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University Counseling Center

Do/Don’t of Eating Disorder


  • listen with understanding
  • appreciate the openness and trust in sharing with you his/her distress
  • share your own struggles, be open and real
  • learn more about eating disorders
  • support and be available
  • give hope that with help and with patience she/he can free herself from this disorder
  • give your friend a list of resources for help



  • tell your friend he/she is crazy
  • blame her/him
  • gossip about your friend
  • follow her/him around to check her eating or purging behavior
  • ignore your friend
  • reject her/him
  • tell him/her to quit this ridiculous behavior
  • feel compelled to solve their problem
  • make excess comments about being thin


DO heed the signs

Anorexic behavior includes extreme weight loss (often emaciation), obsessive dieting, distorted body perception (a thin person thinks she/he is fat when they are not). Clues of bulimia are more subtle: Your friend may eat a great deal of food, then rush to the bathroom. She/he may hide laxatives or speak outright about the “magic method” of having the cake and not gaining weight. Anorexics and bulimics tend to be preoccupied with food and many have specific rituals tied to their eating patterns.

DO approach your friend gently, but persistently

Explain that you’re worried; listen sympathetically. Don’t expect your friend to admit she/he has a problem right away. The first step is realizing there is a problem; therefore it is important to help your friend realize this.

DO focus on unhappiness as the reason your friend could benefit from help

Point out how anxious or how tired and irritable she/he’s been lately, and emphasize that it doesn’t have to be that way.

DO be supportive

but do not try to analyze or interpret their problem. Being supportive is the most important thing you can do. Show your friend you believe in him/her–it will make a difference in recovery.

DO talk to someone about your own emotions

if you feel the need. An objective outsider can emphasize the fact that you are not responsible for your friend; you can only try to help that person help him/herself.

DO be yourself

Be honest in sharing your feelings: i.e., “It’s hard for me to watch you destroy yourself.”

DO give non-judgmental feedback

in “I Statements”. For example, “We haven’t gone to lunch together in a while, is something wrong?” instead of “You haven’t gone to eat with me in a while, do you have a problem?”

DO cooperate

with your friend if she/he asks you to keep certain foods out of common storage areas. This may help prevent a binge on such foods.

DON’T keep this “secret”

from the family when your friend’s health and thinking is impaired.

DON’T forget that denial

is a form of selective “deafness”.

DON’T be deceived

by the excuse: “It’s not really bad. I can control it myself.”

DON’T focus on your friend’s weight or appearance.

Focus on your concerns about his/her health and well-being.

DON’T change your eating habits

when you’re around your friend. Your “normal” eating is an example to your friend of a more healthy relationship with food.