This Holiday, Please Don't Say These Things About My Eating Disorder
Patricia also made a great video about a year and a half ago about how to prepare for triggers in social situations. And while the food is panic-provoking, that is only half the battle. You also have to deal with people. I see family every year (which I look forward to) but because I only see these folks once or twice a year, I drive myself crazy wondering if I'm fatter or thinner than they saw me last. And, being well-meaning, loving people, my family want to tell me all sorts of supportive things about how great I look now that I'm in recovery. But, please, don't say these things about my eating disorder.
How the Eating Disorder Translates Comments
Unfortunately, well-meaning comments don't always sound supportive. One thing a lot of people don't understand is that having an eating disorder is a bit like having a dictator, an angry mob and a babelfish in your head all at once. Someone is always telling you what to do, the multitude of voices are always screaming about how you are falling short, and the eating disorder can twist any comment -- even the most innocuous -- into fuel for the fire. The following are some that tend to get easily twisted and things not to say about my eating disorder (ED).
- "You look so healthy!" -- No. Just no. I don't think I have ever heard this and taken in the complimentary way it was intended. For a lot of us with eating disorders (especially anorexia), "healthy" means "fat," or at the very least "not sick" (which translates to "not good enough at the ED"). Alternatives would be to tell your loved one how great it is to see them smiling and laughing again. Or how they seem so much more present this Christmas than when you last saw them. Or that you love seeing the light back in their eyes. These are things our eating disorders stole that have nothing to do with our physical beings.
- "I wish I could eat like that and stay so thin!" -- Or anything to this effect. In my mind, I hear, "Wow. You're such a pig!" If your loved one is bulimic, you're practically giving him or her the green light to go and purge. If your loved one is anorexic, he or she is probably very, very distressed about the amount of food on his/her plate and would prefer you don't call attention to it.
- "Have you tried yoga/vitamin Z/weight watchers/eating kale/raising butterflies/whatever?" -- You mean well, we know. But especially if we aren't regularly in contact (i.e., I only see you a few times a year) and you're not aware of the details of my eating disorder, it's really best that you leave the treatment planning to the professionals. If you are a medical or mental health professional, that's another story, but really, if I'm trying to choke down my ham and sweet potatoes, I'd like to talk about anything other than my eating disorder at that moment.
- "You look like you've lost weight -- are you doing okay?" -- Here is what I hear (as filtered through the ED-translate software): "You look like you've lost weight. That is awesome. Keep doing what you're doing." Even a year-and-a-half into solid recovery, I still hear this comment this way. I still wake up every day and hope my pants are just a little loose and that someone will remark that I look thinner. Similar to the "healthy" comment, if you are worried about us, please find a way to relay this concern that doesn't involve our weight or bodies.
- "You don't look like you have an eating disorder." -- How do I need to look, exactly, in order for you to believe I have a life threatening illness? Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Saying this simply invalidates your loved one's illness and often translates into "you're not good enough at your eating disorder because you're not skeletal like all the girls on TV." Just strike this sentence from your vocabulary entirely.
And honestly? I'd love it if you treat me completely normally and ask about the books I've read lately or how I'm liking my job. Those things are more of the real me than my eating disorder ever was.
I'm missing some, no doubt. I would love to hear from other sufferers so that our loved ones know how they can best support our recoveries when talking with us.
Hudgens, J. (2014, December 11). This Holiday, Please Don't Say These Things About My Eating Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2014/12/this-holiday-please-dont-say-these-things
Author: Jessica Hudgens
Thank you so much for the mention Jess! ;)
Funny how small things can sometimes be the biggest triggers for us.
This is kind of related... When giving gifts, please, please don't buy me clothes or ask what size I'm wearing now! I appreciate the thought but no!
I've actually had someone at a holiday party, a year into recocery where I'm working on bravery and normalcy and taking things that other people would take in social situations, say "well that realky surprises me, you taking that cookie!" In front of everyone else. I couldn't shake the moment for a long time. I still won't take food in front of that person.
YES. It is translated in my mind similar to what Alie said and I think, "Should I not be eating this?!" I can certainly understand why taking food in front of this person continues to be challenging. I hope you are able to continue your work on bravery and normalcy this year.
Thanks for the comment. Hope you have a great holiday!
Great post Jess! I also hate to hear "oh, you're eating X again? Great!" Because what I hear is "That didn't used to be on your safe food list." And I totally reconsider if I 'should' be eating it or not and I feel gross. Also, I know family members mean well, but even if I'm not doing well ED-wise, a holiday or once-a-year time I see them is not the time to discuss it. Don't worry, family, I've got professionals who are on top of things. Lets just talk about how cute all the kids are. Or climate change. You know, less threatening topics for me.
Thanks, Alie! I agree that if you only see particular people once a year, it's not really appropriate for them to lay into you about your eating disorder. I think it's okay for them to state that they're worried and ask how they can help, but after that, they need to drop it.
Yes. Definitely stick with less threatening topics. Religion and politics are good ones, too. ;-)
Hope you have very happy holidays!
So true, I hate it when people say these things.Even if they're well-meaning, my mind always skews them. I once got, "Wow, you finally gained your figure back!"
Best way for me to respond to these comments is to just smile, nod my head, and change the subject.
If your family/friends are aware of your eating disorder, I would suggest sending them this article (or a similar one) so they know beforehand what things they should avoid saying! I did that the first couple of years after I started recovery and it was helpful. It doesn't remove the comments completely, but certainly cuts down on them!
Best of luck and happy holidays!
The holidays are my biggest trigger, which certainly takes away from the joy of what the holidays are supposed to be about. I look forward to seeing my family for the holidays, however, I absolutely dread the comments of "Have you lost weight?", "You look good! Healthy." And "How do you stay so thin?! I'm so jealous." While others may feel like these are positive comments, the eating disorder voice never fails to twist things around into something negative.
I would love for people to ask me about something other than praising me with compliments I do not want. It's nice to talk about something other than what's constantly on our mind.
So, how is your new job? What books have you read lately? :)
Thanks for the comment and the ideas for questions they could be asking! It's definitely hard for people without eating disorders to understand how things get so twisted in our heads. It really is a bit like its own language.
Hope your family and friends ask questions more about you and less about food and weight.
"I see you finally stopped that nonsense and now you got some meat on those bones!"
Um. What. To me this is the most blatant double whammy of an insult because it a) implies you think you're smarter than me and b) means I'm fat now. Gotta love big old southern families, am I right?
When someone offers me food that wasn't included in the minimal list of "safe foods" I had when I was sick, please don't answer for me and say "She doesn't eat that."