How to Get Help for an Eating Disorder
By Lauren Krouse
When you suspect you may have a problem with body image or an eating disorder, it can be hard to figure out when it’s time to get help. You may be tempted to try to handle it on your own, feel too overwhelmed to consider next steps, or even disagree with others’ concerns.
But eating disorders are serious medical conditions, and professional help and treatment make a huge difference. Without support from experts, the slippery slope of disordered eating often leads to eating disorders. Those disorders tend to be harder to treat the longer they go without care, and they can ultimately become life-threatening.
It’s important not to let worries about reaching out for help too soon or not being sick enough stop you from getting the support you need. If any part of you is wondering if you need help at this point, take that gut feeling seriously.
Learn when and how to get help for an eating disorder.
When Do I Need Help for an Eating Disorder?
Any signs of negative body image or disordered eating are risk factors for developing an eating disorder, and they’re reason enough to reach out for help now. Some signs include:
- Dieting or restricting foods, whether in an effort to lose weight or because of aversions to specific foods.
- Binge eating, which means eating a large amount of food in one sitting despite not being hungry, until you’re uncomfortably full or flooded with feelings such as shame and disgust.
- Purging, which means forcing yourself to throw up, misusing medications, or exercising to make up for food you’ve eaten.
- Feeling guilty or bad about the food you eat.
If any of the above sound familiar and the issues are getting worse or feel out of your control, now is the time to get help. You can feel so much better when you have good support and you no longer have to manage it alone.
Recognizing signs of a potential eating disorder can be scary and stressful, but it’s ultimately powerful because it means you can take the next step: getting help from a trusted friend, family member, or eating disorder specialist.
A stressful relationship with food is not something to try to manage on your own, and connecting with others can help you break through shame and get the support you deserve.
How to Get Help for an Eating Disorder
Asking for help isn’t easy, and it can take a lot of courage. But you—like everyone else—deserve abundant support, especially when you’re struggling. Follow these steps to start the conversation.
Find Someone You Trust
Identify someone you feel comfortable talking to, such as a:
- Parent or guardian
- Older family member
- Teacher or professor
- School counselor or coach
- Church leader or spiritual adviser
- Friend who really cares about you
If you’re worried about how someone close to you may respond or you don’t feel any of the above people would be best for you and your situation, that’s OK. Sometimes it’s easier to start with someone you don’t know personally, because you don’t have to worry about their emotional response or judgment.
You can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders helpline, which is run by licensed therapists who specialize in eating disorders.
- Call 866-662-1235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get referrals to all levels of care. The helpline is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. If help is not immediately available, your call will be returned as soon as possible
If You Need Help Right Now
- Text HEALING to 741-741 for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor any time.
- Text or call 988 or use the chat function at 988lifeline.org.
- If this is a medical emergency or there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.
Think About What You Want to Share and How It Might Go
Take a moment to look at signs and symptoms of eating disorders and write out which ones you’ve noticed in yourself. It may also help to journal about what you want to say, how the person may respond, and what you can do if the conversation becomes overwhelming or doesn’t go well—such as walking away, trying to reopen the discussion later, sharing educational resources like articles on eating disorders and treatment, or turning to someone else for support.
Choose a Good Place and Time
Think back: When have you been able to have serious and productive conversations with this person? You may plan to start the conversation during a walk, car ride, after dinner, or when you’re feeling well rested and calm.
Ask for Help
When you talk with them, take a deep breath and say what you need to say. It’s OK and common not to know exactly why this is happening or what you want or need—and you can share that too. Let them know you have something serious to talk to them about, and make sure you have their undivided attention before you dive in.
If the person you confide in is unsure or pushes aside your worries, emphasize that you want to find professional support because this isn’t something you can (or want to) manage on your own.
There can be a higher risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts for people with eating disorders. If you’re having thoughts about suicide, it’s important to share that too. Here’s a guide for how to tell someone you are thinking about suicide.
Have a Plan B
Sometimes the first person you turn to can’t give you what you need. If that happens, you can either try again another time or reach out to another person. Trained clinicians at the National Alliance for Eating Disorders can help you game out different options, no matter your situation.
Remember that everyone struggling with eating deserves to heal their relationship with food and their body, and it’s never too early—or too late—to get the support you need. You are not alone! Many more people than you know struggle with their relationship with food, but it isn’t as openly discussed as it should be.
Once you open up, you’ll find so many other people and resources are available and ready to help you take the next step. Regardless of how long this has been going on, you can get—and feel—so much better.