If a friend or loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, it can be very hard to know how to help. Maybe you want to offer support but are not sure how. Sometimes, we really need to know what not to say to someone with an eating disorder so that we do not cause more harm. Below are our suggestions for things to avoid and what you might try instead. We hope this helps!
Why can’t you just eat something?
Instead say: I would really like to learn more about what happens when you think about eating, can you explain it to me? I want to learn more about this.
If you practiced better self-control you wouldn’t binge.
Instead say: I know this is hard for you, I’m sad that you are going through this.
People love a (insert body type here) person! You should love your body.
The eating disorder is not solely about the body shape. It is best to avoid reflection on what you think their body looks like at all (either negative or positive). If someone is obsessively talking about their body shape, try to talk instead about what their body does for them, houses them, carries them through life, etc.
You would look/feel better if you gain/lose weight
Avoid making judgements or assumptions about weight and health. Focus on the emotions the person is experiencing.
If you exercise regularly you will feel better.
This is prescribing a triggering behavior as the solution! Someone with an eating disorder might be using exercise to compensate for food intake or may be exercise avoidant due to body image or trauma. Talking with someone or getting treatment are the things that will help the person feel better.
But men/POC/people in larger sized bodies/people of your age/etc. don’t really get eating disorders, so maybe it’s something else…
Not true! Anyone can develop any eating disorder. Literally anyone! Do not make assumptions on the validity of someone’s eating disorder based on their identity.
Just cut out __________ foods/food group.
This is saying that some foods are better than others and encourages restrictive behaviors. If someone is really struggling with what foods to eat, suggest that they talk to an eating disorder specialized dietitian.
I’m so glad that you were able to eat today!
Avoid commenting on what a person with an eating disorder eats. Many people with eating disorders feel very guilty when they eat. Instead focus on the feelings the person is experiencing.
I skip meals sometimes too (or wish I could).
Even if this is true, it is not the same as having a full-blown eating disorder. This normalizes disordered behaviors and validates self-harm as an acceptable option. Instead say: I would really like to learn more about what happens when you think about eating, can you explain it to me? I want to learn more about this.
Don’t talk about the person’s body shape/size/look (even if it feels encouraging or positive)
Don’t talk about your own food opinions or judgements (even if it feels encouraging or positive)
Always come back to the emotions
Feel free to also use and share this visual guide to help other’s who might need some guidance around these conversations: