Let’s play a game of interpretation. Let me help you understand what an individual who struggles, or has struggled, with an eating disorder hears when you say the things you do:
Eating disorders have a language of their own.
(Let me just say I write these things only to help the communication between someone who is sick and someone who wants to help. This post is inspired by a comment I got yesterday, which after 10 months of recovery, I still find very triggering.)
- “You look healthy!” = You’re fat. [That one’s plain & simple.]
- “You don’t even look sick! I’d never think you have an eating disorder.” = You are not thin at all. You really need to lose more weight.
- “You do need help, but don’t need to be in an inpatient program.” = You are not sick enough. You are not worthy of help. Get sicker.
- “I wish I were as thin as you!” = You’re doing something right. Others want to be like you. You need to keep going.
- “I wish I could be as healthy or as self-controlled as you!” = They want to be like you. You need to do whatever it takes to stay like this, even if it means continuing to starve, purge, etc.
& If they’re in recovery-
- “Wow, you’re finally starting to look better!” = You’re getting fat. Finally.
- “You used to be way too skinny before.” = Now you’re fat. You were good before, now you’re just huge.
- “You’re finally at a healthy weight.” OR “You’re in the healthy range of the BMI chart.” = Your body should not get any bigger. At this point, you need to do whatever it takes to not come any closer to the upper-healthy/overweight range! Even if it takes plenty of restriction.
- “You are finally eating a normal portion of food!” = You are out of control. You are eating as much as fat people do. Cut back.
- “If you eliminate … from your diet or add this type of physical activity… you’ll look even better!” = You’ve crossed the line. You are no longer perfect. Obviously you are not good enough, time to change no matter the cost.
Eating disorders are complicated. They’re intense. They’re a puzzle. Recovery requires love, patience, and kindness. A person can only be helped as much as they want, but the choice to recover often depends on the people who surround the ED individual. Every look, action, and word makes a difference. Walking on eggshells is necessary, although it was never the intent.
When you’re in an ED, it seems there is no way out. Your ED becomes your identity and fills every gap in your life. You find it fulfilling, even as it slowly kills you. Beating an ED is hard. Actually, hard is not even enough to describe it. But, recovery IS and always WILL BE possible! Mind over matter and one day you’re out!