14 Things to Never Say to Someone in Eating Disorder Recovery


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things to never say, information about eating disorders, things to not say to a loved one in eating disorder recovery, things to not to say, eating disorders, eating disorder recovery, Stephanie Ziajka, Diary of a Debutante

Yes, I know it’s not Monday, but I have a scheduling conflict, so I’m sharing my Mental Health Monday post about things to never say to anyone in eating disorder recovery a few days early! Just like no one chooses to have cancer, no one chooses to have schizophrenia, depression, or an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a life-threatening mental illness, and it should be treated with the same sensitivity as other serious medical conditions. For a person struggling with Anorexia, Bulimia, or a binge eating disorder, certain comments can cause more harm than good, no matter how innocuous or innocent they may be.  

The way you approach that big ED elephant in the room can completely dictate your future relationship with a loved one who’s currently suffering from an eating disorder, so make sure you do your research to find as much substantiated research and information about eating disorders as possible. As an additional resource and PC guide to avoiding offending someone you love, here are 14 things to never say to someone in eating disorder recovery.

[bctt tweet=”Ignorance is not bliss. Never say these 14 things to someone who may have an eating disorder.” username=”stephanieziajka”]

1. “Oh wow, you ate { a lot | too little } today.”

You would think this would be a given, but when I was in eating disorder recovery, I personally heard both ends of the judgement spectrum more times than I could stomach. People with eating disorders are often self-conscious about their food choices, and shaming them for eating something you deem “unhealthy” may exacerbate the reservations they already have about eating certain foods as a part of their treatment plan. These types of comments may be dangerous triggers, so please try to avoid these remarks at all costs.

2. “You look healthy.”

This sounds– and probably is– harmless, but commenting on the weight of someone suffering from an eating disorder (past or present) isn’t a good idea, even if you have only the best of intentions. For normal individuals trying to lose weight, comments about weight loss are welcomed compliments. People with eating disorders may equate “looking healthy” with “looking fat,” and your innocuous comment could potentially spawn into a temporary, or even a full-fledged, relapse. Furthermore, weight gain may provide a physical depiction of recovery, but it doesn’t imply that their struggle is over. Full recovery takes quite some time– my recovery plan took over a year, and it’s still something I struggle with to this day.

Case in Point, even if they look like they’re back to what you perceive as normal, they may still be struggling mentally or emotionally. Ignorance shouldn’t be an excuse for inhibiting your loved one’s recovery, so for more information about eating disorders and the tribulation surrounding mental illness, I suggest checking out ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) or NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association).

3. “I skip meals sometimes, too.”

Normalizing the disorder is a big no-no, and you should never seek to validate self harm as an acceptable option. Unless you’ve personally suffered from an eating disorder, you can’t fully understand the emotional, physical, and mental torment which surrounds Anorexia or Bulimia.

4. “I wish I could go days without eating.”

Eating disorders are not about willpower, and it should go without saying that glorifying any method of self harm isn’t appropriate.

5. “You need to do { this | that | the other thing }.” 

Although you probably only want to help, try to stray away from any remarks that may come off as condescending. Eating disorders are not just about food; they are serious, complicated mental illnesses, and giving simplistic solutions can undermine a person’s struggle and potentially stunt their progress.

6. “You’re so thin! Why would you want to lose weight?”

These types of comments inadvertently bear a connotation of shame, and it’s not appreciated, especially for something they legitimately cannot control. Your loved one may have a distorted body image that inhibits them from seeing what you see.

7. “It’s offensive when you tell other people you think you’re fat… cause if you think you’re fat, you obviously think they’re fat, too.”

Again, these comments inadvertently bear a connotation of shame and accusation. A person’s eating disorder is about him or herself. Period. Nothing more, nothing less.

8. “You really can’t tell that you have an eating disorder. You look fine.” 

One of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders is that only a very specific group of underweight females have them. Quite the contrary is true. You can’t always tell when someone has an eating disorder. They don’t discriminate. They affect people of all shapes, weights, ages, ethnicities, and genders. Telling someone they don’t look “sick enough” to have an eating disorder dismisses their struggle and can make them believe they don’t deserve help.

9. “Well, it seems like you’re eating enough right now!”

Just because someone seems to be eating normally in front of you doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with disordered thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about food and body image. Also, drawing back to “Oh wow, you ate a lot today,” anyone suffering from an eating disorder is most likely very uncomfortable discussing food openly; these types of comments may be dangerous triggers, so please try to avoid these remarks at all costs.

10. “You can have some of my fat, if you want!”

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses; they’re not meant to be jokes. Please don’t mock someone’s road to recovery with insensitive humor.

11. “That girl just ate an entire sleeve of cookies.” 

Even if you’re not talking about your loved one’s appearance, they might be comparing their body to others’. Plus, as a decent human being, it’s best to never shame or make fun of anyone’s body, appearance, or diet.

12. “Just eat!”

Eating disorders don’t respond to threats, pleas, or your barely-researched suggestions. Your loved one isn’t restricting food to frustrate you or because they just don’t feel like eating. Applying social pressure will further unsettle them in the midst of a precarious emotional and spiritual state, so please give them the time and patience they need to get well on their own terms.

13. “{ Diet | Fitness Routine | Self-Help Book | Etc. } really helped me.”

Unless you have personally experienced an eating disorder and traveled down the long, challenging road to eating disorder recovery, your experiences are not even remotely alike. Your success in a diet program or your personal exercise regimen will not resonate with someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Despite appearances, eating disorders are not motivated by a desire for fitness or even weight loss. Eating disorders are based on fear, feelings of inadequacy, and the desire for control.

14. “Skinny girls aren’t attractive.”

Oh, this one still gets my blood boiling. Someone with Anorexia isn’t trying to be attractive; they’re not even really trying to be thin. Their mental state is so distorted that they simply can’t stop doing what they’re doing, and their desire to self harm is perpetuated when provoked by criticism. Contrary to what you may think or intend, your unnecessary comments will not help them to magically see the perceived “ugliness” of their condition.

Sources: ANAD | U.S. News Health | Recovery Ranch

For more information about eating disorders, check out my list of helpful and free resources for those affected by mental illness. Also, the conversation surrounded mental illness should ever be stifled, so to counteract the things to never say to someone with an eating disorder, here are 14 things you should be saying if you suspect a friend or loved one of having an eating disorder. 

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4 thoughts on “14 Things to Never Say to Someone in Eating Disorder Recovery

  1. Holly

    I have struggled with anorexia for 5 years, and I 100% agree with everything that you have written here. A lot of these comments are very triggering and painful for someone who has an eating disorder. Thank you for posting this and helping educate others about this disease.

    Reply
  2. Maria

    Thank you! This post perfectly sums up a lot of triggering things that people say. Also- the one I hear a lot that you touched on a bit is “what did you eat today? Make yourself eat something in another hour.” It is meant to be kind and caring that someone is making sure you eat but they do not understand 1 how hard it is to eat regularly when you’ve been in a restricting pattern for months-years.

    Reply

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