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20 'Harmless' Comments That Actually Hurt People With Eating Disorders

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

If you live with an eating disorder, you might be familiar with some of the seemingly “harmless” but incredibly hurtful things people can say to those struggling with them.

Sometimes these “harmless” comments come in the form of a question. (Why can’t you just eat?) Sometimes they come with a “solution” via personal anecdote. (You should try this new diet. It really helped me stop overeating!) Most often, they come from a place of misunderstanding eating disorders and mental health struggles in general. And even though these “harmless” comments may come from a good place, they can often invalidate the struggles of someone living with an eating disorder.

When someone with an eating disorder opens up about their struggles, oftentimes they aren’t looking for your “solution,” “advice,” opinions, dieting tips, etc. — they may just be looking for someone to listen and be there.

We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people with eating disorders have heard that actually hurt them, so we asked our eating disorder community to share one with us and explain what it feels like to hear it.

It’s important to remember what may seem “harmless” to one person may actually be hurtful to another. It doesn’t matter if you are struggling with binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia or any other eating disorder — your feelings are valid, and you deserve support.

Please be advised that the following comments could potentially be triggering if you live with an eating disorder.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. “You’re too smart to starve yourself.”

“‘What’s a smart girl like you doing starving herself? You know better than that…’” — Romy F.

2. “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”

“A doctor looked me up and down then said, ‘well you don’t look malnourished.’” — Georgia C.

“‘You don’t look like you have an eating disorder. Your hair is long, your skin is clear, your teeth are white and your weight is normal.’ This was after I told my doctor about my 11-year relationship with bulimia.” — Abby R.

“After opening up to a friend about my ED — ‘But you look fine.’ Part of me feels like I only deserve help with this problem if I ‘look the part.’ If I look ‘sick.’ It just makes me want to do even more damage to my body so I can finally be ‘worthy’ of help.” — Lea B.

3. “Don’t you know there are people starving in the world?”

“’It’s disrespectful to throw up food like that, there are millions of starving people out there.’ I’m so sorry that I am so disgusted with myself that I vomit when I consume food. My body image nauseates me. I’ve had an eating disorder for years, and someone who hasn’t will never understand.” — Cathy M.

4. “You look healthy.”

“’You look good’ or ‘You look healthy…’ I’m a little over a year into recovery and I think these comments are meant to be complimentary, but all I hear is ‘You look good — even though you gained weight.’ I just wish people would refrain from any sort of comments on physical appearance in general.” — Jamie M.

“’You’re looking so much better.’ I remember the first time I heard that when I took my first proper stab at recovery. It hurt more than I could possibly say.” — Kayleigh M.

5. “You would be a knockout if you lost weight.”

“’You would be a knockout if you lost weight with your beautiful face and figure.’ I cried. I hated my body so bad I developed eating disorders. Hearing this brought back self-hate and I fell into old patterns.” — Tamara H.

6. “If you’re fat, then what am I? A whale?”

“’If you’re fat, then what am I? A whale?’ or ‘If you’re fat, I must be obese.’ Sorry, but my disorder is based upon the perception of myself, not you. I don’t mean to upset you with my disordered thoughts.” — Michaela C.

7. “You ate that so quickly!”

“’Damn you finished that already?’ I heard that all my life, and I count my chews to ensure I’m eating slowly, I’ll hesitate on my bites as well, and still all I hear is: ‘You ate that quick.’ ‘You must’ve really liked that.’ ‘Oh damn, you tore that plate up.’” — Tiana O.

8. “Have you prayed about it?”

“’Have you tried praying about it?’ I am a strong believer, but it came from someone seemingly telling me to pray it away and they kept saying this over and over. Yes, I have tried praying about it.” — Kaitlyn T.

9. “I’m so jealous of how skinny you are.”

“I will never forget my best friend at the time saying to me, ‘God, I’m so jealous of you, you’re so thin.’ This was a week before I went inpatient for treatment. She knew where I was going and why.” — Kelly K.

10. “You need more willpower.”

“I have binge eating disorder (BED) and the thing that hits me hard is people saying you have or need ‘willpower.’ Bingeing issues have nothing to do with willpower or [being] lazy — it is about emotions.” — Jeffrey B.

11. “You need to focus on the positive.”

“’You should be happy because [insert good thing] happened this week.’ Ummmm just because something positive happens in my life doesn’t mean all my other problems suddenly disappear. It makes me feel guilty and like an ungrateful child.” — Nick L.

12. “It’s good to see you gain weight.”

When I got out of treatment, ‘Wow you really have gained a lot of weight.’ This triggered my relapse two days later of getting to my home town after three months in treatment 10 hours away in airplane… I wish people were more empathetic and just took one minute to think before they say anything.” — Emilia B.

13. “Have you lost weight? You look good!”

“’You’ve lost weight! You are looking so good.’ You can’t tell someone has an eating disorder by looking at them. When I was losing weight, everyone thought it was a good thing because weight loss is so celebrated in our culture. It was invalidating to how much I was hurting. It was like I was being praised for suffering.” — Dayze F.

14. “You’re lucky. I wish I didn’t want to eat.”

“’I wish I had that problem.’ [I heard this] when I told my boss I couldn’t make myself eat more than a small snack a day. I don’t want to be like this. I want to have ‘healthy’ eating habits, but I feel physically sick if I eat much now. You have no idea how hard it is to hear that when I’m sick and have to force myself to eat.” — Courtney H.

“’You must be so lucky not to want to eat.’” — Chico S.

15. “You just need to eat.”

“’You don’t have an eating disorder, you just need to eat.’ Advice from a person a considered to be one of my best friends at the time when I finally got up the courage to tell her about my bulimia. Took me another six months after that to seek professional help.” — Lisa H.

16. “Are you sure you have an eating disorder?”

“’Wow, you sure ate a lot this weekend. Are you sure you have an eating disorder?’ [I was] crazy triggered to restrict for a long time after that.” — Kalee D.

17. “A lot of people skip meals.”

“’A lot of people skip meals.’ It made me feel as though my behavior was ‘normal’ and I continued to restrict what I was eating.” — Adriana W.

18. “I’ve been so busy I haven’t eaten all day.”

“’I’ve been so busy I haven’t eaten all day.’ I notice quite a few people say this and I’m not sure why it strikes a nerve. Maybe it’s the subtle ‘glorification of busy’ in addition to the self-comparisons that follow.” — Heather S.

19. “Make sure you don’t slide the other way.”

“’Make sure you don’t slide the other way again and become overweight like you used to be.’ This hit me right where it hurts because nobody should have to hear that from their own family. I can deal with those comments a lot better now, but it was still incredibly insensitive to my feelings to say that.” — Olivia R.

20. “It’s all in your head.”

“’It’s all in your head.’ It’s more than that. It’s all I think about. Am I eating too much? Should I eat this? Am I eating too fast or too slow? It’s an obsession and it’s so hard and so many people just don’t understand and don’t care to try to understand.” — Alexis D.

What should you say to someone with an eating disorder? Tell us in the comments below.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Originally published: February 26, 2018
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