For family and friends: What NOT to say to a person with an Eating Disorder
Supporting someone with an Eating Disorder can be difficult and frustrating, because it’s very difficult to watch someone you love hurting themselves. Eating comes so naturally to most of us so it is hard to understand why anyone would not eat or overeat or throw their food up after eating. An Eating Disorder consumes the sufferers every thought therefore preventing them from thinking about the real issues and concerns in their life. An Eating Disorder is never about the food!
People who don’t know or understand eating disorders are often uncertain what to say and can sometimes say things that are very hurtful without knowing they are doing it. Below are some tips on what not to say;
Don't comment on the person's food. If your child is eating in front of you that is a sign of immense courage! Eating in front of people is one of the biggest fears a person with an eating disorder can face. To say anything, negative OR positive, about the person’s food can confirm their fear that everyone is watching them. This is HIGHLY triggering and damaging. If you’re eating with them, talk about something besides food!
Don't plead with/threaten/guilt the person into eating. Again, EDs are NOT about food and weight. To plead with, threaten or guilt the person only makes them feel worse and increases reliance on eating behaviors. This is hard to do, but you have to let the ED person recover in their own time. Be supportive and loving and show that you care.
Don't comment on the person's weight/appearance. This one should be obvious, but even well intentioned people have a tendency to say things like, “oh, you look so much healthier now!” For a person with an eating disorder, “healthy” means “fat.” The person needs to learn to focus on the much larger world beyond food and weight, and being reminded of their appearance is highly detrimental to that. Instead of talking about weight, ask your child how they feel.
Don't talk about food being "Healthy " or Unhealthy" There is no such thing as “healthy” or “unhealthy” food— it’s all about balance. Criticizing your child, or yourself, for eating something “unhealthy” only reinforces the person’s black and white thinking about food. Sufferers will usually have a list of “safe” foods; they need help moving beyond that into accepting and feeling safe with ALL food. Calling something “unhealthy” will make that food dangerous and scary, which is highly triggering. As a matter of fact, DON’T TALK ABOUT FOOD. There’s a whole wide world out there, pick something more important to discuss!