Having the conversation

It’s not always easy to broach such a difficult topic of conversation with someone you’re worried about. Remember, if you can help them to seek professional support, their chances of recovery will greatly improve.

Letting them know that you’re worried shows them that you’re willing to listen and help them find support. It’s very unlikely that having an honest and sensitive conversation with someone you are worried about is going to make things worse.

Be prepared

  • Create a safe environment for discussion. Choose a private place to speak and a time when you are both feeling calm.
  • Be prepared and educate yourself about eating disorders.
  • Think about what you are going to say before you talk to them.
  • Be calm, open and honest about your concerns.
  • Be prepared for anger or denial.
  • Reinforce confidentiality.
  • Call Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) on 1300 550 236 if you would like some further tips or to practice what you are planning to say.

Having the conversation

  • Tell them what you have noticed that’s concerning you. This might be that they have seemed anxious or depressed, as well as things you have noticed about their relationship with their body, food or exercise.
  • Be specific and use examples.
    “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down recently, and have been worried about the calories in your food.”
  • Focus on behaviours and feelings rather than eating and weight, as the person may be protective of their eating behaviours.
  • Use “I” statements and try to avoid using judgmental language.
    “I care about you/ I am worried about you.”
  • Listen carefully to their response and reply in a way that shows you have heard them.
  • Encourage them to take action by contacting EDV or going to their GP; it may be easiest to leave some leaflets or fact sheets that they can read in their own time.
  • Consider following up a week or two later (or next time you see them) to see how they are going.

Their reaction

Be prepared for a range of reactions.

  1. They may be ready to listen, and take the first steps towards support
  2. They may become angry or upset. They may feel threatened by your observations and it may take time for them to accept your offer of help, so be patient and persistent.
  3. They may flatly deny there is a problem.

If the reaction wasn’t as positive as you were hoping, don’t be discouraged. You will not have made things worse for them, but instead helped them towards the very important first step of seeking professional support.

having the conversation: fitness professionals

having the conversation: teachers and school staff