What is an Eating Disorder?

In order to know how to help someone with an eating disorder it is important to know what an eating disorder is.

Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders involving unhealthy behaviors around food and eating such as:

  • obsessively counting calories,
  • restricting food intake,
  • bingeing on food in secret,
  • hiding food, or
  • throwing up after meals.

But eating disorders are more complicated than just unhealthy food habits and diets. At their core, eating disorders stem from distorted and negative attitudes around body image, body shape/size, and food.  These negative thoughts and feelings are what trigger the damaging behaviors connected to eating disorders.  Individuals with eating disorders use food as a way to cope with underlying painful, overwhelming emotions. Those who restrict food intake often do so as a way to feel “in control,” while those who binge or overeat, use food as a short-term “fix” to soothe sadness, anger, or loneliness. Essentially, the different behaviors around food serve different purposes depending on the person. Over time, individuals with eating disorders lose the ability to see themselves objectively and end up obsessing about everything related to food and weight.

The most common types of eating disorders are:

For loved ones, it can be very difficult to understand how to support someone with an eating disorder that is close to you.


How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

If you have a loved one with an eating disorder, you likely want to help him or her in any way possible.  It is normal to want to be there for support, and there are ways to do this in a healthy manner. The topic of supporting a loved one with an eating disorder is often discussed in terms of “do’s and don’ts.”



  • Be open and honest about your concerns.
  • Ask questions. It is OK to not know what to say or how to help someone with an eating disorder. Instead of assuming, ask questions.
  • Remember an eating disorder is not really about the food, but rather deeper core issues and beliefs.
  • Do not enable the person with the eating disorder. This means not changing your lifestyle to accommodate the eating disorder. For example, if your family typically orders pizza on Friday nights, this should continue regardless of whether or not the person with the eating disorder is uncomfortable. This is not harming the individual – it is simply not appeasing the eating disorder.
  • Encourage him or her to seek eating disorder treatment and follow through with treatment recommendations
  • Practice patience, as recovery from an eating disorder can take time and be a long process.



  • Assign guilt, blame, or shame.
  • Use simple suggestions (i.e. – “just eat”).
  • Threaten the person with consequences.
  • Try to force the person to eat.


Learning how to support someone with an eating disorder is a process and can be stressful. Make sure you are taking care of yourself and seeking your own support as well. HPA/LiveWell provides eating disorder treatment in both Albany, NY and Poughkeepsie, NY. Please contact us to find out more.

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Our Albany and Poughkeepsie, NY locations can help you and your loved ones. To learn more, call to speak with a Case Manager today.