It is common to get worried or upset if you are told that someone you care about has an eating disorder. There is much you can do to help the person. You can ask questions, listen and show that you care and help seek help. To be good support you need to take care of yourself.

This text is aimed at you who are related to someone who has an eating disorder. By related person you mean a parent, partner, sibling or friend.

Signs that someone has an eating disorder

Eating disorders can develop for a long time. Then they can be difficult to detect. It is also common for those who have eating disorders to hide their problems. Partly because they do not tell their thoughts, and partly because eating disorders are not always visible on the outside. Sometimes the person may feel good, and not even feel that they have a problem. This is especially true of anorexia.

Can be developed regardless of age and gender

Those who get anorexia tend to get sick during their early teens, but it can happen even sooner or later than that. Bulimia and the heat-related disorder usually develop later, from the age of 20 onwards. But an eating disorder can develop regardless of age and gender.

There are several signs that someone is developing an eating disorder. Almost all or some of them can be noticed in almost all people, without it being an eating disorder. But if you are close to someone who you think is at risk for eating disorders, it is good to be aware of some changes or new habits.

Fast weight loss

Often, an eating disorder can begin with a large weight loss, and then you can notice it on your loved ones as if something positive has happened. The person can be in an unusually good mood and feel full of energy.

If the environment responds by confirming the weight loss, it can enhance the person’s perception that the low weight must be maintained.

Intensive training

Intensive exercise and fixation on eating excessively useful can also be a sign that a person is developing an eating disorder.

A person who is losing weight or exercising intensely may be more irritated and irritable than usual. They may also feel frozen and be more sensitive to cold than usual.

Changed eating habits

For example, if you see that the person has new eating habits and avoids joint meals, it might be good to ask why they have changed their habits.

If a person starts to introduce rules around the food, it may be a sign that they are thinking a lot about their weight and their eating. For example, it can be about avoiding fat and sugar, becoming vegetarian or vegan or introducing a candy ban.

For example, a person with an eating disorder may begin to pull away and avoid meeting or visiting friends to avoid joint meals. At each meal, the person may have their attention on, for example, controlling the portion size, how much is on the plate, how much others at the table eat and not eating themselves.

Being close to someone who has an eating disorder

If you are close to someone who has problems with food and eating, it is easy to get worried and worried. You can become both angry, scared and sad by seeing your loved one feel bad and treat their body in a harmful way. 

Different types of eating disorders

There are various types of eating disorders, including bulimia, anorexia and a hot eating disorder. All types of eating disorders damage the body and mental health. 

It is common for anyone with eating disorders to completely deny their problems or get angry if you ask about eating habits or body weight. It is easy to feel helpless if the person is evading, lying or refusing to talk about the problems. Then you may need to keep in mind that such reactions may be part of the eating disorder.

Does not depend on the parents

Many parents feel guilty and blame themselves for their children’s problems, but nothing indicates that eating disorders depend on what their parents did or did not do to their children. Instead, eating disorders are about a desire to get their thoughts and feelings organized, and a desire to gain control over their lives.

What can I do as a relative?

There are things you can do that mean a lot to anyone who has eating disorders.

Get knowledge

As a relative, you may feel anxious and feel powerless or unsure of what to do. Often you may feel that you need more knowledge to know how to handle the situation.

Show that you care

You cannot solve your loved one’s problems, but you can support and help by being there for the sick person. Being prepared to listen can be a very good way to show that you care.

Anyone with an eating disorder may feel very alone. Trying to listen and understand can make it easier for the person to cope with the steps needed to get rid of the eating disorder.

By showing that you care and encouraging anyone with an eating disorder to seek help, you can support your loved ones to address their problem. For example, you can follow up on health visits and be support both before, during and after treatment.

Try to understand the causes

There are various reasons why a person develops an eating disorder. How does the person handle difficult feelings and thoughts? An eating disorder can prevent the person from finding other ways to deal with emotions and solve problems. Then it might be good to talk about it. Ask and show that you care, and have time to listen to the answers.

It may be that the person does not know for themselves what caused the problems. You may need to think together.

Is there anything special that creates stress in their lives? Has anything special happened? What do relationships with friends and family look like? Do they feel alone or exposed in some way? For example, it may be about high-performance requirements, conflicts or bullying.

