Eating disorders, encompassing conditions like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, are complex mental health issues rooted in myriad causes and triggering factors.
They’re not merely about food or weight but often involve self-perception, control, and deeper emotional struggles.
In our quest for understanding, we’ve curated a guide titled “What Not to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder”, aiming to help readers navigate conversations with sensitivity and care.
15 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder:
“You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
Explanation: This comment perpetuates the dangerous idea that only certain body types are associated with eating disorders. Moreover, it might make the person feel that their struggles aren’t valid unless they meet specific visual criteria, potentially worsening their condition.
“Just eat normally!”
Explanation: If it were that simple, no one would suffer from these disorders. Telling someone to “just eat” minimizes the profound psychological, emotional, and sometimes physiological challenges they face daily.
“Are you doing this for attention?”
Explanation: Such a statement invalidates the seriousness of their condition, suggesting it’s a fleeting whim rather than a deep-rooted mental health issue. This could make them feel more isolated and misunderstood.
“You were so much prettier before.” or “You looked better when…”
Explanation: This remark implies that their worth is tied to appearance. Instead of helping, it could compound feelings of self-worthlessness or motivate further destructive behavior to achieve a ‘desired’ look.
“I wish I had the willpower to starve myself.”
Explanation: Glorifying or envying aspects of an eating disorder is harmful. It misrepresents a debilitating condition as something to aspire to, which can confuse and harm someone trying to recover.
“Why can’t you just stop?”
Explanation: Eating disorders aren’t mere choices or habits. This comment lacks empathy and paints the individual as weak-willed rather than someone grappling with a serious condition.
“You’re setting a bad example.”
Explanation: Guilt-tripping can exacerbate feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. It’s essential to approach with understanding instead of laying blame.
“I’ve tried dieting too; it’s hard.”
Explanation: Equating personal dieting experiences to an eating disorder diminishes its gravity. It’s essential to recognize the chasm of difference between choosing to diet and being entrapped by an eating disorder.
“You’re just too picky with food.”
Explanation: Reframing an eating disorder as a mere quirk or preference invalidates the internal turmoil and struggle they face daily.
“Men/Women don’t like bones/skinny/fat.”
Explanation: Anchoring their recovery or self-worth to societal or potential partner preferences is harmful. Their recovery should be about personal well-being, not societal standards.
“Can’t you see what you’re doing to yourself?”
Explanation: Many individuals with eating disorders are acutely aware of their situation but feel trapped. Highlighting their condition in accusatory tones can increase feelings of guilt and despair.
“It’s just a phase.”
Explanation: Dismissing it as a fleeting period in their life denies the person the acknowledgment and support they need. It’s vital to treat their concerns seriously.
“I know how you feel; I overeat sometimes too.”
Explanation: Equating occasional overeating or diet struggles with a clinical eating disorder oversimplifies their condition. Everyone’s experience is unique, and it’s crucial to acknowledge their feelings instead of comparing.
“Are you cured now?”
Explanation: Recovery from an eating disorder is a journey. Using terms like “cured” implies a finality that may not resonate with their experience, pressuring them to feel or present as fully healed.
“You need to take better care of yourself.”
Explanation: This statement, while often well-intentioned, can come off as patronizing. They might perceive it as criticism rather than care, which could hinder open communication.
Why Someone with an Eating Disorder Might Be Sensitive to What You Say to Them
Individuals with eating disorders can be particularly sensitive to comments and observations, and this sensitivity stems from various psychological, emotional, and societal factors:
Deep-seated Emotional Struggles: At the heart of many eating disorders lie profound emotional and psychological struggles. Issues related to self-worth, control, trauma, or perfectionism often manifest through the relationship with food. As a result, comments that might seem casual to others can act as sharp triggers, magnifying their internal turmoil.
Body Dysmorphia: Many individuals with eating disorders also struggle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), meaning they perceive their bodies differently than they appear in reality. Remarks about their body or weight can reinforce or challenge these distorted perceptions, causing distress.
Cultural and Societal Pressures: We live in a society that often places high emphasis on appearance, with relentless standards of beauty and thinness. People with eating disorders are already hyper-aware and often critical of how they don’t “measure up” to these standards. Even seemingly innocent comments can be reminders of this perceived “failure.”
Fear of Judgment: Those with eating disorders often feel isolated and misunderstood. They may be continually anxious about being judged or stigmatized. Comments, even if well-intentioned, can be interpreted as confirmations of their worst fears.
Internalization: Over time, individuals with eating disorders might internalize negative beliefs about themselves. When someone comments on their behavior, appearance, or eating habits, it can be perceived as an external validation of their internal negative self-view.
Guilt and Shame: Many individuals with eating disorders grapple with feelings of guilt and shame about their condition. Comments that touch on their eating habits, weight, or appearance can exacerbate these feelings, making recovery even more challenging.
Defensiveness: As with many mental health conditions, those suffering from eating disorders might be in denial or defensive about their situation. Comments or questions about their health or eating habits can be seen as confrontational, leading to heightened sensitivity.
Complex Relationship with Food: Food isn’t just nourishment for individuals with eating disorders; it’s a complex symbol of control, comfort, punishment, or myriad other things. Comments that touch on their eating habits or preferences can open up a Pandora’s box of emotions and struggles.
People with eating disorders aren’t just battling with food; they’re confronting intricate psychological challenges.
Our words carry weight, especially with someone in such a vulnerable position.
Let’s strive to understand, to be compassionate, and to support—always reminding ourselves that healing is as much about the mind and soul as it is about the body.
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash
I’m a MA, (CMT) Certified Massage Therapist, Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), and Reiki Master — I’m a licensed massage therapist with over 10 years of experience in the industry.