How to Support Someone in Eating Disorder Recovery
Are you trying to support a loved one who is battling an eating disorder? Are you looking for the “right” things to say? I am here to tell you that there is no “right” thing to say. Recovery is hard! You are an important part of the treatment team as a supporter. Below are some things that people in recovery hear often; as someone who is on the other side of the couch, I am here to tell you things not to say so that your loved one can continue to feel supported by you and you will hopefully not feel as though you are walking on eggshells! If you have said anything similar to what is below, you are not alone! We are all doing our best to support each other and as humans we make mistakes. If we can recognize our mistakes, we can learn from our mistakes.
“I need to go on a diet.” or “I can’t believe I just ate that.” No, no, no! Do not label foods as good, bad, healthy or unhealthy. In a world where it seems everyone is a “nutritionist”, there are plenty of conversations going around about miracle foods, the forbidden foods and the diets that are going to make us live until we are 500 years old. For the sake of yourself, and your loved one, do not engage in diet talk and labeling foods!
“You look better!” or “You look great!” While these phrases sound positive to someone not suffering from an eating disorder, the eating disorder takes this phrase and translates it into something extremely negative; so negative that it may increase eating disorder behaviors immediately.
“Why can’t you just eat? Thanks, Captain Obvious. Of course everyone with an eating disorder would love to just eating without feeling guilt, shame, anxiety, battle compensatory thoughts, and feelings of disgust. It is a process and they are working on it.
“Are you going to be able to find something on the menu?” Your loved one is already feeling like a burden, different, wanting to isolate, and at times, wanting to give up. If he or she has a treatment team, they are preparing for these moments and challenges. They are coping ahead and processing how the event went after so that they can utilize that experience to keep moving ahead in recovery and crushing these outing experiences!
“When are you going to be better?” Your loved one is wondering the same thing. Eating disorders do not develop overnight and therefore recovery does not happen over night. Recovery is a process that ebbs and flows. There are set backs, twists and turns. It is a wild ride. It is so hard for your loved one to change the relationship with food; something that they will have to face every single day. Recovery is worth it all.
Actions speak louder than words. Be present. Listen. Show compassion. Validate what is valid. Let your loved one know you are so happy to see him or her. Do not compare pains or stories. Do not judge. Your loved one will appreciate all of that.