5 Languages of Eating Disorder Support

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The support of family and friends is key to the process of eating disorder recovery. It is an antidote to the isolation and secrecy of the illness, as well as a powerful, necessary reminder to our loved ones that they aren’t alone in their pain and struggle. 

But it can be hard to know just how to support someone affected by eating disorders. These are complicated, confusing conditions that aren’t “fixed” with simple logic. “Just eat,” “just eat less,” or “just stop doing that” are unhelpful suggestions, as are guilt trips and ultimatums.

What else is there to say or do? Considering your loved one’s love language is a place to start.

5 Love Languages

Introduced in 1992 by counselor and author Gary Chapman, the love language concept outlines five distinct ways people communicate love:  

  1. words of affirmation
  2. quality time
  3. gifts
  4. acts of service
  5. physical touch

According to Chapman’s framework, some of us feel most loved when we are affirmed by kind words, while some of us value thoughtful gifts or another one of the expressions instead. Knowing our preferred love language as well as those of our loved ones helps us to express and receive love in more meaningful ways. We can learn to “speak” the love language that our loved ones desire and vice-versa.

Originally outlined for romantic couples, the five love languages have since been applied to numerous personal and professional relationships and settings. Among the adaptations are love languages of children and teens, languages of apology, and languages of appreciation in the workplace.

Here we adapt the five languages to eating disorder support. We present five approaches to expressing support for a loved one in recovery, including specific examples of each approach applied.

5 Languages of Eating Disorder Support

Words of Affirmation

Verbally tell your loved one how much you care. Offer genuine compliments and messages of encouragement and hope.

Examples:

  • “I love you. No matter what, I am here for you.”
  • “I know you can do this.”
  • “You deserve to be free from this illness.”
  • “I’m so proud of you for challenging yourself with new foods. Keep up the good work!”

Quality Time

Give your loved one your full attention and presence. Avoid distractions and interruptions, making your time together mindful and meaningful.

Examples:

  • Ask your loved one how they are doing, listening actively to their response.
  • Share in an activity that doesn’t involve food, like playing games or watching movies.
  • Take a gentle walk together.

Gifts

Give your loved one a tangible or experiential gift. The gesture need not be extravagant or expensive; the gift’s value is in the thought and effort behind it.

Examples:

  • A journal that your loved one can use for therapy and self-reflection
  • A book that supports their recovery
  • Empowering or inspirational music

Acts of Service

Help your loved one by performing a task. Go out of your way to do something for them that makes their life in recovery a bit easier.

Examples:

  • Do the grocery shopping.
  • Help to organize insurance or other paperwork.
  • Assist your loved one in getting rid of any “sick clothes.”

Physical Touch

Offer expressions of physical connection. Think beyond sexual touch to the ways that simple human-to-human contact can provide a sense of security and comfort.

Examples:

  • Offer a warm hug or the gentle touch of your hand.
  • Extend high-fives and pats on the back to help celebrate recovery wins.
  • Hold your loved one when they are anxious or sad.

As with the original love languages, no one language of support is objectively better or worse than another. What matters is that it matches the desires of your loved one. Connecting with their needs can help to ensure your message of support is not lost in translation.  

For more information on supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, visit our resource page for families and friends. There you’ll find additional tips for speaking to your loved one about your concerns, as well as information about our support groups for family and friends.

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s relationship with food, The Emily Program is here to help. Take our brief eating disorder quiz and give us a call at 1-888-364-5977 today.

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