Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are among the most common mental health disorders. By a conservative estimate, as many as 20 million people in the United States alone will experience an eating disorder. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races and ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. The chances are, if you’re reading this, you know someone who’s either in or needs eating disorder treatment.
Most people want to be helpful and supportive of their family member or friend. However, even those with the best of intentions should be careful about what they say to people struggling with eating disorders. Insensitive statements can perpetuate myths about people is in eating disorder recovery that can worsen their self-image or even exacerbate the disorder. Here is a list of the most common things that you should try to avoid saying to someone who is getting help from an eating disorder facility.
1. Eww, That’s Gross!
If a friend or loved one opens up about having binge eating episodes, self-induced vomiting or using laxatives, a person might offhandedly make a comment about they could never do that. The problem is that the person with an eating disorder usually feels enough shame and guilt about their behavior, and making fun of it when they are being so open and vulnerable. They already feel like they can’t control it – telling them that it is gross won’t help them stop. Insensitive comments like this may even compound the issue, making it less likely that the person will open up about their eating disorder to others. Open communication is key to specialized eating disorder treatment.
2. You Look Great!
A person who makes this comment is usually trying to be helpful, trying to provide positive encouragement to their loved one now that they are in eating disorder treatment. However, distorted self-perception is a part of most east eating disorders, meaning that how that person sees themselves might be overly critical or not reflective of reality. To a person who is in eating disorder recovery, what someone else considers to be “great” might mean something else entirely to them. When someone you know has been to an eating disorder facility, it’s best to pay attention to the cues they give you about their feelings on their weight, appearance, and so on.
3. Look at You! No Way You Have an Eating Disorder
There is a stereotype that the only people with eating disorders are thin, white young women. Are more awareness about a variety of eating disorders comes to light, more people are realizing this simply isn’t the case. Certain eating disorders, like binge eating disorder and many cases of bulimia nervosa, are associated with a normal or higher-than-average weight. Because of the non-purging behaviors of people with binge eating disorder, there is a tendency for obesity among that population.
Also, take into consideration the kind of body-image validation that could provide. These types of remarks might discourage someone from getting help or sticking with treatment.
4. Just Eat More!
A person who does not have an eating disorder may not understand the nature of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. They might not realize that they are serious mental illnesses – suggesting there is a simple solution is an insult to their intelligence and may even make the problem worse. A person with an eating disorder cannot just decide to eat more. Eating disorder facilities and psychiatric professionals are needed in most severe cases, and discussing these serious issues lightheartedly can counteract progress that has been made – it also might cause the person to feel even more shame and embarrassment.
How To Help A Person With An Eating Disorder
The best way to help a family member or friend with an eating disorder is to become educated about eating disorders. Then, sensitively open up the lines of communication. Lend a supportive ear, let them proceed at their own pace and ask how you can help them move towards recovery.