10 Things You Should Rather Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder
10 things you should rather say to someone with an eating disorder
I received a few requests after sharing my article, 10 Things You Shouldn’t Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder, to comment on what we should rather say to people who are in recovery from an eating disorder - or any addiction for that matter. I spent some time reminiscing about the comments, made to me by friends and family that stood out and have given me hope to continue walking towards recovery .
For those who have never experienced an eating disorder, it can be tricky to navigate what is ok to say and what is triggering. Sometimes an innocent statement can be damaging to one’s recovery, while other comments that may seem small and inconsequential can have resounding and powerful ripples on one’s psyche.
Recovery from anorexia, orthorexia, binge eating, bulimia and addiction is different for everyone, and what resonates with one person may not impact on another. However, I wish to share some comments that truly helped and supported me on my path to recovery. Only through a deeper understanding can we bring compassion. I hope this simple list provides some insight into what can light up someone’s world.
“I acknowledge your suffering and am sorry for your pain.”
This comment is better than saying, “I know what it feels like - I went on a crazy diet once.” If you have never experienced an eating disorder, you don’t know what it feels like. People experience consuming, obsessive thoughts, exhausting rules and rituals, anxiety, fatigue, starvation, isolation, extremely low self-worth, depression and a disinterest in pursuing dreams and passions. Rather acknowledge the person’s pain just as it is rather than trying to relate to it or even offer advice like “All you have to do is eat more!”
“You are capable.”
When we’re in a state of contraction and fear, we forget our inherent power and capacity for transformation. When I was living small, literally and spiritually, my self worth was rock bottom. The thought that I could do anything great wasn’t even a consideration anymore. This a reminder of that internal force that can be used for good and for healing, and gives us a nudge towards a sense of empowerment.
“What do you want to achieve in life?”
Sometimes we need to get out of our heads and to stop thinking small. While it may seem like our entire lives revolve around food and our bodies, a thought like this gives us a moment to think big and see the perspective of our lives. Too often, our dreams have been engulfed by the preoccupation of our eating disorder.
I love your laugh.”
This comment always used to touch me. When I was really deep in my eating disorder and incredibly sad and dull, those moments of joy and laughter were rare. In the same way that I wasn’t giving myself pleasure through food and nourishment, I couldn’t give myself pleasure through simply laughing.
I believed that I could only attain joy through suffering.
I sometimes didn’t feel I had the permission to be happy or that I didn’t deserve to feel joy, so when someone pointed out my laugh, it reminded me of my forgotten light and was a comforting moment that I was allowed to have fun. Laughter is what brings us together and lights up our internal world. It’s so important for one’s healing. Encourage your loved ones in recovery to do more of it.
“It would be so nice to have you join us.”
I am so grateful for those people who stuck by me through thick and thin. Even when I was moody and anxious, my friends would still invite me out. It may be a drag to invite your friend or family member out or to a gathering but it’s important that they still have human connection. Sometimes I had to be forced out; it was much easier to stay at home and mope around, but being out the house allowed me to get out of my head and enjoy myself. Having a supportive network saved me.
“I am here for you through thick and thin.”
Even if you don’t know how you will be there for your loved one, those five words can mean everything. You will know how to be there for them when the time comes. Expressing your unconditional love and support is one of the kindest gestures you can give regardless of where the person is on their recovery path. Depending on your relationship with person, you may have to set boundaries. If you don’t feel like you can be there for them, that’s ok. Maybe later down the line you can. Talking to a therapist for assistance on how to word this in a loving and constructive way may be helpful.
“What does your soul say is important to you?”
Again, this is one of those big picture thinking questions. It immediately takes the eating disorder out of the picture because the eating disorder is not part of the soul. An eating disorder is a learned coping mechanism - that can be unlearned too. The person in recovery may not be able to answer it at first. When one’s life is clouded by limiting beliefs and obsessive thoughts around food, exercise and body, trying to get to the soul’s calling may not be accessible. If an answer doesn’t come, I wouldn’t recommend pushing for an answer. Perhaps suggest they journal about it or relook it at a later stage. Maybe in a few weeks or months you can bring it up again if the moment calls for it.
“I know you don’t want this, and I don’t hold you personally responsible.”
I didn’t choose to have an eating disorder. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start restricting and turning my life into a misery. It was a slow burn with things getting worse over time. I felt guilty and ashamed for the pain I caused my parents and for the money they spent when sending me into a clinic despite them never showing any resentment towards me. It is helpful to explicitly reaffirm that as a parent or friend, you don’t blame the person in recovery for their struggles or relapse. Empathy. Important.
“What’s the best way for me to support you right now?”
Everyone experiences addiction and their eating disorder journey differently and as such it’s a good idea to ask what the person needs instead of assuming. It may be emotional support such expressing encouraging or simply listening. It may be practical like attending a group therapy session with them or supervising a meal.
“If only you could see yourself the way I can.”
I have been told this a few times in my life and each time it impacts me deeply. I want to know: “What do you see?! Tell me!” Of course even they did tell me, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. If we can’t see it, we can’t see it. However, a comment like this reminds us to look deeper within, to trust more, to live more courageously and authentically, to express, and to expand without fear. This comment has saved me many times. Say it often.
Ultimately you are not responsible for other people’s wellness and their recovery. At the end of the day, it is up to a person to actively chose recovery and to make use of the professional support offered by therapists, groups and dietitians. Just as you cannot blame the person for their eating disorder, you can’t condemn yourself either. Lastly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If things are feeling a bit overwhelming consider reaching out for professional help, like talking to a counselor who specializes in eating disorders and addiction. It may feel like you are alone in this but there are many people who are willing to help.
For more information on eating disorders, please check out the following links:
For a reflection on what it feels like to have an eating disorder, read What Recovery Feels Like.
To gain an understanding on what it sounds like inside a head of someone with an ED, read This Is My Eating Disorder Speaking.
For tips on how to overcome an eating disorder, check out 31 Tips On Overcoming An Eating Disorder.
To understand what an eating disorder relapse feels like, read Falling Into Relapse And Getting Out.