Don’t Say That: What NOT to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder

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Welcome back to another “Don’t Say That” post. This isn’t going to be a regularly schedule series, but I can think of a few more similar posts. With the holidays approaching, it’s a challenging time for many who struggle with body image. It can also be especially hard those with an eating disorder, whether in recovery or not.

I want to share what NOT to say to someone with an eating disorder, because of the hardships and triggers that can come with the holidays and feasts. This post isn’t just for those who’ve have/had battled an eating disorder. It’s can also be for those who have a difficult time at the holidays because of body image.

Not all Joyous

I recently wrote a post about being labeled a Scrooge of sorts. It discussed that I don’t hate the holidays for no reason at all. Rather the holidays are extremely difficult for me, because of my anxiety and eating disorder recovery. The chaos, food guilt, off-handed remarks and all that comes with the holidays overwhelms those parts of me that I work at everyday to love.

The holidays are a definite challenge for me, but I was met with mixed reactions. Many sympathized or shared similar experiences. Some shared that they “love the holidays,” simply as if they didn’t read the entirety of the post. I get it. The holidays are magical and joyous, but for those of us who struggle, our joy can feel like it’s being robbed in certain moments.

When you struggle with body image or even an eating disorder, the stress that can happen to anyone during the busiest time of year becomes this compound weight that sits heavily on us. Healing takes time, and it’s not as if we could just put those challenges on pause. Do you think I want to seem agitated or feel depressed during a Christmas feast with my family, especially in front of my children? Of course not!

I work at healing every single day, but stress and everything that builds around the holidays, can do a lot to someone’s mental health. There are ways you can approach those who struggle with body image or an eating disorder during the holidays. This is also relevant for anytime of year. It’s can be heightened during the holidays though, so keep that in mind as well.

What NOT to Say to Someone with An Eating Disorder

1. You look good/healthy.

I know this seems like you’re encouraging them and being positive. However, eating disorders can change the way a person perceives different words. Also, good and healthy aren’t the words we gravitate towards during healing.

Healthy looks different for everybody, so this should never be said anyway. Also, if they’ve lost weight, they could think you mean that the loss of weight looks good on them. There are just so many ways their mind could respond to this. Try not to compliment their body. If you absolutely need to mention appearance, which NO ONE DOES, compliment their outfit.

2. Have you lost weight?

No, no, no. Please don’t even mention weight. Regardless of your intentions. This is a big no, always and forever. I once had a family member ask this and then compliment said weight loss WHILE I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL FOR BULIMIA. Our relationship has been odd since.

3. Have you tried this diet or what diet are you on?

Diets are not the answer, especially for those who struggle with an eating disorder or body image. Diet culture brings zero positivity, and mentioning it to someone who struggles with body image is extremely wrong and distasteful.

Many of us who struggle with ED’s often fell into our disorder because of things like diets and diet culture. We were programmed to believe our bodies were only good if they fit into a specific box. A major part of healing for us, at least for me, is about keeping a distance from diets.

4. I shouldn’t eat this…

Whatever your reason, don’t say it to someone with an ED. This is food shaming and creating food guilt, and it isn’t something you should do to yourself let alone someone with a history of an eating disorder. Restrictions are not the answer unless you have a food allergy or health condition that requires restriction. So, please don’t say phrases like this.

5. I feel fat.

Fat is not a feeling. Read that again, please. This is a fat-phobic phrase, and it’s exhausting to hear. We are taught that fat is the worst thing you can be, and saying this only creates and projects negativity.

Those with ED’s are often hyper-aware of what others are saying about food and bodies, and they then internalize that with themselves. Work on accepting yourself, food, and your body, because this will help those around you who struggle with body image as well. Lead by positive example.

6. I’m going to have to double my workout tomorrow.

Excessive working out and working out as a punishment to your body from eating can lead to disordered behaviors. It also causes food guilt and shame. Working out should never be about punishing your body.

7. You should hit the gym with me, because that’s how I learned to like my body.

Exercising to like your body IS NOT body acceptance. When you say things like working out helped you like your body, maybe you need to evaluate why. Saying someone with an ED should go to the gym is so very problematic.

