Let's Talk About Your Eating Disorder. Say What?!
Very often, I'll come across guidelines explaining or offering guidance on what to say or not to say to someone suffering from an eating disorder. Though these guidelines are useful and important in order to give those who are not familiar with eating disorders a frame of reference, they can still lead to awkward or hurtful interactions, simply because these kind of conversations surrounding eating disorders and mental illness are never easy to have.
How To Talk To Someone About Their Eating Disorder
Today’s post and video is my humble attempt to give you a glimpse into how someone who is facing their own eating disorder could be approached; perhaps it even is how I wish someone had discussed this topic with me while I was suffering from bulimia. Like anything else, it's just one person’s perspective, but hopefully it will help you equally understand how to broach the conversation, which even in its initiation, can be difficult.
Be Open To Talk About More Than The Obvious
First off, I feel it's important to get rid of preconceived notions about eating disorders and the people who suffer from them. Don't assume that the person whom you think might be suffering from an eating disorder doesn't have a clue about it. They may know that they have a problem related to food or body image, but they might just never talk about it for a number of reasons, including fear of being labelled or even admitting to themselves they suffer from this form of mental illness. So if you are going to approach them, I suggest you do so in a comforting way, so they don’t feel pressure to have to open up. If the experience goes well, with time, they may eventually open up to you or someone else on their own with some of their ongoing trials and tribulations.
Be Open To Have Multiple Conversations Over Time
Also, don't assume that you're the first person to talk to them about this, or that this person hasn't done anything about their “problem”. Your conversation with them might not be an “aha!” moment, but if it resonates with them, over time, it will be part of a greater process, where you can become an additional support person, helping to set the stage for future opportunities to give them continued support. Simply put, that is how trust is built over time, and trust is an essential part of recovery for someone suffering from an eating disorder.
Question Your Motivations and Keep an Open Mind
Perhaps a good starting point is to ask yourself why you feel the need to reach out to them and connect about that topic, which is a difficult one. Are you really reaching out to them to offer eating disorder help or is it out of curiosity? Don’t feel bad if it’s the latter, but remember that the conversation can be triggering for them, regardless of the reason why you bring up the topic. I suggest that if you are curious, you carefully weigh the impact of your potential involvement before deciding to speak. Perhaps your involvement might make things better, or it might make it more challenging for the person in question, so if you truly care about the person, be ready to help, no matter what the consequences are.
In this video, I'll share more about how someone with an eating disorder might react to you bringing up this topic, and I also offer pointers as to how to start this difficult conversation.
Lemoine, P. (2013, December 3). Let's Talk About Your Eating Disorder. Say What?!, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2013/12/lets-talk-about-your-eating-disorder-say-what
Author: Patricia Lemoine
A very important post! I'm glad to see that you touched on the possibility of people asking out of pure curiosity vs willingness to help and understand what the individual is going through.
Whenever someone speaks to me about their mental health (or other life) struggles, I feel extremely privileged that they are sharing their story and putting their confidence in me. I hope more will begin to feel this way and understand just how big of an impact their support is on our recovery journey.
Thanks Steve! Appreciate the encouragements! People ask and say things for a number of reasons; sometimes it's important to consider the consequences of what these conversations can bring about.
I'm glad it resonated with you and that you can relate. Thanks for sharing!