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How to help someone with anorexia nervosa

If you’ve found yourself on this page, it’s likely because someone in your life has anorexia nervosa (AN), and you want to know more about how to help a friend with anorexia. In these situations, even searching for ways to help is a great start.

Watching someone struggle with this mental health condition can be harrowing or make you feel helpless, but there are things you can do that can make a difference.

Acting as an open and compassionate outlet for your loved one to air their thoughts and concerns, encouraging them to find professional help, and seeing them through recovery can all help support someone with anorexia nervosa.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
September 6, 2023
September 6, 2023
In this article

How do you help someone with anorexia recognize the problem?

When wondering how to help someone who has anorexia, a good place to start is thinking about their behaviors.

Eating disorders all present differently, and your friend or family member may be experiencing different symptoms than those that are more widely known. At the same time, some disordered eating habits have become normalized and even admired in a mainstream culture heavily influenced by diet culture.

This can make it difficult not only to see the signs of AN in others, but for someone with AN to recognize a problem within themself. Learning more about the signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa can help both you and your loved one more clearly understand what's going on and how important it is to seek help.

Signs your loved one may have anorexia nervosa

Contrary to the stereotype, anorexia nervosa can occur in people of any gender, age, ethnicity, and body size. Some common signs and symptoms of the disorder include, but are not limited to:2


  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, and body image
  • Restricting entire food groups from the diet
  • Making excuses to avoid mealtimes of eating in front of others
  • Regularly commenting that they feel fat
  • Engaging in behaviors to purge calories, such as excessive exercise, diuretic or laxative use, or self-induced vomiting
  • Social isolation


  • Dramatic and sudden weight loss
  • Non-specific gastrointestinal complaints, such as stomach pain, constipation, and acid reflux
  • Menstrual irregularities (in individuals who menstruate)
  • Dizzy spells and fainting
  • Fine hair all over the body (lanugo)
  • Dry skin and brittle hair

How to help a loved one with anorexia find treatment

Once your loved one acknowledges they need help, it's important to encourage them to seek it out. But broaching that subject—or airing your initial concerns about their health—can feel daunting.

The way you bring about this sensitive topic can make a difference in how you can help someone with anorexia, potentially influencing how receptive your loved one will be to what you have to say.

Start the conversation
Expect resistance
Encourage them to seek professional help

How to support someone with anorexia in recovery

It's always good to see your loved one's eating disorder being treated, with them taking steps toward healing.

But your support at this time can be just as important as it is early on in the process, to help someone with anorexia stay hopeful, keep working on their self esteem, and have a safe place to go if they're feeling overwhelmed or concerned about backsliding.

How to help people with anorexia in social situations

Building a strong support network is a crucial aspect of recovery from anorexia nervosa or any other eating disorder.

As the recovery process can be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, it may take some extra effort to involve them in social situations. But it is one of the best ways to help someone with anorexia integrate into a loving, caring community and stop them from self-isolating.

You don't have to do this alone. Remote treatment is available and may be the best option for your loved one.

Learn more

Some useful tips include:4

  • Keep inviting them to join in with family and group activities, even if they often say no.
  • Plan social events that don’t revolve around food or exercise. Instead consider trying out activities that are engrossing and distracting, such as board games or crafting.
  • When you get together, avoid always talking about treatment or the eating disorder unless they bring it up first. Watch a movie together, start a book club, or take your dogs for a walk together.
  • Avoid any comments about their body, weight, or appearance. 
  • If you do end up in a situation around food, ask what kind of support would be helpful. They probably do not want you to micromanage their eating, but it may help them to eat a feared food together, or to have you tell a distracting story during a group meal to make them feel less self-conscious about eating around others. 

How do you help someone with anorexia at home?

If you live with someone in recovery or are a big part of their home life, there may be additional ways you can help support a loved one with anorexia nervosa, including:8

  • Ensure you have everything at home for planned meals, to avoid anxiety around the situation.
  • Offer to go food shopping for your loved one.
  • If you're eating together, plan together with your loved one what you will be eating and when, and keep a mind to portion sizes.
  • Encourage your loved one to return to hobbies they used to enjoy or try out some new hobbies with them that fit in around their treatment.

How to show up for yourself when helping someone with anorexia

While it's important to offer your loved one ongoing love and support in their struggle with AN, it's equally as important to show yourself some care.

Anorexia nervosa is not just difficult on the person going through it. The stress of the situation can easily extend to friends and family members. And when you're feeling stressed, it can turn compassion and patience into anger and frustration.

Make sure to make some room in your schedule for things that give you joy or help you relax. Go for a walk, write in a journal, listen to music, or do some yoga. You can't pour from an empty cup, so keeping yourself calm, clear, rested, and ready is one of the best ways you can help someone with anorexia.

Don't despair—help is available

Even if your talk with your loved one did not go well, or if you don’t feel you got through to them with your concerns, don’t get disheartened. You did the right thing by sharing your concerns with your loved ones, letting them know that you care about them.

You may have also given them something to think about, planting a seed that perhaps their behaviors surrounding food and their body are not what they should be. It may take time, but the concern from friends and family may just be the wake-up call they need, helping them take the steps towards recovery.

At Within Health, we will help support you through treatment for anorexia nervosa. Speak with our team today to learn more about our virtual care program.

Get help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Acharya, A., Sanchez-Manso, J.C. (2023, April 24). Anosognosia. StatPearls. Accessed August 2023.
  2. Anorexia Nervosa. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 2023. 
  3. How to Talk to a Loved One About an Eating Disorder. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed August 2023.
  4. Supporting someone with an eating disorder. (n.d.). Beat Eating Disorders UK. Accessed August 2023.


How do I encourage someone with anorexia to eat?

Encouraging someone with an eating disorder to eat can be a tricky subject. Even when made with good intentions, the request can be miscommunicated or taken offensively.

Saying things like "Just eat," or "Aren't you hungry?" may cause feelings of resentment, frustration, or guilt, so it's best to stay away from these generalized types of comments.

Instead, you can be more proactive at helping your loved one plan their meals. Making sure the food you'll need to cook is already available and that there are agreed upon times and menus can help alleviate stress around the topic.4

Creating a relaxing or neutral atmosphere around eating overall is typically a good way to help. Try to remember that mealtime is most likely still a very stressful or triggering occasion for your loved one, so do what you can to make it easy and smooth.

If your child is the one struggling with AN, it may also be helpful to attend family therapy with them. This therapeutic approach educates and empowers parents and caretakers to make food-related decisions on their child's behalf, until the child is well enough to make those decisions on their own.

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Further reading

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