I think that most people are unaware or often forget that Eating Disorders aren’t food disorders, but rather mental disorders effecting the mind, heart, and soul of those who suffer with them. In the beginning of recovery as I began to separate myself from my ED it was easy for me to see that many of the thoughts that were floating around in my head weren’t true. I had a distorted filter in my mind that twisted every comment I heard and the things that I experienced. It tried to hinder my recovery for far too long. These thoughts are irrational, condemning, & untrue. I still have deceptive/distorted thoughts but I am diligently working to take my thoughts captive cover the lies in my head with truth. What helped me a lot in the beginning of recovery was being really honest with the people I love and telling them what was helpful/unhelpful to say. Sometimes it was awkward/uncomfortable, but it ultimately helped me heal so much. You can’t control what everyone around you says…. And sometimes it’s hurtful and damaging. I am writing this article for friends/family of loved ones who have ED. Hopefully this is helpful…it’s by far not comprehensive, but it’s just a few things I have noticed in my recovery and will help some of you better understand why one simple comment can be very damaging.
What not to say to someone recovering from an eating disorder:
1. “You look so healthy!”
-I’ve had a lot of people tell me this and I know that it is coming from the most genuine places in their heart. They are happy to see me doing well in recovery and smiling and laughing again. I understand that. However, when people say this to me I almost always automatically think, “It’s obvious I have gained weight. Have a gained too much weight? Do I need to go do a really hard workout? Am I eating unhealthy?” One comment can easily spiral into a bad day/week. It’s best to not talk about weight or body image at all. Focus on more important and quite frankly interesting things to talk about.
2. “I am starving. I didn’t have breakfast this morning.”
-I heard this in class the other day and I immediately thought there was something that was wrong with me. “Why am I not starving too? Should I have skipped breakfast? What is wrong with me?” The answers to those questions are it’s a good thing that I wasn’t starving at 10:30, I definately shouldn’t have skipped breakfast, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. The feeling of constantly being hungry is an addiction that I am working hard to break, & it just isn’t helpful when people talk about it. Those who are in recovery have eating plans that are really important for them to follow to reach full recovery. It can often seem unfair that it’s okay for other people to skip breakfast.
3. “I really just want to lose a little weight. My arms and legs just aren’t toned enough.”
-You really would think this one would be common sense… For some reason it isn’t. I think it’s harmful for people talk negatively about themselves regardless of whether or not they are around someone with an eating disorder. It’s a waste of time and energy talking about the things you wish you could change about your body. We all have flaws and insecurities because we are broken people in a broken world. Let’s spend our time talking about more productive things and developing a biblical self-esteem so that the little girls in our lives can look up to someone who is comfortable in their own skin.
4. “My 4 mile run felt awesome this morning.”
-Often times exercise is restricted or not aloud for a certain time period in recovery because it’s more harmful than helpful when your body is deteriorating. It often seems unfair that other people can exercise and do whatever they want. It’s best not to talk about exercise & again, focus on more important things.
5. “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
-I have had conversations with my friends and I have specifically said, “I don’t look like I have an eating disorder, right?” They all said, “yeah of course not!! You still look healthy and pretty and there isn’t anything wrong with how you look!” We were all ignorant to the fact that ED aren’t about weight at all…. Once again, they are psychological disorders. Eating disorders don’t discriminate by age, gender, sex, weight, height, race, or anything else. There is no such thing as “looking” like you have an eating disorders. Telling others that they don’t look like that have an ED can often be harmful and prevent a person from getting the help that they need.
6. “You just need to lay on the floor and eat.”
-This is probably one of the most ignorant comments I have heard. It’s hard to gain weight when your body is fighting hard to maintain its current status. In addition, there are many factors in recovery that make eating painful and joyless on a physical, psychological, and emotional level. It isn’t about food. Comments like this are unnessesary and hurtful.
7. “I’ve only eaten 5 almonds today.”
-Good for you girlfrand… (Enough said)
8. “I am on this new diet and it is so great.”
-Again, one would think that it would be a no brainer to talk about your new diet with someone in eating disorder recovery…. Nope. I’ve heard everything from “I don’t eat bread” to “Veganism” and everything in between. Do yourself (& everyone else) a favor and stop talking about your diet. I hate to break it to you but there is an abundance of research that proves that diets don’t work. Let me know how long “so great” lasts for ya.
9. “You need to eat McDonald’s a few times a week.”
-Ew…. No thank you… Recovery isn’t about doing everything in your power to gain weight; it’s about healing psychologically, physically, mentally, and spiritially. It’s about developing healthy habits and taking care of ourselves. Everyone has different taste preferences. If I liked Mcdonald’s I would treat myself occasionally. Let’s be honest, a Chick-Fil-A Sandwhich or some pizza from Papa Murphy’s tastes a lot better than a burger off of the dollar menu. (If you like Mcdonald’s that’s fine…..I’m not judging:))
10. “Did you really just eat all of that?”
-Yes…. Yes I did. It was delicious and enjoyable and I don’t regret it because I am taking care of my body and worrying about more than my calorie count for the day.
Education and mindfulness are some of the biggest ways you can help those around you recovery.