It’s hard to know the right thing to say to your loved one in treatment for an eating disorder. These are some examples of what we often hear from our clients that are unhelpful and some ideas on how to be more supportive.
- You didn’t eat much today. Are you even trying?
Eating disorders aren’t about food. Don’t comment on what a person is or isn’t eating as that just brings up feelings of anxiety and may trigger more eating disorder behaviors.
Try “I’m concerned about you,” and try to get them to talk about how they’re feeling. Listen without judgment and offer to help in any way you can.
- Have you lost more weight? You look like a cancer patient.
You may think your question shows concern, but it too stirs up anxiety and negative behaviors. Don’t focus on appearance. Ask them about their life and see what’s going on. Show them you care about them without drawing attention to food or body image.
- You just need to eat more. Why is that so hard?
It may seem like this is a simple solution, just like “stop over-exercising” or “stop binge eating.” But this is a mental illness. It would be like telling someone with depression to “just look on the bright side!”
- It’s your favorite food! Why won’t you just take a bite?
This kind of comment makes someone feel guilty, and probably makes the eating disorder voice louder in the sufferer’s head.
Try: “Can you remember the tips your therapist suggested?”
- Don’t you care that you’re hurting yourself? Don’t you see you’re hurting me too?
A better approach than blaming your loved one for their struggles is to offer empathy.
Try: “I really care about you. Is there anything I can do?”
- That food is so fattening. Have you considered being vegan or going on a Keto diet?
Those who struggle with binge eating will often use high fat and high sugar foods, which increases their sense of shame about the behavior. Anorexic clients typically consider those food “forbidden” as well. Food is not good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.
Try: avoiding discussions about food, calories, and weight. If you talk about food, it’s okay to say, “That sure was yummy.”
- “I wish I could lose weight like you,” or “I wish I was just a little bit anorexic.”
People with eating disorders aren’t making lifestyle choices; they’re struggling with illnesses.
Try: “I support everything you’re doing to recover.”
- You must think I’m really overweight!
The eating disorder isn’t about you. It’s about how the sufferer feels unlovable and unworthy themselves. Talk about what makes you proud of people.
Try: “I’m so moved by your piano playing!” or “You made me feel so loved today!”
- You don’t look like someone with an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders or age.
Try: “How can I help you?” or “Can you try to help me understand what thoughts and feelings you’re having?”
- You look so much better.
It sounds like a motivating compliment, but for the person with an eating disorder it may trigger negative thoughts about their body like, “You’ve gained weight!”
Try: “It’s great to see you!” or “I missed you so much!”
If you or someone you love needs help navigating the path toward recovery, please contact us at 877-674-2843 or firstname.lastname@example.org.