What some might overlook as a comment in passing, could represent a dangerous trigger to others.
Sometimes we can forget that people battle mental health in different ways, and it can be hard to filter our language when out in public or with our friends. Without realizing it, we could be saying something harmful.
Eating disorders are more than a physical hardship, they are a mental one as well. They are not all the same and can look different for many people, just like the people who have them can all look different.
A statistic from the “Child Mind Institute” claims that between 10 and 20 percent of women and between 4 and 10 percent of men in college suffer from eating disorders. With these numbers on the rise, it is important to be mindful of what you are saying, where you are saying it, and who you are saying it to.
Here are some things we should think about before we say them.
1. “Are you really going to eat all of that?” or “That’s all you’re going to eat?”
As someone who is affected by words like these, please stop saying them. Whether it’s eating what may seem like too much or too little, eating around people is an achievement within itself.
Questioning the amount of food someone eats, especially if they struggle with their eating, can be harmful. There may be a difficult thought process when deciding how much to eat, and asking them questions like these can make them overthink it.
2. We can just burn off all of these calories later.”
Statements like these can create negative relationships with calories and exercise. Such comments allow some people who struggle with their eating to see calories as the bad guy and exercise as the good guy.
Reality is, food is a friend, not an enemy. Not everyone with an eating disorder or disordered eating has come to that realization yet. The tiniest bit of influence from a statement like this can cause a world of anxiety.
3. “Wouldn’t you rather eat something healthier?” or “That’s a lot of calories.”
Eating is eating, healthy or not. There is no reason for anyone to comment on what another person is having to eat.
Telling someone with an eating disorder that the food on their plate is a lot of calories can completely shut them down or cause a lot of anxiety about eating what they were going to. This has happened to me, and it has a bigger effect than one may think.
4. “Why don’t you just eat if you’re hungry?”
Easier said than done. If you want to say this in a gentler way try, “Hey, I’m hungry too, do you want to go get some food?” There is such a difference between the questions.
Asking someone with an eating disorder why they don’t just eat, can be like asking a baby why they don’t stop crying. It’s hard — a mental block that says, “You know I would if I could, but I can’t.” Asking someone if they want to eat with you can help ease that mental block by turning it from an eating event into a social one.
5. “Just stop binging.”
Eating disorders are not always a lack of eating, they can also be an abundance of it. There are many ways that people end up eating in excess. Someone who is binging may already feel embarrassed with what they are doing, the reminder isn’t needed.
6. “You should just go on a diet.”
It is not our place to tell someone to go on a diet because it could encourage disordered eating habits. Aside from that, getting told you should go on a diet can be really harmful to body image. It’s a comment that isn’t necessary, ever, because diets don’t work the same way on everyone — it’s not a catch-all solution to fitting in with a body standard.
I got so caught up in what social media told me about dieting, that I developed disordered eating habits really quickly. This, and the knowledge of a diet my friend used, caused me to spiral. Take it from my experience, dieting can have a really negative effect if it isn't done right.
7. “You should probably go see someone/get help.”
That is a really great idea! Thank you so much for your opinion… not.
Seeking out professional treatment can be a difficult path to start on. Maybe whoever is being told this has already thought about it and just isn’t ready yet. The way others handle their mental health needs to be their decision, not someone else’s.
If you have a friend who struggles with an eating disorder, be there for them instead of telling them what you think they need. Offer support, not your opinions.
8. “But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”
Are people with eating disorders supposed to look a certain way? Eating disorders can look differently for those who have them. There is no specific “look” to them, just like everyone with depression or OCD looks different.
Nobody has to explain themselves, especially to people who make comments like these. Just because we don’t “look” like we struggle with an eating disorder, means nothing.
Everyone’s struggle with an eating disorder is different and that is really important to remember before we make comments that could affect our friends and those around us.
Always remember to be a friend to those who are struggling. And to those who struggle, you are so much stronger than you know.