10 Things to NEVER SAY to Someone With Bipolar Disorder!
10 Things Never to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders aren't about vanity or choice. In reality, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, among others, are serious illnesses triggered by genetic, psychological and cultural factors. While recovery is possible, it's harder if patients hear the wrong things from loved ones. "We're making comments to individuals who are grappling with tough ideas about self-evaluation," says Evelyn Attia, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders at Columbia University Medical Center. "They can be sensitive about comments they believe are connected to food, body shape or weight." Here's what not to say (and what to say or do) to help someone with an eating disorder.
1. You just need to eat more.
You may feel frustrated because suggestions like this and "exercise less" or "purge less" seem like a simple solution to the behavior. But you're discounting the fact that eating disorders are mental illnesses. "It's similar to saying to someone battling depression, 'Just snap out of it,'" says Dr. Attia. Instead, focus on her journey toward wellness with something like, "I'm happy you're working hard at being healthy."
2. You didn't eat much today.
Don't comment on what a person is or isn't eating; both induce feelings of anxiety and may trigger negative eating behaviors. But "it's fine to say, 'I'm concerned about you,'" says Nanci Pradas, PhD, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders in the Boston area. Just "avoid arguing with them about food intake." Instead, offer to listen if they want to talk, and then hear them out without judging.
3. That food is so unhealthy for you.
Don't become the food police. "People who struggle with binge eating disorder often eat foods that are high fat or sugary during a binge, which makes them feel worse and binge more," says Eve Kilmer, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Boulder, CO. "Anorexic patients consider many foods forbidden. Part of recovery is learning to cope with the anxiety of eating anything, so comments like these are burdensome." Bottom line: Absolutely no discussion about food, calories or weight.
4. You must think I'm really overweight!
This is not about you; it's about your loved one. "Talking about your own weight isn't useful in any conversation, let alone when speaking to a person with an eating disorder," says Dr. Attia. "We talk too much as a society about weight, what we ate, what we will eat. Avoid comments like these completely."
5. I wish I had your discipline to lose weight.
People with eating disorders aren't making lifestyle choices; they're struggling with illnesses. "Behaviors such as not eating or exercising excessively are part of not liking yourself," says Sondra Kronberg, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association. "These actions are how a person tries to feel better about him or herself." Rather than reinforce the myth that eating disorders are about willpower, show you believe the person can regain health with, "I support everything you're doing to heal."
6. Have you lost more weight?
You may think your question shows concern, but it only makes your friend or relative feel more self-conscious. Avoid calling attention to appearance, and instead talk about anything other than food and eating—school, work, books, travel. It shows your loved one that you're interested in him or her as a person, says Kronberg.
7. You don't look like you have an eating disorder.
People with eating disorders, which include a spectrum of extreme food and weight issues, may be normal weight, overweight or obese. "It's rare that you can tell a person has an eating disorder from appearance," says Dr. Kilmer. "Instead, validate and acknowledge the person's struggle by asking something such as, "How can I help you?" Let the individual share without dismissing his or her feelings.
8. I made your favorite dish; can't you just eat a bite?
"This comment is guilt-inducing, which makes the person feel worse," says Kronberg. If your loved one is struggling at mealtime, ask something like, "Can you remember the tips your therapist suggested?" Also, plan activities that don't revolve around food, such as going to a play or museum. Being with people counteracts feelings of isolation that many eating disorder sufferers experience.
9. Don't you care that you're hurting yourself?
Comments like this one intensify feelings of shame and guilt, which this self-judgmental person is likely already experiencing. "These types of comments only cause more anxiety," says Dr. Kilmer. A better approach than blaming them for their struggles: Say, "I really care about you. Is there anything I can do?" And pick up tips at the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
10. You look great the way you are.
You may think you're giving a compliment, but "people with an eating disorder can turn everything into some way to feel bad about themselves," says Kronberg.
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