For a long time, I tried to ‘deal’ with peoples’ comments about food, weight, the gym, my body, others’ bodies, etc. Actually, during my eating disorder, I would hear certain comments and shut down, get pissed or completely isolate without really even realizing. In treatment, I gained the awareness that these comments were triggering, but I never wanted to educate someone when they said something that bothered me. I didn’t want to be a burden or make people watch what they say- after all, I am 22 years old. I felt like creating this ‘safe bubble world’ of happy comments where people wouldn’t talk about diet, working out, and weight was childish and so needy- so I never voiced how much comments were bothering me. But after awhile, I realized these comments were derailing my progress and if I ever wanted to get better I needed to be in a safe bubble world for a bit. So I’ve compiled a list of the most common types of comments that should NEVER be said to or around someone with an eating disorder to help supports gain some understanding. These comments tend to reinforce eating disorder thoughts aka all the thoughts your loved one is trying to break through treatment.
1. Food Comments– HUGE no no. This includes anything about food- portion sizes, calories, grams of fat, categorizing foods-like absolutely anything food related. I recently was getting dinner with friends and one of my girlfriends ordered a salad and made a comment about how she just gets the oil and vinegar to ‘cut calories’. I suddenly felt extreme guilt over my meal- I had ordered quinoa! All I could think of was the carbs; I mean she’s getting a salad and worried about the dressing and here I am being a fat ass ordering a quinoa bowl. Yup, guilty over a damn quinoa bowl. Diet wannabes would praise me for eating a quinoa bowl and there I was feeling guilty as hell for allowing myself too many calories. You should also watch the comments you make to your loved one when you see them eating something new. After treatment, I tried a lot of foods I hadn’t had in 8 years- like chocolate chip cookies, ice cream, and cereal. My family made comments like “Oh that’s not something you would normally eat!” in hopes of acknowledging my progress- however, it only made me feel guilty. It simply reminded me that these weren’t foods I would have eaten before and therefore I shouldn’t eat them now. Now, every patient is different and every day is different. Sometimes I want to celebrate a new food I tried and sometimes I don’t want to hear any comments at all (and you thought dealing with women was hard, try a woman with an ED!). It’s also a good idea to not assume anything like “Oh I bought pizza but I am sure you won’t have any”. Although 99% of the time you’re probably right, if I ever had the tiniest bit of strength to try a piece, ya just crushed it! Even categorizing foods is off limits-aka referring to foods as ‘healthy’ or ‘junk’. I once worked up the strength to try sweet potato chips, only for someone to ask why I was eating that ‘junk’ when there was fresh fruit. You see, when someone in recovery finds the strength to try a new food, you categorizing it only reinforces the food rules in our minds and puts that food off limits. I’ve also had experiences where I finally get the strength to try a cookie and the person next to me won’t shut up about how much fat is in it- so, of course, I don’t take another bite, I’ll have the urge to purge (fingers crossed I don’t!) and I definitely won’t eat another damn cookie ever again. Even mentioning how much oil is in cooked foods (even if it’s veggies) is a bad idea- we have an eating disorder- we sure as hell know when there is even a drop of oil- no need to point it out! Another big example: my friend was talking about how she hadn’t eaten all day. Huge no no. She said that and the next day she ate plenty of food, my eating disorder, however, decided to take her up on this challenge of ‘not eating’ and restrict. You see everyone in recovery has a meal plan that we have to hit each day. I literally have to log all my food in an app that my nutritionist sees- so when you inform me you skipped a meal and I know I’m supposed to be eating 3 whole meals and at least 2 snacks it really a. reinforces the ED thoughts that I am eating too much if I follow my meal plan b. motivates me to not eat either.
Examples of food comments:
“This has so much____ (food, sugar, salt, fat etc. ) in it!”
“There are too many calories in this.”
“I need to eat healthier, I feel huge after all I ate this weekend”
“I shouldn’t eat this I haven’t been to the gym in 3 days”
“I didn’t eat breakfast today”
“These have so much grease”
“You really shouldn’t eat that, it’s bad for you”
“Wow, this is a huge salad!” (yupp…because now my ED knows I can’t finish it, even if I am starving because you said it’s huge)
Even if these comments are not directly towards the individual with an eating disorder- it’s still reinforcing food rules. If someone with an ED is in the vicinity, just don’t talk about food.
