Caregiving for Anorexia

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Anorexia is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder. The prevalence of anorexia nervosa is estimated to be up to 4% in women and 0.3% in men, with a slightly higher rate among adolescents and young adults.

Anorexia is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. People with anorexia typically have a distorted body image and see themselves as overweight. If you know someone with anorexia, you may be wondering how you can help.

If you are a caregiver for someone with anorexia, it is important to know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans are affected by this disease. Here are some things to keep in mind as you care for someone with anorexia.

Recognize Anorexia Symptoms in a Loved One

The first step in helping someone with anorexia is to recognize the symptoms. Anorexia symptoms can be physical, mental, and emotional.

Physical anorexia symptoms include the following:

  • Unusual weight loss
  • Extreme thinness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

Mental and emotional anorexia symptoms include the following:

  • Preoccupation with food and weight
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Excessive exercise
  • Self-criticism
  • Distorted body image

If you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one, it is important to talk to them about your concerns. Eating disorders are serious medical conditions that require treatment. Anorexia can be life-threatening if left untreated.

How You Can Help Someone With Anorexia

Below outlines the ways in which you can help someone with anorexia.

Medical Care

Medical caregiving for anorexia might include monitoring weight and vital signs. In addition, you may need to provide support during medical appointments and treatments.

Practical Care

Practical caregiving for someone with anorexia can involve helping with everyday tasks such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning. A person with anorexia may need help preparing meals that are nutritious and calorie-dense. You may also need to provide transportation to medical appointments.

Emotional Care

Emotional caregiving for someone with anorexia can be challenging. It is important to provide support and understanding. You may also need to help your loved one cope with the emotions associated with anorexia. For example, you may need to help them cope with body image issues, anxiety, and depression.

Below are five specific things you can do to provide emotional care.

Listen without judgment

A person with anorexia may feel ashamed and embarrassed about their disease. It is important to listen without judgment. Show your support by letting them know that you are there for them.

For example, you might say:

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “I love you.”
  • “Thank you for sharing that with me.”

Promote body neutrality

A person with anorexia may have a distorted body image. Try to avoid making comments about weight and appearance. Instead, focus on your loved one’s strengths and qualities.


Body neutrality is a concept that promotes appreciation of what the body is capable of and how it helps us. Keeping body neutrality in mind when you speak to someone with anorexia can help you avoid triggering them in any way.

Encourage positive self-talk and healthy coping mechanisms

Anorexia can cause negative self-talk. It is important to encourage positive self-talk and healthy coping mechanisms. One way to do this is to model healthy coping mechanisms yourself.

For example, if you are feeling stressed, take a deep breath and count to 10. This will show your loved one that it is OK to take care of oneself.

Be patient and understanding

Recovery from anorexia can be a long and difficult process. It is important to be patient and understanding. There will be good days and bad days. The most important thing you can do is to provide support and love.

Offer hope

It is important to offer hope. Recovery from anorexia is possible. There are many success stories. Remind your loved ones that they are not alone and that help is available.

What to Avoid as a Caregiver for Anorexia

There are some things you should avoid as a caregiver for anorexia.

Avoid criticizing or judging

A person with anorexia is likely already feeling a lot of criticism and judgment. As a caregiver, it is important to avoid adding to this.

Avoid talking about food all the time

A person with anorexia is likely already preoccupied with food. Talking about food all the time will only make things worse and maybe be triggering.

Avoid making comments about weight or appearance

A person with anorexia is likely already self-conscious about their weight and appearance. Making comments about these things can be extremely hurtful.

Avoid being overbearing

It is important to provide support, but it is also important to respect your loved one’s privacy and space. Being overbearing may strain the relationship.

Avoid enabling unhealthy behaviors

As a caregiver, you might be tempted to enable unhealthy behaviors in order to avoid conflict or make things easier. For example, you might make excuses for why your loved one didn’t eat dinner. This will only prolong the disorder and prevent recovery.

How to Talk to a Loved One About Anorexia

Below are five important tips for talking to a loved one about anorexia:

Choose a good time and place to talk

The conversation will be more productive if you choose a good time and place to talk. For example, you might choose a time when both of you are relaxed and not distracted by other things. It's also important that this conversation doesn't happen during meal times or when food is around or expected.

Be honest and direct

It is important to be honest and direct when talking to a loved one about anorexia. This can be difficult, but it is important to communicate your concerns in a clear and concise way.

Avoid judgmental language

As mentioned above, a person with anorexia is likely already feeling a lot of criticism and judgment. It is important to avoid adding to this by using judgmental language.

Be open to listening

Your loved one might want to talk about their experiences with anorexia. It is important to be open to listening without judging or offering advice.

Offer help and support

Make it clear that you are there to help and support your loved one through their recovery. Offer to go to doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions with them. Let them know that you are available to talk anytime.

When to Intervene

If you are worried about a loved one with anorexia, it is important to know when to intervene. The following are some signs that intervention might be needed:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food or dieting
  • Refusing to eat or eating very little
  • Excessive exercise
  • Extreme perfectionism
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Obsessive thoughts about weight and appearance
  • Fainting
  • Hair loss

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Tips for Yourself as a Caregiver

Self-care is important for caregivers. Below are some tips for taking care of yourself while caring for a loved one with anorexia.

Make sure to take breaks

Caring for a loved one with anorexia can be emotionally and mentally draining. It is important to take breaks when you need them. This might mean taking a walk, reading a book, or spending time with friends.

Seek professional help

If you are struggling to cope, it is important to seek professional help. This might mean seeing a therapist or joining a support group.

Take care of your own health

It is also important to take care of your own health both physically and mentally. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

Set boundaries

It is important to set boundaries with your loved one. This might mean setting limits on how much you are willing to help or setting aside time for yourself.

Seek support from others

Caring for a loved one with anorexia can be a lonely experience. It is important to seek support from other caregivers or from a support group.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does it mean to be a caregiver for someone with anorexia?

    A caregiver is someone who provides care and support for another person. This might include helping with activities of daily living, providing emotional support, or coordinating medical care.

  • How can I best support a loved one with anorexia?

    Some ways to support a loved one with anorexia include being patient, understanding, and supportive. It is also important to take care of yourself both physically and mentally.

  • What should I do if I think my loved one has anorexia?

    If you think your loved one has anorexia, the first step is to talk to them about your concerns. You might also want to consider seeking professional help.

A Word From Verywell

Caregiving for someone with anorexia can be a challenging experience. However, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Not everyone understands what it is like to care for someone with anorexia, but there are people who can help. Support groups and therapy can be a great resource for both caregivers and people with anorexia.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. van Eeden AE, van Hoeken D, Hoek HW. Incidence, prevalence and mortality of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosaCurr Opin Psychiatry. 2021;34(6):515-524. doi:10.1097/YCO.0000000000000739

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Anorexia Nervosa.