How to Talk to Someone About an Eating Disorder

Written by Jennifer Broxterman, MSc, RD
Registered Dietitian, Founder of NutritionRx

Two-Brain Coaching, Nutrition Coaching Course Creator

How to Talk to Someone About an Eating Disorder

A friend of mine just reached out about a nutrition client she’s working with that she suspects is struggling with disordered eating.

Here’s a way to start the conversation with someone you’re concerned about:

“I wanted to bring up something that’s really hard to talk about. I feel concerned about your wellbeing, because lately I’ve been noticing (name specific behaviours and specific examples with patterns of disordered eating/thinking, without attacking the person). I might be totally off the mark and maybe I’ve misinterpreted things, and I really hope I’m wrong, but I also care about you which is why I wanted to bring this up from a place of concern. Are you open to talking about this a bit more?”

Then, really listen. Make sure you’re in a safe and private place, and try to listen much more than you talk (a 3:1 listening to talking ratio is a good place to start). 

Also, have some resources ready (if they’re open to it) to connect them to a trained Registered Dietitian who has experience and specialization in treating Eating Disorders, and also a therapist / mental health counsellor who has experience with this population. 

Come into your meeting prepared, but don’t be too pushy. Be ok that they might not be ready for help just yet. It’s a heavy conversation and a lot to digest.

This first conversation might not be the last conversation you have with them about this topic, and the main goal is for the person to feel supported, not attacked and ambushed.

The longer an eating disorder goes on without professional treatment, the worse it gets. It’s better to speak up in the early stages and risk being wrong, then to ignore the problem until it grows into a much bigger, more serious and difficult to treat, and potentially deadly health concern.

For more reading on this topic:

Eating disorders are sensitive topics to bring up with nutrition clients and gym members, and if you work in the fitness and nutrition coaching space long enough, you will learn to recognize many of the warning signs. It’s also why we address the legality and scope of practice of disordered eating in our Two-Brain Coaching Nutrition Coaching Course, and how to best support your clients, and when to refer out, if you do find yourself in this position. 

Interested in improving your nutrition coaching skills, so you can feel more comfortable and confident teaching nutrition to your own clients? Learn more about our motivational interviewing and habits-based Nutrition Coaching Course for nutrition coaches here:

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