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5 Common Phrases You Shouldn’t Say to a Friend With an Eating Disorder

For the most part, I am recovered from my eating disorder. I know how to feed myself consistently, how to suppress urges to compensate for food intake, how to exercise without focusing on weight loss and so on. Yet, what still triggers me are words. Sometimes, my friends and family will say things that hit a nerve with the small bit of my eating disorder that still remains.

If your loved one lives with or has recovered from an eating disorder, here are five things you should refrain from saying to them.

1. “I haven’t eaten all day.”

I’m not really sure what it is about this phrase that hits a nerve for me. I guess it makes me relive all of the days I too had eaten nothing, thus bringing up a lot of feelings — anxiety, annoyance, anger and even jealousy. I think to myself, “No fair! I want to be able to eat nothing. But noooo, I’m recovering from an eating disorder. I need to follow a strict schedule that requires me to eat three meals and three snacks a day.”

It also resurfaces all of the anxiety I harbored while trying to hide the fact I had been starving myself all day. Honestly, it makes me freak out a bit: “Why would you tell me that?! You’re supposed to hide the fact you haven’t eaten anything all day. It’s supposed to be a secret!”

I know it’s weird, and I know it might slip out of your mouth by accident.

Instead of “I haven’t eaten all day,” try: “I need to nourish myself now!”

2. “I’m starving.”

No offense, but no. No, you’re not. Your body would be doing all of these wacky regulatory things if you were starving. Your body temperature would drop, you’d be growing lanugo all over your body, your hair would be falling out, your appetite cues would have disappeared, et cetera, et cetera. It would be doing the things my body started to do when my eating disorder was at peak intensity.

I know you were just exaggerating and trying to make a joke, but to someone who actually was starving at one point in their life, it’s just not funny. Starvation is nothing to kid about. It’s a life-threatening condition for your body to be in — a condition I personally experienced and never want to again.

Instead of “I’m starving,” try: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” You know, the classics!

3. “I’m so bad; I ate X, Y, Z the other day.”

Let’s get one thing straight. Food. Has. No. Moral. Value. You are not bad if you eat an Oreo cookie, and you are not good if you eat your vegetables. By eating what you want when you want, you not only nourish yourself, but you also enjoy life more. Detaching food from its moral value relieves you of the guilt you might feel after eating, as well as any inclination to “punish” yourself with restriction or exercise.

As someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, it is difficult enough for me to do this, and to hear someone else’s food judgments just makes me think I should also be holding these judgments. I want to live in a world where food is just food — something necessary to sustain life. I don’t want to feel like I’ve done something wrong for (healthily) satisfying a craving.

Instead of “I’m so bad,” try: “I had X, Y, Z the other day and I feel so satisfied!”

4. “I’m going to eat better.”

Have you ever seen the scene in the movie “Airplane” in which a character announces, “I have a drinking problem,” and then goes to throw his drink back but misses his mouth? He doesn’t actually live with alcoholism. He literally has a problem with drinking. He can’t do it!

When I hear the phrase, “I need to eat better,” I think to myself, “Oh, do you not know where to put the fork after you’ve stabbed the food? Do you not know how to cut your chicken? Do you not know how to chew and swallow?”

Because let’s be honest — saying you are going to eat better is simply ridiculous. Doing something better implies there was something wrong with the way you were doing it before and, unless you have an eating disorder, this is just not the case. If you are feeding yourself consistently, satisfying your cravings and enjoying your food, then you are eating just fine.

Instead of, “I’m going to eat better,” try: “I’m going to continue to nourish myself in a way that makes me feel happy and satisfied!”

5. “That outfit is really flattering on you!”

Let’s be honest here. What did you really mean by flattering? Did you mean skinny? Yeah, I thought so.

Getting complimented for looking skinny implies that looking thin is superior to looking fat — that it is something to be proud of, to feel accomplished for. As someone recovering from an eating disorder, I already have a hard enough time convincing myself this is the opposite of true. For the past 22 years (aka, my whole life), I’ve thought looking skinny in my clothing was the ultimate goal. I thought it was the only reason to buy something. Heck no! I can wear whatever I want to wear, no matter what it looks like on me. Fat girls can wear crop tops, body-con dresses, pencil skirts, high-waisted pants and anything else they want to wear. Be proud of your body! Don’t let anyone tell you, “no, that’s not flattering, take it off.” If you like it and you feel hot AF in it, then screw them! All bodies are good bodies.

So, instead of saying to your friend, “that looks really flattering on you,” try: “That looks hot! Just like all of the other outfits you tried on!”

Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash