of upsetting them keep you from speaking up. Express your care and concern, love and support- be gentle yet firm.

Don’t offer simplistic solutions

Anorexia isn’t so simple a problem. Dismissing it as silly or unrealistic, or providing simplistic solutions like “just get over it”, show you don’t really care.

Don’t be taken in by lies and excuses

To an anorexic mind, anorexia is their support system. It may sound paradoxical and hard to understand, but they refuse to accept that they must part with anorexia to live a healthy life. So every time you try to confront your friend, you may be met with a bunch of lies or excuses about their eating habits and why it’s like that- don’t be taken in.

Don’t advise or criticize

Just listen- knowing that someone is there for them, makes them feel great. They need your support, not your criticism. Don’t make them go on a guilt trip, and don’t blame or shame.

Don’t gossip about what they share

When an anorexic confides in you- and it is hard for them to accept they have a problem- don’t get the rumor mills running.

Build their self-esteem

Involve them in things you used to do together, earlier. They may turn down your invitation, but knowing that someone cared to invite makes them feel good. Remember, they need to know they’re cared for.

Don’t threaten with consequences or get angry and frustrated

It can be hard when the person on the other side is deaf and blind to reason. But getting into altercation, verbal struggles and getting frustrated or angry just worsens the problem. Don’t use threats and scares.

Be a role model

Be a role model healthy eating and exercising practices. Don’t make negative comments about your own body image or someone else’s body image.

Seek advice from a health professional

Your friend probably won’t – so go ahead and seek advice from a health professional- get parents and friends into the ambit of support.

Finally, don’t give up! It just shows you are not committed enough.

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