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Thursday, December 29, 2011

10 Things You Shouldn't Say To An Eating Disorder Sufferer

I really like lists. I thought I'd do another. Please note that most of these are relatively personal. You might not agree with some, and that's okay. I'm not saying every single ED sufferer hates these- but I think quite a lot do.

1. But you eat!

Of course they do. They have to or they would die, very quickly. It doesn’t matter if you saw your friend eating a chocolate bar two weeks ago, or they eat something at lunch every day: they can still have a serious problem. They might calorie count, purge, only eat ‘safe’ foods, restrict what they eat: but they will still eat something, sometimes.

2. But you have a great figure! (especially when said to an underweight person)

Society has managed to twist everybody’s eyes to the point where underweight or ill looks normal or desirable. If somebody ever says ‘I’m Xlbs underweight’ and you reply with this, that’s telling them ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’. We hear it as ‘if you gain anymore, you’ll lose that figure and be fat’.

3. But you aren’t thin?

Eating disordered patients are not always underweight. A diagnosis of anorexia has a weight requirement at the moment, yes- but being 5lbs underweight isn’t always obvious. Unless somebody is very underweight, it can be difficult to tell. That isn’t even the point- severity is not the same as weight. A person can be very ill with an eating disorder and be normal or overweight. Not to mention that actually telling a sufferer that they aren’t thin is often heard as ‘you’re fat’. Plain and simple.

4. Just eat [X] and avoid [Y] and you’ll be fine.

This tends to be the ‘just eat a healthy diet and you won’t get fat!’ type thing. It’s more than a diet. It’s not like a sufferer can just ‘snap out of it’. Advising a healthy eating routine is sweet, but it’s a little like showing a person with cleanliness based OCD a light cleaning routine. The second part gets its whole own entry-

5. Avoid [Y].

On stories about treatment, people are always asking ‘well why are they feeding them pizza and things? Can’t they have grilled fish and vegetables? It’s healthier!’ It’s healthier in that it has may have nutrients, sure. But you’re mixing up ‘good for weight loss’ with ‘healthy’, as many people do. Low calorie foods are hard to gain weight on- not to mention that learning to eat all foods is very important in recovery. If I somehow managed to gain weight on lean meat and salads but couldn’t consider chips without a breakdown, I wouldn’t be recovered or healthy.

6. Just snap out of it!

If we could do this, none of us would have a problem.

7. Let me tell you about my diet-

Not only is this boring (sorry, it’s true), it’s very triggering. If you enthuse about how you feel sooo much better and happier and you’ve lost 8lbs since you cut out bread, I’m going to think about the toast I ate this morning and feel like crying. You may be in a very different place from me- you might genuinely need to lose some weight. But I’m not in a place where I can make that distinction right now: if you talk about how you never eat carbs, I’ll think ‘clearly I don’t need to either’- which isn’t true.

8. Wow, you ate a lot at that meal! Well done!

I’ve heard this used to mean ‘you tried hard, well done’. It’s a sweet sentiment, but all I hear from that sentence is ‘wow, you ate a lot’. And I tend to hear ‘a lot’ as ‘too much’.

9. Why don’t you just go out for a run if you feel fat?

I’ve had this advised as a way to deal with the food I’m eating. You can see the logic- anxious over being unhealthy/overeating could be answered with healthy activities like exercise. But exercising whenever you eat is unhealthy. It’s very unhealthy. Doing actions purely to burn off calories is purging, and that’s not a habit any of us need.

10. Oh, I had a friend with an eating disorder! Yeah, she got down to XXlbs and was in hospital for months, it was awful, she didn’t eat for days on end…

We’re competitive. We shouldn’t be; but we are. If you stand there and tell me about how thin your friend was, I think ‘well, she was really sick. I’m nothing like that, I can’t be sick!’ I feel ashamed and upset and- yes, jealous because she did it better than me. If you’ve come to identify yourself purely as your weight and your disorder, as many people do, hearing this is like hearing ‘you aren’t good enough’.

Thoughts? What have well-intentioned people said to you that's upset you? What's helped?

16 comments:

  1. Great list! I will be reposting this!!

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  2. After recently gaining 40 lbs...I was told I should stay at my current weight by several friends. That I cannot allow....

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  3. So true, so true. I feel like everyone around me should read this and take it to heart! People speak with the best intentions, they just don't realize how much it can affect someone who's disordered and irrational.