You can tell that you see the problems and that you care about what’s happening. Even if you do not get answers to the questions you ask or the suggestions you have, the thought can help the person feel better.

Take breaks from worry and do things together

One important thing is to take breaks from worry. Do nice things together, with family or friends. What do you usually like to do together? What did you usually appreciate earlier?

Try to find ways that allow everyone to relax and have a good time together, even if the person has not become free from their eating disorder. Try not to let the eating disorder control your life too much, for example in the family.

More help is usually needed

It can be difficult as a relative to help someone all the way to get healthy. Most often, efforts are also needed for someone who works to help people with this type of problem.

You can always support your relatives by finding out, for example, what help is available. Tell me about what you find. Ask if they want you to help in some other way.

Tips when talking to someone who has an eating disorder

  • Say that you have seen what the person is doing and that you know that it is not good for the body. Try to be straight and direct, but do not get angry or confrontational as this can increase feelings of shame and guilt. Show that you are worried and want to understand the person’s thoughts and feelings. Don’t forget to listen to their answers and reactions to what you say.
  • Ask how the person is feeling. Let them tell you about their feelings. Try to just listen, even if you may disagree, for example, if they express thoughts that they are inferior to others. You can confirm that you have heard, and say, for example, “Okay, so you have very self-critical thoughts?”
  • Try not to give advice and solutions directly. You don’t have to. The important thing is that you are there. Wait for the person’s own thoughts.
  • Try not to talk about food or weight. Especially not in food situations. Talk about something else and try to let the meal be a nice moment.
  • Do not accuse or threaten. Don’t see the eating disorder as a way for the person to influence people around them. Looking at it so is usually not helpful for the sick person. Say or show that you understand that it is difficult to quit and that the person needs help to find other ways to deal with their difficulties.
  • Say that you want to understand and want to support the person to feel better. Ask if they want help from you and what you can do in that case.

Assessment and treatment

Anyone with an eating disorder can get different types of help. What help the person gets depends on how much and how long they have had the eating disorder, and what problems there are behind it. They can be treated for other problems if needed.

If you are seeking treatment at Bup or within adult psychiatry, an initial assessment is sometimes made on the telephone. Sometimes the assessment is made at the first visit. Then you will know if the reception will continue with further investigation or treatment.

In the article Eating Disorders, you can read more about what help the person can get.

The help that feels good works best

It is important that the person receiving help feels confident in the practitioner they meet in order for the help to work. Ask to meet someone else if it doesn’t feel good.

It is a right to get information that you understand

Anyone who gets help can ask the therapist if there is something they do not understand. Ask to have the information written down or translated in order to read it in peace.

Seek care

The sooner the person who has an eating disorder gets help, the easier it is to overcome the problem. Therefore, do not wait to talk to the person about seeking help if you understand that it is needed. 

Seek care for people under 18

If you are related to a child or young person under the age of 18 who has an eating disorder: Seek help, no matter how much or how long the person has had the eating disorder. It is always good to get an initial assessment of the situation and what help is needed.

It is also good to get an assessment of whether the child or young person is 

  • down for a long time
  • gets annoyed or aggressive
  • gets more uneven mood than before
  • often seem anxious or anxious. 

Other things that you can pay attention to are if it starts to work poorly in school, at home or at leisure, if they sleep poorly or if they see no sense with things that used to be fun.

Contact child and adolescent psychiatry (BUP), a youth clinic, student health or a health center. The person you meet can refer you to more specialized care if you agree that it is needed. 

A teen can also contact a pup or a youth reception, or student health if they go to school. Persons under the age of 18 should also be allowed to decide on their own treatment. Assessment and treatment are usually better if parents or close relatives are involved in the care.

Seek care for people over the age of 18

A person who is 18 years or older needs to seek care for themselves. As a relative, you can, of course, offer to make the first contact, make an appointment or follow along. 

They can contact a health care center, adult psychiatry or emergency room. The person can also contact a youth reception if they are up to 20-25 years, the age limit varies between different receptions. 

If they are studying and the problems have to do with the studies or the college, they can contact the student health. In some locations, there are psychiatric clinics for young adults up to the age of 25. As a relative, you may be involved in the care of someone over 18 if the person wants it.

