The Phrase Eating Disordered People Love to Hear
There’s a phrase that eating disordered people love to hear. We must be careful because this phrase can validate the person’s disorder. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, food and body image weigh on you all day long. Your mind whispers and screams commands about food or exercise and berates you when you can’t follow them perfectly. You have a slew of unrealistic expectations for yourself to live up to. Then you must factor in other people. Sometimes the people who love us can unintentionally validate our eating disorder with this one phrase that eating disordered people love to hear.
When you’re very thin our culture notices. The first thing our culture doesn’t ask is if that person is healthy. Instead, thinness is under a covert contract and can be synonymous with success and beauty. For the people who are in our day-to-day lives such as loved ones, friends, and family, they may condone losing a few pounds but the conversation soon changes when you’ve lost too much.
For anyone with an eating disorder, it may have started off innocently enough, just wanting to lose a few pounds or get bikini-ready, but soon it’s not innocent anymore. If your weight fluctuates drastically, as it can with bulimia, or you keep getting smaller, as you will with anorexia, people will notice, possibly stare, and most likely talk behind your back.
What Eating Disordered People Love to Hear
The phrase that all friends and loved ones end up saying to the eating disordered person sounds something like this,
“Oh my goodness. You’re so thin.”
There are other variations of this like, "Oh my goodness, I can see your bones." "You’re going to blow away." "You’re so skinny." "I’m worried about you because you’re so skinny." etc.
Our friends and loved ones mean well when they say these things. They have been taught that if they tell you that you are too thin that somehow you will suddenly be like, “Oh my goodness. You’re right. I should eat something. Thank you.”
Why Eating Disordered People Love These Phrases
What others don’t know is that these messages are heard very differently by someone with an eating disorder. For example, when people used to tell me with a look of worry on their face that I was too thin, or so skinny, alarm bells didn’t go off in my head.
This is what happened instead -- A fleeting smile of happiness that I immediately told myself to cover, followed by the internal dialogue, “Thank you. It’s working. Yay.”
The comment had the opposite effect. It validated that all my hard work was paying off in the way that I wanted.
So, instead of saying the phrase that eating disordered people might love to hear you can say something from this list of possibilities,
- “I’m worried about your health. I’d like to help you find a nutritionist to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs."
- "I’d like to assist you in finding a therapist to talk with about the body image issues you mentioned to me."
- "I’m scared that I might not have a friend/sister/daughter because you’ll severely damage your heath or die."
Those are only a few possible things you might say and you can come up with many more that suit your situation better. The point is that when you tell us we’re thin we hear it as success. Tell us what you’re afraid of instead. Ask us if you can help us find someone to chat with. Or if you’re a parent of a younger child, get them help even if they don’t want it.
Eating disorders are curable and they’re easier to deal with the quicker they are faced.
Zoccolante, Z. (2017, June 28). The Phrase Eating Disordered People Love to Hear, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2017/06/the-phrase-eating-disorder-people-love-to-hear
Author: Z Zoccolante
My daughter has bulimia, she is 25 and has been ill for at least 5 years. One of her big trigger foods is dairy. Should we not have it in the house? I don't know whether to keep having it, to normalise it, or stop having it to assist. I'd appreciate your comment Z.
Hello, and thank you for reaching out. First, I would like to extend my support and encouragement to both you and your daughter. As an eating disorder survivor, who struggled well into my 20s, my heart goes out to your whole family in the midst of this ordeal. In response to your question, this truly is a case-by-case situation. You know your daughter's behavior, so ask yourself, "Would eliminating the trigger food from the house entirely cause more secrecy, anger, deception, or shame on her part? Would it drive her even deeper into the eating disorder and push her to take more extreme measures when she feels the urge to binge? Or would it give her a measure of relief that she doesn't always have to stare directly into the face of temptation whenever she opens the fridge?" I would also recommend consulting a the opinion of a professional, such as a therapist or dietician, who specializes in eating disorders and who can offer advice based on grounded clinical experience. In this meantime, if you need additional resources, our HealthyPlace Eating Disorders Community (https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders) is an excellent starting point. I hope this offers you some direction, and please don't hesitate to reach out if you need anything else.