Tag Archives: Mental health awareness

What NOT to say to someone with an eating disorder

When you have a friend or family member who either has an active eating disorder or is in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s important to be mindful and respectful of what you say to avoid triggering your loved one into disordered and harmful behaviors. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, so flippant talk around food, body, and dieting reinforces distorted beliefs your loved one may have about his/her own body and food habits, thus spiraling them further into their disorder and/or making their road to recovery far more difficult that it already is.

Not to mention you need to be kind and gracious to yourself. Negative and judgmental comments around your own food and body beliefs can have harsh effects on your own mental health and sense of well being.

Unfortunately, much of the harmful talk we hear or speak around food and body value is so normal in our culture, we often don’t realize we’re being hurtful or dangerous. The following list of comments is not an exhaustive list of the commentary that is harmful to both you and your loved one, but these are the most common phrases of which to be aware (and that I hear and/or have had spoken to me).

DIET TALK

  • “You should try ___________ diet.”
  • “I’ve been on __________ diet and feel so much healthier.”
  • “I am so much healthier since being on _______ diet.”
  • “I need to go back on _________ diet.”
  • “I can’t eat that because I am on __________ diet.”
  • “I am trying this new _________ plan. My friend/daughter/mom/husband/coworker has had great results!”
  • “I’ve lost so much weight on this ______ diet. I feel great!”
  • “I’ve heard _______ diet is so great. You want to do it with me?”
  • “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle change.”
  • “This is more of a wellness plan. Not a diet.”
  • “My office is doing a weight loss challenge; we’re on day ______.”
  • “I’m on day ____ of _____ diet. I feel_______.”
  • “What diet are you on? You look great!”
  • “Let’s do _______ together and then compare. We can hold each other accountable.”

BODY IMAGE TALK

  • “I feel fat.”
  • “I am so fat.”
  • “Ugh. My _______ is/are so fat.”
  • “I’ve gained ________ pounds.”
  • “I’ve lost _________ pounds.”
  • “I didn’t lose weight but I lost inches.”
  • “I hate how these pants/ this shirt looks on me.”
  • ” I hate my __________.”
  • “You want to look through my clothes? I’ve lost so much weight I don’t fit into them anymore.”
  • “You are so skinny. I hate you.”
  • “Those pants are so slimming.”
  • “This color camouflages my rolls.”
  • “I can’t wear______. They make me look fat.”
  • “Have you lost weight? You look amazing!”
  • “How do you stay so fit/thin?”
  • “I just read an article that says if you exercise ________ per day/times per week you lose ______ pounds!”
  • “I don’t want to lose weight but maybe just tone/tighten up a bit.”

FOOD TALK

  • “This is so bad for me/you.”
  • “You should try ________. It is so good for you!”
  • “This has like _________ calories. I am so bad.”
  • “I’m going to need to work this off at the gym later.”
  • “This doesn’t fit with my _______ diet/plan, but I’m just going to cheat.”
  • “This is so unhealthy, but I don’t care.”
  • “This is so much healthier than ______.”
  • “Today is my cheat day!”
  • “I am such a _______ addict. I have no self-control around __________.”
  • “I haven’t eaten this in so long, I’m just going to indulge.”
  • “I’m going to be good.”
  • “I’ve been so good all week, I deserve this treat.”
  • “Ugh. I can’t eat that. I’ve been so bad lately.”
  • “I am going to have the ______, but without the ______ so it’s healthier.”
  • “Well it’s not the healthiest choice, but….”
  • “Did you know _______ is so bad? Studies have shown.”
  • “Are you going to eat all of that?”
  • “Is that all you’re going to eat?”
  • “I just ate _______ servings. I am such a cow.”
  • “I already had my amount for the day.”
  • “I read an article that said you should eat ________.

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When in doubt about whether or not to say something, here’s a little tool I learned from my son: THINK

T: Is it THOUGHTFUL?
H: Is it HELPFUL?
I: Is it INSPIRING?
N: Is it NECESSARY? (This is the most important one to consider.)
K: Is it KIND (to both yourself and your loved one)?

What are some other comments you’ve either heard or said that might be better left unsaid?

The most important thing to know about eating disorders

One thing you should know about eating disorders is that there’s more than one thing to know, because eating disorders are multi-dimensional mental illnesses. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week  I want to give you my top three things that are important to understand about eating disorders, whether you have one, think you might have one, or have a friend/family member who is struggling with one.

1) Eating disorders have no single cause. Eating disorders are biological, psychological, physiological, social and familial, which means experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors that start/happen in any of these areas will be exacerbated and distorted by experiences, beliefs, trauma, and behaviors in the other areas.

For example, I grew up in a household with emotional and mental trauma (familial, psychological); experienced bullying in school and had an abusive romantic-relationship (social & psychological); believed I was slow, ugly, and stupid (psychological); had disordered eating habits/behaviors that threw off both my metabolism and ability to read my body cues properly (biological and physiological); and struggled with anxiety and depression (familial, psychological, physiological)

So, if anyone has ever asked you “Why do you have an eating disorder?” or you’ve asked yourself, “Why does my loved one have an eating disorder?”–there are many reasons!

2)   Eating disorders don’t make sense to those who don’t have one. There is nothing logical about starving yourself (anorexia), eating more than your body can handle (binge eating disorder), throwing up after you eat (bulimia nervosa), or eating a strictly righteous “healthy only” diet (orthorexia nervosa). It’s important to understand that all of these eating disorders have nothing to do with the food itself or even the symptoms of the disorders. Eating disorders are diagnosed by the compulsive behaviors and thought patterns that stem from distorted beliefs about the body and food and overall self. You can’t attach logic or use logic to solve or change behaviors that are rooted in distorted beliefs. The beliefs have to change before the behaviors will, and that takes professional help!

If you’ve ever said to yourself or to a loved one “Just eat” or “Just stop binging” or “Just stop throwing up,” please understand that no one with an eating disorder can “just” do or not do anything. It would be like the brakes in your car failing and your passenger telling you to “just stop.” You can’t because the brakes are broken. With eating disorders, the brain is broken; eating disorders are mental illnesses.

3). Eating disorder recovery is 100% possible! Recovery takes professional help with a team of specialists who deeply understand the nature of eating disorders, who know how to properly care for the physical damage done by the disorder, and who are extensively sensitive to the mental misfires that are happening in the brain.

There are different schools of thought on whether or not eating disorders can be completely healed or if you simply remain in recovery your whole life, similar to that of an alcoholic. I can say from personal experience that my body is completely healed from the damage done by anorexia; however, my brain is still recovery and may always be because the mental paths worn by the eating disorder for 13 years are deep and automatic, especially when I am stressed, sad, disappointed, or even just tired. My healthy voice (healthy beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors learned in recovery) take effort when the eating disorder is loud. But most days my healthy-self is intuitive and strong.

Last but not least–

If you think you might have an eating disorder or want to seek help for a loved one you can call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline: 1(800) 931-2237 or they have an online chat option.

You can also visit my Resources page for some helpful places to get started.