If there are other problems at the same time

Seek help if the person besides the eating disorder has other problems, such as injuring themselves or abusing alcohol or drugs. If the person has serious suicidal thoughts, you should seek treatment immediately.

A person who has an eating disorder may need to gather the strength and courage to seek help. It can also feel difficult to receive help. That you as a relative are there and provide support can mean a lot.

You may need to seek help several times before you find something that works. If you have previously received help, but do not think it was right, try again.

Being close to someone who does not want help

It means a lot that you as a relative or a parent are there for the person who is feeling ill. Listening, showing that you care and offering to help is important for them to feel better. But if the person himself does not want to receive treatment, you probably cannot get them to do it. 

This also applies to persons under the age of 18. It can be a very difficult and difficult situation for you. Try to respect the person’s wishes. What you can do is keep talking about how they are doing. Bring up the question of help again and again, in a demanding way. 

Sometimes forced care is needed

At the same time, there are laws that say that a person can be forced to care in certain situations where life is at stake. For example, it may be relevant if someone injures or starves themselves. 

The social services can decide on the care of young people 

The social services can take care of a person under the age of 18 under the Act on the Care of Young People, LVU. For example, it may be relevant if the person who has an eating disorder also seriously risks their health in some other way, for example with drugs or other self-destructive behavior. Then care is given outside the home, for example in a so-called home for care and housing, HVB-homes. Interventions under LVU are not voluntary.

Obsolete care if someone risks being seriously injured and refuses to receive treatment 

Persons may also be forced into care under a law called care under the Psychiatric Compulsory Care Act, LPT. It applies, for example, if someone risks seriously injuring themselves or others due to mental illness, and refuses to receive care and treatment. 

It can be someone who has serious plans to take their life and refuses to receive care. If there is violence, a police officer can help so that the mentally ill person comes to a psychiatric clinic. A doctor will decide if LPT should be used. This Act applies to both children and young people and persons over 18 years of age.

What can I get myself?

As a relative, you may also need support. Being close to someone who has an eating disorder can feel heavy and awaken many feelings in you as a loved one. It is natural to feel inadequate or powerless. The fact that you care about you means a lot. You do as best you can. 

It can be difficult to support someone else if you are very worried, scared or sad. Therefore, it is good to help yourself.

Talk to someone if you are unsure of what to do. You should also always talk to someone about the person who has an eating disorder and does not want to talk about it at all. It can help you see more possible solutions to the problem. 

Talk to others

You can start by talking to someone you know, like a friend or someone in your acquaintance circle. You can talk to student health or other school staff if the person is attending school, or student health if they are studying at a college or university. 

You can also contact someone who works with parental support in the social services or child and adolescent psychiatry, bup. 

In some places, there are support groups or educations for people who are relatives of someone who has an eating disorder

Your emotions can change

It is not uncommon for you to begin to feel irritation and frustration over time. You can also feel sad even. Maybe it feels like you can’t take care anymore. So it can be if you have been overwhelmed by difficult and painful feelings for a long time. 

In the end, you might turn off those feelings of being able to cope with the rest of your life, like school, work, friends and other things you have to do. Feeling angry and wanting to turn off can be an attempt to get away from their grief, fear, and worry. It does not have to mean that you have stopped caring. 

If you need to seek to care yourself

Contact a health care center if you are feeling very ill for an extended period of time. There you can meet a curator or a psychologist and get call support.

Important to talk

Call the helpline if you need to talk to someone. There you can get an initial support call and get advice on how to apply for further help. 

The association Mind is a non-profit organization that offers call support and advice via the parent phone. There are also other associations that offer support through telephone calls and chat calls.

You can also check with the Social Security Office or your municipality if you can get some kind of family support. 

Support for related parties

There are non-profit associations for people with eating disorders who also have related groups. 

Knowledge can help 

The Knowledge Center for Eating Disorders, KÄTS, organizes lectures on eating disorders for relatives and the sick. They also offer an internet-based education for relatives of people who have eating disorders. The program is called “STRENGTH” and is available at

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget yourself. Also, focus on things that make you feel good and doing things you like. Meet people you like to hang out with. Try to make sure you eat and sleep well and to move, for example, by exercising. You need it to be able to be good support and to reduce your own vulnerability.

Ehtisham Nadeem

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