2. Diet Talk- Oh lord- the worst. This is every eating disorder’s dream!!! When I was deep in my eating disorder, diet talk was my absolute favorite. Everyone came to me for nutrition advice and I could go on for days. Now, however, I need you to shut up and not even say the word ‘diet’. My initial emotional response to diet talk is complete and utter anxiety that the eating disorder will use this diet talk to get stronger. You see, as soon as diets get brought up my eating disorder gets uber excited. It starts thinking about how we (me and my ED) can start dieting, how exciting it’ll be to lose weight and it brings me back to a place where the ED is in control. My secondary emotional response is jealously. I am jealous that you are allowed to diet and I am not- because even if I lose 3 pounds I could land back in treatment. It’s not even the thought of treatment that’s so awful, it’s that there is absolutely nothing more terrifying than going back to that dark place where the ED is in control and diet talk is basically taking the express train to get there.
3. Gym Talk- Ok so talking about how you spent 2 hours at the gym is another no-no. Actually mentioning the gym or exercise at all is a no-no. When you start telling me about your new workout, I start freaking out that mine isn’t good enough- which leads to anxiety, hours of research to construct the ‘right’ workout and overexercising. Not to mention, I am not allowed to spend 2 hours at the gym anymore. If my weight drops or my mental state goes downhill, my team usually makes me take at least 10 days off from the gym (some patients aren’t allowed to workout at all). So even a “yeah let’s meet up after my spin class” can cause insane amounts of anxiety for me especially when I am not allowed to be working out. I’ve even had days where I get home and my dad asks “Oh were you at the gym?” Super innocent question- but I was not at the gym so this question immediately switched my brain to eating disorder mode thinking “See you need to be at the gym. You’re supposed to be at the gym. If you don’t go now you’re just going to get fatter.” This is kind of like assuming I won’t eat a food, but now you are assuming I should be at the gym (well you aren’t but that’s how my brain works). I suddenly feel guilty that I am not as ‘dedicated’ as I used to be. Personally, I am really working on life without the gym (a fews days a week) during my recovery. Overexercising is one of my go-to’s, so talking about it just makes me anxious!
4. Weight Talk– Numbers are not my friend. I once weighed myself 3 times a day- I am now not allowed to know my weight and haven’t known the number on the scale for almost a year. I am actually terrified of finding out that number and talking about scales or weights gives me complete and utter anxiety. Numbers are no fun- don’t talk about it. And definitely don’t talk about the weight you’ve lost- I am sorry I hate to say that. I know it’s something we celebrate, but it only makes me jealous that I am not allowed to and really, it motivates me to try and lose weight.
5. Body Talk– Okay so I thought this one was obvious but I guess not! I recently was with a friend who pointed out another female and started going on about how hot and skinny she was. NEVER SAY THIS TO SOMEONE WITH AN ED! Believe me, anyone with an eating disorder already saw this chick and already made a new diet and workout plan in hopes of achieving a body like that. I spent 12+ hours a week in therapy trying to learn to not look at others’ bodies or to do body comparisons, I don’t need you doing it for me. Also, no hate talk about your own body. This is a toughy, we live in a world where most females (and males!) can point out at least 5 things they hate about their body- but please please please be careful around someone with an ED! It’s so easy for us to normalize body shaming- we spend hours in front of a mirror doing it- we need strong role models who aren’t stressing about the flab on their arms or gaining 2 pounds. I mean really, anyone in treatment is constantly told “You are more than you’re body. Your body does not matter” So hearing you shame your own body basically reinforces my ED in thinking that all those therapists are wackos and my body is everything.
Now, these types of conversations and comments come up WAYYYYY more than you even realize so don’t freak out if it slips out. The important thing is to try to discuss what specific comments trigger your loved one and to communicate boundaries of what can and cannot be said. It’s a tough conversation, believe me, I avoided it for months- but it needs to happen. A lot of these triggering comments may seem obvious but I cannot tell you the amount of times I encounter them daily, even from loved ones. It’s a learning process. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a handful of fellow recovering patients hate to ask this of their supports but it really makes a huge difference in the process of recovery.