At the root of an ED is someone constantly pursing a different body, and as a result, their physical and mental health are destroyed. Offering even more pursuit of bodily changes isn’t the answer they need or want.

8. I wish I had the discipline you do to lose weight.

Eating disorders aren’t about discipline or willpower. There’s no positive dedication in starvation, binging, or purging. It’s a disorder, and saying you wish you had one to lose weight is beyond horrendous.

9. You’ve been in recovery a long time, are you better yet?

Recovery could be forever. Some people never full heal from the disordered thoughts that ED’s cause. This doesn’t mean we aren’t actively fighting, but it’s not just something you get over like a cold.

Statements like this also make us feel as though you’re tired of us and our struggle. Trust me, we are sick of our ED too. However, it’s like a form of addiction and takes times.

10. It’s not hard. Just eat.

Oh, but darling it is hard. Statements like this clearly show you’re lack of understanding, and that’s difficult for all parties involved. Educate yourself rather than belittle others on their struggles.

Still More

I could go on and on. Saying things like “you don’t look like you’ve had an eating disorder,” or “people should have meat on their bones” are all sayings that should just be banned in general. I have also written a post about what not to say about the bodies of others in a post called, Pretty for a Big Girl: Body Shaming Phrases that Need to Go.

The bodies of other should never be a topic of discussion. It’s never okay to talk about someone’s body or relationship to food, because frankly, it’s none of your damn business. Choose to educate yourself for the sake of those you know and care about this holiday season. We should all choose kindness.

I hope this was able to help you all understand a bit better about what not to say to someone with an eating disorder or someone who struggles with body image. Here’s to hoping your holiday season is filled with joy, positivity, and growth.

Have a great week.

-With Love,

Jenni

21 thoughts on “Don’t Say That: What NOT to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder”

  1. I agree with you 100%! Thank you for taking the time to put this into writing. I am and have been working on a post about body positivity, the judgment of others and how that reflects on ourselves, but it is a really hard topic to write about.

    Have a great week, and happy holidays! 🙂

  2. “It’s not hard. Just eat.”

    That’s exactly how I went from restricting to binge eating. Literally. I went from snacking occasionally to get my calorie intake up to gorging on entire packages of cookies at a time.

    It’s been hard and I’m still learning how to “eat normally”.

    Great post!

    XO Steph

    1. Thanks for reading! It’s really challenging when people don’t understand the complexity of ED’s. Sending my love and support!

  3. It used to be like this for me. Even though things a a bit easier for me now, I still struggle mentally. I think about all the food I ate, what I should eat, how much I put on my plate, when to stop and if I should throw it up later. When I say no to being offered more, I feel empowered. I don’t like enjoying that feeling. No matter how far along anyone is with recovery, the mental affects still stay. At least for me they do.

    I don’t get told any of these anymore but I do think them all the time. I think these are same things to not say to someone without an eating disorder too.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I did include these can also be for those who struggle with body image as well. You’re definitely right about that mindset still being there. Thanks so much for reading!

  4. This! Everything about this is just what I’ve always wanted to say! Thank you! I sincerely feel like giving this to some of my relatives.

    Wishing you all the best for the holidays!

  5. I’m no fan of all the new fad diet advice . But overall yes this is a very good list of things not to say . I had a friend in a hospital that was sick from a serious illness and people complimented her weight loss , Even though she was deathly ill . It made me so mad .

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to her. I’m not a fan of any diet talk, because I’m very anti-diet culture in general. Thanks for reading!!

  6. Thank you so much for talking about this. As someone who struggled with these issues, this post was refreshing mentally.

  7. I agree with everything you wrote. People don’t realize that EDs are the coping mechanism, triggered by a lot of things but especially stress (which is different for everyone) and that while this might be the most “wonderful time of the year” it is also the most stressful, and people can be the most vulnerable. You can love this time of the year, but also hate it. Which was me, especially this year, it was HARD and I wish people would be more sympathetic. Thank you so much for sharing this sweet lady! <3

  8. Hi, I love this! I also have a blog about ED’s. Would really appreciate it if you could give a read and maybe give some advice? Your blogs are amazing!

      1. Hi, sorry I made 2 accounts, i need to remove this one. My active blog is thebloggergirlnextdoor.wordpress.com x thank you for replying though!

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