Do you know someone with an eating disorder or maybe suspect that they may be struggling? Do you want to help them but just don’t know what to say? Perhaps you notice they’re skipping meals, picking at their food, or following extreme and unhealthy diets. How do you go about expressing your concerns without offending them or pushing them away? Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches offers eating disorder support and other mental health treatments for people with eating disorders. We know how delicate this topic can be, but these conversations are often necessary to encourage the person to get help. We’re sharing what not to say to someone with an eating disorder so you can be as kind, honest, and understanding when reaching out to your loved one.
Worst Things to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder
An eating disorder is any range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Common types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder. These are complex conditions that are often deep-rooted in psychological problems. They can affect anyone regardless of their background and are often unnoticeable because many people suffer in silence. Talking to someone with an eating disorder can be tough because you have so many odds stacked against you. Factors like the person’s secrecy, their denial about the problem, and the deep-rooted symptoms of their condition can make reaching out difficult. Below are some tips on how not to talk to someone with an eating disorder that can make it easier for you to be loving, honest, and gentle when speaking to your loved one.
Don’t Assume You Know How They Feel
Unless you’re also struggling with an eating disorder, you do not know how they feel. And even if you are dealing with the same or a different eating disorder, everyone is different. People have their own thoughts and feelings, and assuming that you know their situation isn’t helpful. Presuming you can understand what the person’s going through actually comes across as being dismissive. Instead of trying to relate to them, be honest about your cluelessness. You can say, “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.” That alone can give them a sense of peace.
Avoid Threats and Ultimatums
Families often try different approaches out of fear and desperation. Concerned parents may threaten to take their child’s cell phone away or forcing therapy appointments if they don’t eat. Although their intentions are good, this is a hurtful and horrible way to go about it. Responding to an eating disorder from a place of frustration can result in threats, ultimatums, and hurtful words. These harmful attempts to help people with eating disorders often tend to backfire. Instead, support your loved ones by setting limits from a loving place, collaborating with them on different ways to respond, and listening to them.
“Why Can’t You Just Eat?”
Asking someone with an eating disorder, “Why can’t you just eat?” is like asking someone with depression, “Why can’t you just be happy?” It’s important to understand that eating disorders are psychological conditions that are tied to deeper problems. This person isn’t trying to upset people on purpose. They’re just struggling. This condition isn’t a phase or an act of rebellion. It is a serious disorder that requires treatment. To outside observers, however, this can be difficult to understand. You may wonder, “Why do you choose to be hungry all the time?” or “Why do you choose to eat like this?” Observers tend to oversimplify eating disorders and recovery rather than attempting to understand their symptoms. Instead, educate yourself on the eating disorder your loved one has and its symptoms so you can learn appropriate ways to respond.
Don’t Assume Anyone is Immune
Many people assume that people can’t have eating disorders because of things like gender or age. In reality, eating disorders can happen to anyone. Statements like “But you’re too old to worry about your looks.” and “But you’re a man, how can you have an eating disorder?” can negatively impact a person’s recovery. Similar to assuming you know how they feel, assuming they’re possibly lying about or exaggerating their symptoms is also dismissive and can make them feel as if you don’t care. For someone with an eating disorder, discussing their condition can be difficult and intimidating. When they’re met with rejection, criticism, and denial, you may significantly reduce their chances of reaching out for help again. Listen to their struggles and try to get them help. Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches offers binge eating disorder treatment in addition to other mental health treatments that can help your loved one.
“But You Look Fine!”
For starters, every eating disorder is different and can cause diverse side effects. There’s a lot of stereotypes about eating disorders, one of them being that people with this condition are super thin. Not only is it inaccurate to fuel these stereotypes, but it’s also hurtful to point out the person’s physical appearance. Commenting that they look great because they’re “thin” or not great because they’re “fat” perpetuates the belief that one is better than the other. You can’t tell anything about a person’s health just by looking at them. Avoid any comments regarding physical appearance when speaking to a person with an eating disorder. Insecurities and psychological factors tied to physical appearance are often the roots of these disorders, so pointing them out is harmful.
“Why Don’t You Go On A Diet?”
Perhaps you’ve noticed that your loved one is binging on sugary or carb-heavy foods. The root of binging is the restriction, meaning it’s their body’s way of surviving. Suggesting they eliminate their intake of certain foods or telling them to go on a diet may only make them feel guiltier or more self-conscious about their eating habits. A strict or extreme diet is one of the most common signs of an eating disorder, so suggesting more rules and restrictions regarding food may only feed into their disease.
Additionally, you can learn what not to say to someone with an eating disorder by educating yourself on their condition. Learn more about the underlying causes of their illness and gently encourage them to seek help.
If you’re trying to help your loved one recover from their eating disorder, call our drug and alcohol treatment center in Palm Beach now at 561-220-3981 to learn how our mental health programs can help.