By Suzannah Weiss for Ravishly.
When a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s normal to be desperate to help. Unfortunately, since eating disorders operate according to their own logic, your well-meaning words can sound like something completely different to the person.
When I was in recovery, members of my support group and I would commiserate about how the following phrases messed with our heads. Most stem from ignorance or impatience, and some would be perfectly nice compliments—if only they weren’t filtered through the lens of an eating disorder.
1. “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
There’s no such thing as looking like you have an eating disorder. Some eating disorders involve overeating, some involve undereating, some involve bingeing and purging, and many include a combination of these symptoms.
Their appearance does not even reveal which of these symptoms are present, since different bodies have different set points that make weight gain or loss difficult despite changes in food intake. For example, some people can be overweight while still dangerously restricting calories.
Meshel Laurie talks about acknowledging an eating disorder on the latest episode of her podcast
Hearing “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder” is especially devastating because it echoes the broken record already playing through many minds: “You’re not thin enough.” It also neglects the psychological suffering that characterizes eating disorders and implies that those with less visible symptoms require less care or sympathy. In reality, eating disorders know no shape, size, gender, race, or age.
2. “Just eat.”
Picture your greatest fear, whether that’s heights, snakes, or getting stuck in small spaces. Now try to tell yourself, “Just bungee jump off a ten-thousand-foot cliff” or “just jump into a pile of cobras” or “just crawl into that tiny crevice.” Food may seem innocuous in comparison, but if you have an irrational fear, you can understand that reassurance of your safety doesn’t make you less afraid.
If somebody is suffering from a restrictive eating disorder, it is the responsibility of a therapist, nutritionist, inpatient nurse, or other professional to help them eat. While you may feel helpless if you sit there and do nothing, it’s best to stay out of your loved one’s eating habits because you can’t control them. All you can do is encourage your loved one to seek professional help.
3. “You’re being stupid.”
It’s a common misconception that people indulge in eating disorders out of vanity or shortsightedness. But an eating disorder is a disease, not a lifestyle choice.
Schizophrenics aren’t stupid for having hallucinations. People with depression aren’t stupid for being sad. In short, mental health challenges don’t reflect the intelligence or character of the person.
Listen to the full episode of the Nitty Gritty Committee podcast here
Sure, the eating disorder itself is stupid. The lies it tells your loved one about their self-worth are stupid. But hate the perpetrator, not the sufferer. In fact, if someone confides in you about their eating disorder, it could be useful to separate the eating disorder from the person and express that you think the eating disorder’s beliefs are dead wrong and are sorry that the sufferer has to hear them all day. (Post continues after gallery.)