Unlike the stereotypes that can come with eating disorders, this group of illnesses knows no boundaries. Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and purging, can be just as common in adults as they are in teenagers. Against common perception, eating disorders are also not gender-specific.

However, one of the largest concerns with adult eating disorders is the difficulty in diagnosis and the low rate of detection – if no one asks, then no one seems to know. Adults are often met with unique medical complications, limited treatment options, and the psychological impact of enduring a condition typically thought of as a teen illness. Early intervention is key to successful recovery. The best treatment for eating disorders is a solid support system.

In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 26 to March 4), here are some tips for supporters, which include siblings, partners and friends:

  • Show that you care and want to help – your presence, support and encouragement can make all the difference.
  • Create a space for open communication. Express that you want to make it comfortable for your loved one and do what feels okay for them.
  • Try your best to remain patient. Progress takes time.
  • Show the person you love them whether or not the person has an eating disorder. Sometimes it helps to start doing activities unrelated to the eating disorder to show that you want to be with the person and that’s what matters.
  • See if you can create a dialogue about what feels comfortable at the time. Don’t be afraid to gently ask about how you can be helpful at the workplace and in school, what types of activities are safe right now and what type of support the person wants you to provide.
  • Make sure you take care of yourself and find time to do things just for you so you can take care of your loved ones.

The next time you talk to someone with an eating disorder, here are things you shouldn’t say:

  • Anything that focuses on weight, appearance or food
  • Anything that stereotypes eating disorders
  • Anything that normalizes the disorder
  • Anything that sounds like it came out of a textbook
  • Anything that displays shock or disgust

If you or someone you care about has been up close and personal with an eating disorder and needs professional guidance, call the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237 to find resources or to get help.



“Inside the Hidden World of Adult Eating Disorders,” Melissa Jeltsen, huffingtonpost.com, Dec. 21, 2015.

“Get in the Know,” National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), nedawareness.org, accessed Jan. 12, 2016.

“Eating Disorder Awareness: Tips for Supporters,’ Temimah Zucker, huffingtonpost.com, Feb. 24, 2015.

“What Not to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder,” Kirstin Fawcett, health.usnews.com, Jan. 29, 2015.