It can be incredibly difficult to know how to speak to and support someone in your life struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder. While there is no one way to show up for your loved one, we have compiled some dos and don’ts when it comes to the language to use with discussing these sensitive topics.
Things to avoid saying to someone who has an eating disorder:
Why don’t you just start eating more?
This can be triggering and can feel like blaming. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t require professional help for treatment.
Why don’t you just start eating less?
Ditto the response to the previous question.
You look great, did you gain/lose weight? Or you look healthy.
While the first question in the above line might be a more obvious poor choice, for someone who has an eating disorder, any comment about appearance can be triggering. Part of what they are healing is their relationship with food, exercise, and their body. Focus on appearance doesn’t help in that process.
I wish I had your self-control.
This comes across as complimenting the person’s illness as well as minimizing its severity.
Lastly, diet talk, in general, is unhelpful.
Instead, here are some things you can say or do:
I know you are going through a difficult time. I am proud of you.
Acknowledge that recovery isn’t easy and that they are taking positive steps towards recovery.
You are worth more than your eating disorder.
Let the person know that their illness doesn’t define them.
Hey, let’s do ___ together!
Give your loved one the gift of a positive (even “normal”) experience. This can get their mind off of things.
I might not understand exactly what you’re going through, but if you need someone to talk to, I will help as much as I can.
While we can never fully understand what someone else is going through, we can give them our time and attention by listening.
Let your loved one know they are loved. There’s not really anything to top that, and you can never say it too much. Remind them that they are not alone and that you aren’t going anywhere.
Our team of eating disorder specialists can help you and your loved one to begin a healing journey. Contact us to book an appointment today.
If you think a loved one may have an eating disorder:
If you think a student or athlete may have an eating disorder: