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5 tips to help someone struggling with an eating disorder

Eating disorders affect millions of Americans, with approximately 1 in 10 expected to develop one during their lifetime.[1] Conditions including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating affect people of all ages, races, body types, and genders.[2]

Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any time in life. In many cases, it begins during adolescence or young adulthood, with the average age of onset between 12-25.[3]

During the COVID pandemic, a spike in reported eating disorders indicated a more than 70% increase in call volume to national hotlines.[4] With eating disorders ranking as the top fatal mental illness in young people, it’s a problem we can’t afford to ignore.[5]

The statistics are alarming.

  • In a study following adolescent girls until age 20, more than 13% suffered from a DSM-5 eating disorder.[6]
  • The odds of dying by suicide increase by up to 32 times for teens and young adults with an eating disorder. Overall, 1 in 5 anorexia deaths is caused by suicide.[7]
  • As many as half of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.[8]
  • Males make up 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa and are at a higher risk of dying due to late diagnosis and false assumptions that eating disorders occur only in females.[9]
  • Less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”[10]

Early treatment is critical. Know that your support is important. You may be unsure how to help or talk about your concerns. Here are some tips that can help you assist your teen or loved one suffering from an eating disorder:

Before you speak – learn. Eating disorders are complex. Learn accurate information about eating disorders, body weight, nutrition, and exercise. Read up on the facts so you avoid feeding into any misinformation or oversimplification of the issue.  

Plan ahead. Addressing this topic with your loved one is fraught with emotions, which makes it potentially anxiety inducing. Know what you are going to say ahead of time, and then find a quiet, private place to talk.

Communicate honestly and openly. Demonstrate love and positive intent and remember to use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. Validate their fears while continuing to express your concern.

Watch out for potential stigma – and work to remove it. Mental health issues can often bring about feelings of shame. This is also true of eating disorders. Reinforce that mental health is as important as physical health and that they are not alone, reiterating your genuine care and desire to be a support.

Help them find professional help. Many eating disorders require professional help. Up to 20% of all cases are fatal if left untreated. Offer to help your loved one find timely, effective treatment. Include a medical check-up as a part of their professional care team.

Beacon’s 24/7 crisis line is available for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Call us anytime at 1-800-580-6934 or in crisis contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline: (800) 931-2237


[1] The National Archives Federal Register website, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 2022 (accessed October 2022): federalregister.gov/documents/2022/02/24/2022-04096/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week-2022.

[2] National Institute of Mental Health website, Eating Disorders (accessed October 2022): nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders.

[3] Johns Hopkins Medicine website, Frequently Asked Questions About Eating Disorders (accessed October 2022): hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/eating_disorders/faq.html

[4] The National Archives Federal Register website, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, 2022 (accessed October 2022): federalregister.gov/documents/2022/02/24/2022-04096/national-eating-disorders-awareness-week-2022.

[5] Center for Discovery Eating Disorder Treatment website, Five Statistics of Anorexia Nervosa and It’s Consequences (accessed October 2022): centerfordiscovery.com/blog/statistics-behind-anorexia/.

[6] National Eating Disorders Association website, Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders (accessed October 2022): nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.

[7] Center for Discovery Eating Disorder Treatment website, Five Statistics of Anorexia Nervosa and Its Consequences (accessed October 2022): centerfordiscovery.com/blog/statistics-behind-anorexia/.

[8] ANAD website, Eating Disorder Statistics (accessed October 20220: anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/.

[9] National Eating Disorders Association website, Statistics & Research on Eating Disorders (accessed October 2022): nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics-research-eating-disorders.

[10] ANAD website, Eating Disorder Statistics (accessed October 20220: anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/.


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