How do you support someone with an eating disorder?

So how to support someone with an eating disorder?

Now, if someone has an eating disorder, they're usually holding huge amounts of shame, embarrassment, fear about being open. So it's really important that if they open up to you, that you can be that kind of warm, kind, neutral, compassionate presence for them.

So I'm going to use the new Maudsley Animal Model to help explain how to support someone. So the new Maudsley Animal Model says, don't be the rhinos. The rhino comes in, wants to fix make it better. The trouble is, if you come in being a rhino, the person with the eating disorder will often withdraw, become more secretive and it doesn't help.

Also, this model says, don't be the jellyfish. So the jellyfish gets really anxious, angry, upset, again the person with the eating disorder, will withdraw because they don't want to upset you and burden you. They will think I need to keep my problems to myself.

Don't be the ostrich. The ostrich just ignores the problem, pretend it's not there. And someone with an eating disorder will often be minimising their problems anyway.

So you don't want to collude with that And the final one is, don't be the Kangaroo with Joey, and that's always treating the person as a much younger child, which often isn't very, very helpful.

So what you want to be is a dolphin. The dolphin is empathetic, warm, kind, accepting, asks open questions, is really encouraging. Holds that kind of safe space so if someone feels that they can open up and feel heard and feel accepted, and that's the most valuable thing.

And sometimes it feels that you're not doing anything. But actually being a dolphin is such a gift to someone with an eating disorder because it just really gives them a space to feel heard and seen.

And that's often the first point of change.

Harriet Frew

Eating Disorder Therapist

Latest Questions


Added to cart