Here are just a few things to keep in mind and avoid saying when talking to someone with an eating disorder:
- Why Don’t You Just Eat?
This may be hard for those on the outside to understand, but individuals who struggle with an eating disorder do not see food the same way a person without eating disorder issues do. In fact, many people in recovery who know that they need to eat and want to eat find it very difficult to do. They would rather live with their disease than relinquish the power and control they feel that they garner through food denial. The core issues manifesting themselves through their eating disorder psychologically run too deep. So while eating and gaining weight is a vital step in recovery, individuals suffering from eating disorders cannot simply “eat” and be cured.
- You Don’t Look Like You Have An Eating Disorder.
Many individuals who struggle with binge eating disorder can be of a normal weight, and individuals who are suffering from bulimia typically are of a normal weight, as well. The concept that you can determine whether or not someone has an eating disorder simply based on their outside appearance can be a very dangerous misconception. Despite how they may appear on the outside, what is going on inside the body of a person with an eating disorder is a completely different story. Even a person who has the outward appearance of health can still die from their eating disorder.
- You Look Healthy/Better Than Ever.
If there is one thing for certain, individuals suffering from an eating disorder are already well aware of their body. However, the majority of individuals suffering from an eating disorder find this ‘compliment’ to be extremely triggering. Individuals in recovery may need to gain weight as part of their treatment, and their fragile mental state will cause any comment that notes a change in their appearance as confirmation of weight gain. Because to a disordered mind; healthy is a synonym for fat.
- Making Jokes.
Some people try to lighten the mood by making flippant remarks such as, “I wish I had an eating disorder, I need to lose weight!” or “I wish I had the discipline to have an eating disorder.” Do not make jokes about eating disorders in the presence of someone suffering from one. Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening conditions, and aside from hurting someone’s feelings, you could make them feel even more self-conscious. These types of remarks can trigger individuals in using eating disorder behaviors again.
- Negative Comments About Someone Else’s Body.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses. Making negative comments about yourself or someone else’s body may cause someone suffering from an eating disorder to compare another person’s body size or appearance to their own. It’s NEVER a good idea to shame or make fun of anyone’s body or appearance, regardless of the circumstances.
Even the most well meaning individual can unintentionally say things to a sufferer that are not only unhelpful, but they can also be triggering to the eating disorder, as well. What most people do not understand is that eating disorders are not really about food or weight—they are attempts for a person to deal with emotional and stress-related issues. People with eating disorders often fixate on food to deal with uncomfortable or painful emotions; restricting food is used by the sufferer to feel in control, overeating may be used to temporarily soothe painful feelings of anger, sadness, or loneliness, and purging is used to combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing.
We Are Here to Help
The Meadows Ranch has treated eating disorders for more than 20 years. We know recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Based on feedback from patients, families and professionals, the vast majority of our patients remain committed to a life of health, balance and purpose. For additional information about The Meadows Ranch’ specialized treatment for eating disorders, please call to speak to one of our caring Intake Coordinators at 866-390-5100, and we will contact you with the information you need.