Eating disorders can be a very tricky topic of discussion to approach. Especially if one has never had personal experience with an eating disorder, knowing what to say, how to bring it up or how to give advice can be overwhelming. However, it’s important to be open to the discussion of eating disorders for a number of reasons – open conversation can help educate people who misunderstand the illness, it can encourage those struggling to seek help and it can offer support to those who need it most.
First and foremost, learn
Before diving headfirst into a discussion regarding eating disorders, it’s important to first learn about them. Take the time to understand their classification as a mental illness, the truth that no one actively chooses an eating disorder as a way of life and where an eating disorder comes from. When you know more about the disorder, you can more easily talk about it in an educated, compassionate way. Therefore, you’re less likely to say the wrong thing or accidentally offend, or trigger certain behaviors through statements or questions.
Additionally, eating disorders are different for everyone. People might stereotypically jump to the conclusion that an eating disorder is anorexia, and while it’s true anorexia is a common eating disorder, it’s not the only one. Learning about the differences between anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, ARFID and OSFED, as well as keeping in mind each individual’s unique experience and story can help you keep an open mind and can prevent damaging stereotyping.
What not to say
All things considered, no matter what the case is, there are certain things which should not be said when talking to someone about an eating disorder. Some things to avoid include:
- Commenting on a large amount of food suddenly vanishing – If your roommate, partner, child, sibling, etc. struggles with binge-eating or bulimia, you might notice large amounts of food disappearing suddenly or randomly. If you know they struggle with said disorder, keep comments like “Where’d all that go?” to yourself. You know where it went and making passive aggressive comments can make them feel even more guilt.
- Telling them to just eat something – It might seem simple in your mind to just make food and eat it, but to someone in the midst of a battle with anorexia, it’s not that simple. Odds are, eating brings about deep feelings of guilt or shame, and so encouraging eating like it’s no big deal might drive those emotions deeper still.
- Remarking on weight – It doesn’t matter if you comment on weight loss or weight gain, if it’s a remark on someone’s physical appearance, it’s best left unsaid even if it comes from a good place. For some individuals, praising weight loss actually encourages self-destructive practices.
- Verbalizing your frustration – No one asks to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Even if one has yet to be formally diagnosed, eating disorder behaviors are enough to move anyone into feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and straight up scared. If you’re frustrated that a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, you may be very justified in your emotions, but talk to someone else about it, not to the one battling the disorder.
While eating disorders are a touchy topic, they need not be a taboo one. In fact, allowing an environment for open, judgement-free and honest conversation about it can be a valuable asset towards seeking treatment and finding lasting recovery and healing.
What to say
So, what can you say to someone with an eating disorder? How do you promote that environment of openness and compassion? Believe it or not, there are quite a few things you can say:
- “Is there a triggering kind of food that we shouldn’t have in the house?”
- “How can I support you through this? What can I do to help?”
- “Would you be open to going to talk with someone about this with me?”
- “I’ve noticed that you’ve been absent from meal(s) this week? Do you want to talk about it?” *Using first-person language or “I noticed” statements can effectively prevent the other from becoming defensive.*
- “Do you want to go for a walk? We don’t have to talk, I just want to be with you.”
- “You seem more stressed than normal. Are you okay?”
- “Is there something on your mind you want to talk about?”
- “I want to show you support – what do you need?”
- “I love you no matter what, and know this is probably a really frustrating and scary time, but I’m here if you need anything.”
As long as everything you say and do comes from a place of love, whether or not it’s a place of fully understanding, you can be extremely helpful just through verbalizing your love and support.
Reach out for additional resources
Seeds of Hope knows that not everyone’s experience with eating disorders are the same. Whether you are battling one yourself, or are trying to be an effective support system for a loved one, there are resources and people to help. Contact Seeds of Hope for more information today at 610-644-6464.