When it comes to supporting loved ones with Eating Disorders, it is hard to know exactly what to say (or not to say) in order to help and not harm the sufferer. I’ve gone through things that I found to be helpful (and not helpful) when dealing with the foggy landscape that is supporting Eating Disorder Sufferers. This is the first part of a 2-part series of posts. View part 2 – Comments on Behaviours here!
Comments on Body
Try to avoid comments on the size or shape of the sufferer’s body. Whether you say they look thin, healthy, sick, or healthy your words will be twisted by the eating disorder. Often times, even commenting on someone’s thinness can lead to an increase in anxiety and shame. Instead, try to focus on things like mood or non-shape related adjectives. Saying someone looks beautiful without relating it to their body shape or size, or happier instead of healthier can make a HUGE difference.
Try to avoid comments on your OWN body shape or size. This is difficult considering the extremely body-focused culture we find ourselves in, but the more you focus on non-body related attributes, the better your self-worth despite your body shape, the easier it is for us to follow suit. It is especially important to avoid negative body comments about yourself or others. Instead try to comment positively about your body’s abilities or positive attributes (hair and eyes are often the easiest to admire). Focus on all of the positive things bodies allow us to do like singing, dancing, swimming, running, jumping etc.
Your loved one has a very skewed view when it comes to seeing their own body, they often have no idea what they actually look like! They may think that they look larger than you see them. Arguing with them or trying to convince them that they look any way other than they see is honestly a waste of energy. Instead of trying to convince them that they do not look the way they think they do, gently remind them that their view is skewed. This can often be frustrating to a sufferer because they cannot trust their eyes, this is neither your fault nor responsibility – assure them that they will once again be able to trust their eyes, but only when in recovery.
Try not to compare your own body to your loved one’s. I know my husband was often upset because if I thought I was fat, I must see him as extremely obese. Please know that our skewed vision of bodies only applies to our own bodies. We see you exactly as you do and often times do not even think about your bodies, as long as you try not to talk about them negatively. Do not compare clothes sizes, weights, body measurements with yourself or the past body of the sufferer. I don’t have an “instead” for this one, mostly because comparison is the thief of joy and comparison is what drives a lot of eating disordered patterns. So, I guess my instead for this is; instead of comparing your body with theirs don’t!
I guess the most important part of this is that body weight, shape or size do NOT equal illness, health or recovery. An eating disorder can be extreme at any body weight. Weight restoration does not mean a person is recovered and often heralds the hardest part of recovery.
Continue to Part 2 – Comments on Behaviours here!