Maybe you’ve found yourself in this position before: a friend or loved one is struggling with an eating disorder or addiction and you try to talk with him or her about what they need to do to get better. You get frustrated when those things don’t happen and in your mind you ask, “How in the world can this person not see this?” You try yet again to talk with the person, hoping that this time will be the kicker and he or she will finally “get it,” begin creating change, and life will move on in a more effective, healthy way!
Truth is…sometimes the things we say to loved ones who are struggling with eating disorders or addictions are precisely the things these individuals can interpret in ways that keep themselves sick. How? Well, for each person it’s different, but particularly for those with eating disorders, control is often central to the maintenance of the disorders and if someone perceives that control as being stripped away, enter in more ineffective behaviors! Now, that’s not to say that those behaviors are the fault of the person trying to help. They’re not! You’re not to blame for how anyone interprets what you say to them.
As it relates to eating disorders, I’m frequently asked by parents or friends of someone who is struggling, “What should I say to my daughter/son?” “What should I not say to my friend?” For this reason, I wanted to outline some key statements/questions that can be helpful and not so helpful to say when a loved one has an eating disorder. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, nor is it a list that holds truth for everyone because, again, each person is different.
10 Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Just eat!”
- “You’re not fat, you’re crazy!”
- “How do you stay so small?”
- “You eat and aren’t underweight so you can’t have an eating disorder.”
- “Oh, you should see so-and-so, their eating disorder is really bad.”
- “You look good!” (In fact, any comment about weight, appearance, etc. is not a good idea. And beware…sometimes those with EDs will fish for such comments, “Do you think I’ve gained weight?”)
- “You’re being so selfish/You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
- “I will make you eat!”
- “You have to get better right now.”
- “What in the world are you eating?”
On the flip side, there are helpful statements as well…
10 Supportive Statements/Questions:
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “Is there anything you need from me?”
- “I’m concerned about your health.”
- “I can sit with you while you eat.”
- “While I can’t see you as fat, I hear you and respect that that’s what you see.”
- “I’ll support you as you recover.” (Note that you can certainly set boundaries with someone behaving in ways that aren’t conducive to a healthy relationship/friendship: “I need to step away from this situation for awhile in order to take care of myself.”)
- “I love you, care about you, and it’s difficult for me to see you struggle.”
- “Would you like to go somewhere/do something that doesn’t involve food or eating?” (Of course, not if it’s dinner time).
- “Can I help you find help?”
- “I remember when we used to…”
For more information, visit the National Eating Disorders Association. If you are in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area and are seeking help for yourself or a loved one struggling with an eating disorder, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.