When you love someone who has an eating disorder, it can be a tricky thing to know how to talk about it in a productive way. Have you ever been taken aback when spoke to a person with an eating disorder and they took it in the wrong way? Have you ever been confused when your genuinely well-meaning comments to a family member or friend just didn’t work? It’s hard to know exactly how to approach the conversation about eating disorders when you don’t have one. It’s hard to relate to what that person is going through or why they are making the eating choices they’re making. However, what IS possible is to gain an understanding of the things that do and don’t work when it comes to having productive conversations with a loved one around this topic. Here are three things our eating disorder residential program recommends that you DON’T say.
1. Why don’t you just eat more?
This is not a question that the person with an eating disorder is going to be able to answer. An eating disorder is a complex and many-layered thing. If it could be solved by “just eating more,” then no one would need treatment. But the fact is, people often do need treatment, counsel, and loving support in order to recover from their eating disorder. It can be a long road, and it can require a lot of patience, persistence, and support. Here at Canopy Cove, we do believe that full recovery is possible from eating disorders.
Better: Ask open-ended questions and make a safe space for your loved one to answer without judgment.
2. Wow, you’re looking so thin!
The last thing you want to do to someone with an eating disorder is to compliment them on the weight-loss achievements they’ve made. This can reinforce the eating disorder and make them more fully entrenched in the eating disorder mindset that they’ve gotten into. Especially when someone has begun to make strides to recognize that they don’t want to have this eating disorder anymore, a comment like this can cause them to have a setback. An unhealthy obsession with thinness is one of the things that contributes to the longevity of an eating disorder, and as a good friend, parent, or loved one, you don’t want to do that. Furthermore, since you never know who might be secretly struggling with an eating disorder, it’s best to simply avoid making compliments oriented around a person’s weight.
Better: Compliment a person on their character, not on their physical appearance.
3. Hey, it looks like you’ve gained weight.
When a person is recovering from an eating disorder, their digestive system can be all mixed up, causing unpredictable weight fluctuations. If someone comments on the fact that the person has gained weight, this can be devastating to them, since they’re probably still struggling to gain a healthy perspective on how much their body should weigh. This comment can be a well-meaning attempt to compliment a person for making progress on moving away from their eating disorder, but it’s almost guaranteed to be counter-productive.
Better: Praise a person for making hard choices and sticking to them.
We hope this has been helpful. If you have a friend or a family member who needs treatment for an eating disorder, Canopy Cove is the place to go! Find out more about our program when you contact us online or call (888) 245-6555.