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5 Statements You Should Reconsider Saying to Someone With an Eating Disorder

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As human beings, we tend to comment on each other’s appearances, especially when we notice someone’s physicality transform before us in a matter of time. However, does it really matter that we’re physically different? By providing body-centered feedback to someone, you are driving home the underlying message that your relationship is based upon fundamental physical differences, rather than spiritual and intellectual similarities. I know how hard it can be to communicate with people. As a teacher, I do it every day. Yet, there is a better way to approach one another. We all possess many more attributes that are internal rather than external, things that really matter: a good sense humor, intellect or an uncanny creative spirit.

Here are five statements to reconsider saying to anyone, because eating disorders do not discriminate. Your brother, mother, sister, principal, CEO or cousin could be affected. Our society must change its vernacular in relation to appearance.

1. “I wish I had your body.”  

No you don’t, because it represents a struggle to stay alive. Living with an eating disorder is far from glamorous. Nobody has the perfect body, please never compare yours to anyone else’s. Focus on the positive features of your own. Bodies come in all beautiful shapes and sizes!

2. “Why can’t you just eat more?”   

Eating brings up intense anxiety and depression for some individuals with eating disorders. It’s more than just eating, it’s modifying behaviors. Think about a food you really hate, brussels sprouts for instance. Every single time you see them, smell them or even eat them, you have a severe allergic reaction. Now, add in past traumatic experiences, mental illness and a lack of control over one’s life. Eating is more than it seems.

3. “Losing weight is healthy.”  

For someone with an eating disorder, this is one of the worst things you can say. Some individuals need to lose weight for health reasons, but that should be a private matter. A statement such as this can reinforce an eating disorder patient’s distorted body image. It’s not so simple when you’re in recovery, especially during the re-feeding process.

4. “Have you lost/gained weight?”

Losing weight isn’t an accomplishment and gaining weight is not a failure. Our society is obsessed with finding the optimal body shape and weight. Truth is, there’s no such thing and never will be. Instead of focusing on person’s weight, compliment their positive attributes. Someone with an eating disorder does not want to hear “Oh, you look great,” it is an empty compliment. It seems innocent, but to them it may pierce their sense of self. Let’s build a community that is more people-centered and less body-centered, because no two bodies are the same!

5. “You must have so much discipline to maintain your ‘lifestyle.’”   

First of all, an eating disorder is not a lifestyle, it’s a disease. Secondly, an eating disorder gives you a false sense of control, which is very difficult to let go of. Therefore, there is no discipline to be had at all. Eating disorders are once again not a choice or a diet, they involve hours and years of grueling self hatred.

Remember: Be kind to yourself, to others and to those in recovery. Everyone recovers at their own pace and it’s never too late to say no to ED!

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.

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Thinkstock photo via kimberrywood.

Originally published: April 4, 2017
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