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In Part 1 of this series, I discussed a bit about my personal battle with bulimia. In Part 2, I’m going to be discussing the do’s and don’ts of communicating with someone with an eating disorder.
Although some of the following may sound obvious, I can assure you it’s all been said. If not directly to me, to one of my friends. Most people genuinely do not mean to be hurtful, it can just be hard to know what to say and how to broach such a tricky subject.
Again, I must reiterate that everyone with an eating disorder is different, but here are the main points to guide you when speaking to people with an eating disorder:
– “Oh, you look great!”
– “So, why aren’t you really skinny?”
– “Well at least you’re not too thin.”
– “Nice to see you looking a bit rounder/plumper/healthier.”
– “It (your eating disorder) can’t be that bad – you look fine, right?”
The sad thing is, now that I’m recovering well, I can see that all these comments aren’t meant to hurt at all. But, in the mind of a sufferer or someone who is recovering, all of these comments can translate into, “Oh. You look fat.”
A second point on this topic: it’s not about appearance. Sure, when my illness first took hold, I gradually stopped eating all together and I loved the weight loss and the compliments. I buzzed off it.
After I turned 15 and had been bulimic for awhile, it wasn’t about looks or weight so much as it was a nasty addiction.
Having said that, now when people compliment me or tell me I’m looking healthy, I positively beam back at them! My normal response is, “Me?! How kind! And yes, thank you, I feel much healthier.”
It’s definitely best to get to know how a person feels about themselves first before commenting on their appearance.
Once more, some people can’t see why these questions and assumptions are just plain hurtful to us, which is totally understandable. For example:
– “So, you don’t eat?”
– “It’s kind of like failed anorexia?”
– “How low did your weight go?”
– “You’d never be able to tell. Do you eat a lot then?” (Double whammy right there!)
– “Why do you do it?”
As for not thinking about food, it’s generally the complete opposite. Food ends up ruling you, and ruling your mental space. It’s noisy and won’t shut up or leave you alone until you give in.
All of these comments could just be said out of a pure misunderstanding about the illness. That last question is a tricky one. Why? Why do we do it?! I’ve asked myself that so many times.
Yes, I know what can trigger it, I know sometimes it’s to do with emotions, but really…I don’t have an answer. It could sometimes seem irrational to an outsider. You wouldn’t keep putting your hand on a hot stove if it kept burning you, would you? Yet, with bulimia, it feels like you get burnt over and over again.
– “Don’t you know it’s so bad for your health?”
– “You’d feel so much better if you just stopped.”
– “But, you need ‘X’ amount of calories per day.”
It’s not about a lack of education or information.
Most sufferers already know these kinds of things. I, for one, have studied and researched food for many years because of this enduring obsession. I know some people who probably know much more than many health professionals do on the topic.
It’s not so simple. It’s one thing knowing, and another thing doing.
It’s not all doom and gloom! If you’ve read this far, the chances are that you are caring enough to want to be able to help where you can. Proceed with patience, open-mindedness, kindness and an non-judging attitude.
Have the courage to ask. (There are not-so-good ways to ask, but also some really great and non-offensive ways too). Here are some of the suggestions I got back from my friends:
– “I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through, but I’m here as an ear to listen if you ever need me to vent at or confide in.”
– “Is there anything I can do to make life easier for you?”
– “You didn’t seem quite right yesterday, I can’t put my finger on it but I just wanted to check in to see if you’re OK?”
– “I have no idea what it’s all about and it hurts me to think you’re going through this. Maybe you could write some of your feelings down or show me some information that might help educate me?”
Be sure to be open and honest. Most of us don’t want your pity so bear that in mind, too!
When you’ve asked your questions (even if you don’t get a response), it may trigger someone with an eating disorder to realize they need to get back on track, start looking for professional help, or simply reach out for some friendly support.
Just knowing that you won’t be a drain on someone’s energy when you need a space to talk things through is important if you have mental health issues.
Recovery is possible. Point the person you care about in the direction of this article, if you wish. Encourage reaching out for support and help because anyone with an eating disorder is worth way more than suffering through this.
Never stop trying to recover, no matter how hard it may feel and how much of a struggle it can be. One day, you will beat the beast. The only time you could possibly be near failure is if you give up altogether and lose all hope.
No one can recover for you, but you can get an awful lot of support and guidance. Grab that help, hold it tight, and use it. And keep on going.