The Do’s and Don’ts of How to Talk to Someone with an Eating Disorder

Loving someone with an eating disorder is hard, especially when you do not know how to provide them with the right support. Sometimes what may feel like the right thing may actually be causing more harm.

Twenty million men and women in the United States will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. These illnesses are just that – an illness. They are not by an means a lifestyle choice.

By knowing what to say and what  should be avoided, we can help our loved ones fight these illnesses.

5 Things to Avoid Saying When Someone Has an Eating Disorder

1. “You’ve put on weight, you look great!”

You mean well but this phrase can send your loved one into a downward spiral. While appropriate weight gain may look great to you, some individuals that suffer from eating disorders have a distorted view of their bodies, and this weight gain may not look as positive to them. Try to focus on their personality and energy as opposed to their physical appearance. For example, saying, “you look really happy today” would be more affirming.

2. “You look so healthy.”

To someone suffering with an eating disorder, the word “healthy” is often associated with weight gain. Just like the example discussed above, try to sway the conversation away from physical appearance and more towards complimenting the person as a whole.

3. “Can you give me advice on how to lose weight?”

This question is not only triggering to the client but also may make them believe that their eating disorder was a positive tool, and one that they should continue to use. This statement can also pull them back into a downward spiral with their illness by making them feel like they now need to “compete” with you, or by making them fear that you may achieve “better results” than them.

4. “I wish I had your self-control.”

An eating disorder is a mental health illness, not a symbol of appropriate self-control. With this statement you are “praising” your loved one for their illness, as well as down-playing it. This may sway them away from recovery and give them permission to view their illness in a positive light.

5. “If you would just start/stop eating, everything would be fine.”

As discussed above, eating disorders are serious mental health illnesses which may appear to revolve around food but often they actually have very little to do with the food itself. Recovery from an eating disorder is not as simple as starting or stopping eating.

5 Things to Say When Someone Has an Eating Disorder:

1. “I know this is difficult, but I am proud of you.”

Here at Center for Discovery you will often hear the phrase “validate, validate, validate” being spoken throughout our houses. We want to validate just how trying the experience of suffering from an eating disorder is while at the same time letting clients know that they are making positive strides in the right direction.

2. “You are worth more than your eating disorder.”

Many individuals suffering from eating disorders place all of their self-worth on their body image and how well they “succeed” at their eating disorder. Above all, let them know that their eating disorder does not define who they are as a person. They are so much more than their illness.

3. “I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to I will help as much as I can.”

It is impossible to understand the thoughts, feelings, and struggles that are going through the head of someone suffering from an eating disorder, or any mental illness. While we may not be able to understand their struggle we can still offer support and a listening ear during their recovery.

4. “Let’s do ____ together.”

As you find ways to comfort your friend or family member with an eating disorder, engage your loved one in activities that you enjoy doing together. By offering a specific suggestion it takes the pressure off of them to have to figure out something to do, and you can spend time with them and help them to get their mind off of their problems.

5. “I trust/believe you.”

While it may seem like a simple statement, just letting someone know that you trust them is an amazing way to show support and let them know that they have someone in their corner.

Knowing What to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder is Key

Navigating life with an eating disorder may seem like an impossible task at times. It is so important that we let those in our lives with these debilitating disorders know that we are here to support them. Having support from everyone in their lives can help make the journey to recovery less difficult, even if it is just a small amount. Every little bit we do can and will help.

We hope this list provides you with insight to comfort someone with an eating disorder. Remember that recovery is possible and having the proper support from friends and family is the first step.

If someone you care about is struggling with recovery, or needs treatment, we’re here to help. Call us at 800.760.3934 and speak to one of our highly trained admission specialists today. Or, you can fill out this form for a FREE assessment. All calls are completely free and strictly confidential.

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