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  4. AWESOME post! Everyone needs to hear this, yes, I said EVERYONE!

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  5. Wow, this is a such a great list! I agree wholeheartedly with every point you made...It is so hard to explain what having an ED is like to the people around you, and so difficult for them to understand...This list would be perfect for others to read!

    Well-intentioned things I've had said to me?

    "You know that teacher at school? She's lost so much weight, she's thinner than you..." (which I found triggering and, like you said, made me feel like I was 'failing' at my ED)

    "Wow, you ate the whole thing!" (said to me when I forced myself to eat a sandwich to prevent further interrogation by friends about my eating)

    and someone said to my daughter "Tell Mum if she doesn't eat, then you won't either..." (which just made me feel ashamed, guilty and worried, as I had been trying to protect my then 9yr old daughter from knowing my problems)

    *sigh* People care so much, but I guess it is really hard for them to understand the mindset of someone with an ED...

    Thankyou so much for sharing this list ~ it is nice to know others understand what it can be like...

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  6. I love this list! I wish I could show this to my friends, but I'm too afraid to tell them about my ED!!

    ... and I think nurses should be aware of this list. I told one nurse about my anorexia and her response was, "but you aren't that skinny". I had to explain my whole story for her to believe me. sheesh!

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  7. Well said! I made a list like this a while back. Here are some things I can add on:

    1. "You look like you've put on some weight!! (implied hooray!)"
    (To an ED sufferer, this is equal to saying, "Recovery has made you fat, congrats!")

    2. "I spent hours making this because it's your favorite food. Please eat some for me?"
    (Pile on more self-loathing.)

    3. "You're just doing this for attention."
    (Invalidates the disorder, and makes us feel like we need to try harder to hide it.)

    4. "You're so lucky you're so skinny."
    (Since when is someone lucky to have a terminal illness?)

    5. "I mean, you're definitely skinny but you don't look unhealthy like those starving kids in Africa."
    (Just...no. So now I need kwashiorkor for people to start taking me seriously?)

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  8. Really interesting list, thank you!

    As a person without an ED I'm just wondering, is there ever anything that people say which help you (or that you find affirming), or is it a topic of terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-ness that's generally best avoided?

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  9. Thanks for this suggestion. I'm looking for all the tools i can find to work on getting eating disorder. out of my life. Its been a long journey, but finally I'm finding ways that makes sense, particularly, mindfulness, intuitive eating and nutritional therapy (which greatly complements my other psychotherapy work).

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  10. Thank you so much for this!! I can relate soo much. In fact someone said number 1 and 2 to me last week, and left me feeling completely confused. It just fuelled the disordered thoughts I am trying so hard to overcome at the moment. The most helpful thing to me was to be told, uncompromisingly 'you may be better than you were, but in many ways you're still in a vicious cycle, and breaking that will help you to move forward even more.' Recovery doesn't stop when someone no longer looks emaciated. I wish society understood that more.

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  11. Thank you for sharing your personal list, Jess. People dealing with these conditions look at things differently. It is best to show empathy and compassion towards them. Listen to what they say and say things that will help them deal with their condition. [Aubrey Holloway]

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  12. Nice I also share with you something hope this helpful for you my friends The good news is that the eating disorder behaviors you’ve learned can be unlearned if you’re motivated to change and willing to ask for help. However, overcoming an eating disorder is about more than giving up unhealthy eating behaviors. It is also about rediscovering who you are beyond your eating habits, weight, and body image. Check it out thanks.
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  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I love this list I feel like i can finally relate to someone.... I told some of my family members that I have an eating disorder but always get the look of skepticism... It's just not as simple as "oh look he's eating, he's fine." What they don't get is the fact that I spent a considerable time measuring and counting the calories from the nutrition guide, and exercised with a twisted leg, and fasted the day before just so I could have a damn grilled chicken salad. Oh and the dreaded "just go eat," advice. Trust me if it wasn't so psychologically taxing I would trust me... I'm not trying to be all "oh pity me, life sucks'" whiny adult but I feel that I found a list I could finally relate to. Thank you very much for this, lots of love from Canada.

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  14. Thanks for sharing this! Totally relate to all, especially the last one!

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  15. How about, "people have real problems like cancer, have had masectomies etc and you're worried about a few pounds. You need help. "

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