You cannot force an anorexic to eat, convince a compulsive overeater to stop or keep a bulimic from purging. That doesn’t mean, though, that there’s no way to talk to someone close to you who you think may have an eating disorder. There are several approaches you can take to discuss your concerns in a loving and supportive tone.

Trust Your Instincts

If a loved one exhibits signs of an eating disorder like being extremely critical of their body or is developing obsessive or compulsive patterns with food, it’s important to speak up about your concerns. What should you do? Find a quiet place to talk with the person in a calm and caring manner about specific things you’ve noticed.

Be Prepared

One of the most important things to be when approaching someone about an eating disorder is educated. People with eating disorders often experience high levels of shame, guilt, anxiety, embarrassment, or denial. They may not yet recognize that they have an eating problem. Prepare yourself to be met with anger or denial at first.

Don’t Put It Off

Denial works both ways. We often think if we say nothing, the problem will go away on its own. We also don’t want to alienate those we love. Offer your continued friendship, love, and support and be sincere when discussing your concerns. Even if you’re met with resistance, you can plant a seed for recovery. If the person asks, try not to promise to keep their eating disorder a secret. Instead, let them know how much you care and that you will always be there to support them.

Don’t Give Up

If you’re met with resistance the first time, let it go for now and return to the topic after both of you have had time to think. It takes patience and a lot of understanding, but it can be worth it. Keep in mind that people only accept support when they feel they’re ready to. Facing and dealing with an eating disorder means confronting a host of life issues. Put yourself in their shoes and commit to being someone they can rely on when they’re ready to move forward.

Offer Information

It can be difficult and frustrating to watch someone you love deal with an eating disorder. Try to remember that it is a symptom of suffering. While the person may not be ready to hear what you have to say about them personally, they may be ready to learn more about eating disorders in general. Encourage them to seek professional help and learn about the recovery options available to them. If you remain concerned with your loved one’s health and safety, seek professional support for yourself to help you cope.