While slipping into anorexia, I was rewarded with compliments from family, friends, and strangers. Our society associates losing weight with health and happiness. However, eating disorders show that this is often not the case.
Instead of blaming those who made unhelpful comments to me, I want to make a list of common but detrimental phrases people often say to someone struggling with anorexia. One of the main things to remember is to not focus on someone’s weight. If you feel the need to compliment a friend, affirm a characteristic that you admire or something that he or she has done recently. Otherwise, if you really how that person looks, then choose another aspect of his or her appearance like an outfit, hairdo, or earnest smile. There are so many other ways to encourage someone besides mentioning pounds lost.
- So are you just never hungry? Actually, I am hungry all of the time. Wouldn’t you be if you were not eating? After a little while, the hunger cues are confused. However, that does not mean I am not longing for food.
- Just eat the food. It isn’t that hard. Until you have an addiction, it is nearly impossible to understand them. Eating used to drain all of my energy and still haunts me. What seems like a simple activity feels like a battle with each bite.
- People who don’t eat deserve to die. It is survival of the fittest, and people who are stupid enough to starve themselves should die. I actually heard someone make this argument. Hopefully, you do not think like this. If so, please know that anorexia is a illness. Saying that people should die from it is the same as stating that people with cancer, diabetes, or asthma should die. It is a cruel way to view the world.
- I wish that I had some of your self-control! Eating disorders are not about self-control; they are an illness. The times when I eat and ignore my anorexic voice are when my strength and “self-control” take root. Plus, stating this diminishes the horror of anorexia. You cannot simply have one to lose a bit of weight and then return to normal.
- You can have some of my weight. This comes from a kind place, I think, but it is a strange way of both demeaning oneself while affirming the sickness of someone else. A nicer way to state such a comment might be something that one boy once told me: “You look beautiful and will look even more beautiful with 10 pounds.” Sure, that statement is not perfect either, but it affirmed me while promising that recovery would be even better.
- Well, at least you are thin now. “Congrats. You are thin even though you are killing yourself doing that.” That sounds harsh but is the same as the previous statement. Please try not to focus on the weight.
- Wow, you lost so much weight. You look so good now! This is something that people with anorexia love to hear at first. After awhile, you begin to think that is the only important element of yourself. Plus, it makes you wonder how ugly people used to think you were.
- Can you teach me some of your strategies? Really? You think that I want you to get sick too? Anorexia is not some “fad diet” although it can begin because of someone. This illness is a traumatizing, destructive experience that kills far too many people.
- You are eating, so you must be healthy. Just because I am eating does not mean I am cured. Any comment on food can be triggering to someone with anorexia. That does not mean you should tiptoe around that person. However, being considerate and not talking too much about eating would be nice.
- How about you just eat healthy/non-fat/gluten-free food? Then you will be safe. No, that can just become part of the eating disorder. A dietitian will help me make a meal plan. I really love support, but unless I ask, please do not tell me how I should eat.
What are some comments that you have heard that you would add to this list? Please let me know.