4 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone Getting Treatment for an Eating Disorder

It is estimated that more than 20 million people in the United States will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic status and ethnic groups. Because of the prevalence of eating disorders, many people know someone who is in eating disorder treatment. Most people want to be helpful and supportive to their family member or friend struggling with this disorder; however, there is a lot of stigma surrounding eating disorders. These judgements and myths can lead well-intentioned loved ones to say unhelpful and even harmful things to a person who is in eating disorder recovery. Here is a list of the most common things a loved one or friend should not say to someone who is or potentially should be getting help from an eating disorder treatment center.

1.  “Can’t You Just Eat More?”

A person who does not have an eating disorder may not understand the nature of these disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. They may not realize they are serious mental illnesses and the person cannot simply eat more to become fully recovered. A person with an eating disorder cannot simply decide to eat more. Changing their behavior takes specialized insight and therapy. Telling a person with anorexia nervosa, for example, that all they have to do to get better is to eat more is not helpful. In fact, it may even cause the person to feel more shame and embarrassment.

2.  “You Look Great”

A person who makes this comment is usually trying to be helpful. Their goal is to likely make their friend or loved one feel great about their appearance now that they are in eating disorder treatment. However, people with eating disorders often have thoughts about their body shape and size that are distorted. To a person who is in eating disorder recovery, what someone else considers to be “great” might mean something else entirely to them. It is best to avoid any reference to the person’s looks, size or weight.

3.  “You Don’t Look Like You Have An Eating Disorder”

There is a stereotype that the only people with eating disorders are thin, young, white women. This is simply not true. Certain eating disorders, such as binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa, are associated with a normal weight or higher-than-average weight.

Additionally, eating disorders occur in all races, socioeconomic statuses and genders. Remarks or judgements that someone “does not look like they have an eating disorder” might discourage these individuals from getting help and/or sticking with treatment.

4.  “Throwing Up (Or Binge Eating) Is Gross”

If a friend or loved one opens up about binge eating, throwing up or using laxatives, you may be inclined to make a judgemental comment about the behavior (i.e. “That is gross!”). This will only serve to further increase the shame and guilt that can already accompany this disorder. These types of negative or seemingly judgemental comments only increase the shame and embarrassment. These comments also make it less likely the person will open up about their eating disorder in the future. An individual needs support from friends and loved ones and specialized eating disorder treatment to get better.

How To Help A Person With An Eating Disorder

The best way to help a family or friend with an eating disorder is to become educated about eating disorders. And then, open up the lines of communication. Allow them to talk about their behaviors and feelings surrounding the eating disorder. Simply lend a supportive ear. Reach out to a medical professional for additional support, if needed.