047 How Not to be a Dick to Someone with an Eating Disorder
In this diet-obsessed world, it’s difficult navigating an eating disorder or maintaining recovery from one. The girls discuss ways to avoid triggering a loved one, some maybe not as much.
In This Episode
In the immortal words of Kelly: Don’t be a deck!
Inspired by the amazing Rise & Resist episode How to be an Ally to Someone with an Eating Disorder, Nichole and Callie wanted to cover the other side of ED support, which is what NOT to do or say. The girls both suffer from various eating disorders and have experienced a lot of unfortunate, and largely unintentional, triggering episodes with friends, family, coworkers, and even random strangers.
We’ll try to be careful with our words today but we will be giving examples of things not to say, which could unintentionally be triggering. If you are in a vulnerable place, this might be an episode to skip.
Before we jump into it, understand that eating disorders are mental illnesses, no different than addiction, PTSD or depression. They are minimized heavily in our culture, but they are very real and very damaging. We are doing this episode because we see the ways that our culture is essentially built to be one giant non-stop trigger, and we hope that together, we can all start dismantling that. But in order to be successful, we have to start with the premise that eating disorders (EDs) are mental illnesses, and not something more trivial.
We will go so far as to say that a lot of these things are great things to stop doing or saying in general. You don’t know who has an eating disorder out in the world, and a lot of what our culture does as a norm are things that add to the constant pressure. So take note, as we go along, and see if there are ways that you can maybe change the way you interact with the world and other people to start moving the focus towards something safer and more constructive than the physical shit we usually focus on.
- With that being said, the first item on our list is don’t say things like “just eat more” or “just stop eating so much.” This may sound obvious, but I’ve had partners say this to me, especially about not eating so much. That’s like telling an alcoholic “stop drinking so miuch and you’ll be fine.” It’s a mental illness, saying dismissive things like this feeds the person’s shame and makes them feel gross and misunderstood.
- Similarly, Don’t make assumptive remarks about eating disorders: Anorexics don’t have strong willpower, they are not vain or attention seeking. Bulimics and over-eaters don’t lack willpower, they are not lazy or just need to eat less. The idea of will power and dieting is generally harmful and should just go away.
- Don’t EVER talk numbers EVER! Weight, calories, measurements, sizes – yours, theirs, anybody’s. PR’s (personal records) can be triggering, too. It’s ok to say you PR’d, but don’t volunteer the numerical deets unless asked.
- Don’t tell someone they look good or look bad after weight gain or loss. Commenting on people’s bodies in general is a no no.
- Don’t encourage extreme diets in them or anyone else. Juice cleanses, fruit fasts, etc. Extreme diets like this will only make the EDs worse. People with eating disorders need to learn balance and to be in tune with their bodies; extreme diets are the opposite of this.
- Don’t put judgement words on foods – “bad” “naughty” “clean” “good.” As Lacy Davis of Super Strength Health says, “Clean is for your underwear, not your food.”
- Similarly, stop with the body talk. Stop saying you feel “bloated” “fat” “disgusting” “gross” or “light” “airy” “clean.”
- Don’t be the Food Police. This means don’t point out how much, how little, or what they’re eating. Food policing creates guilt and shame, and it will make them feel like they have to hide things from you. Never forget: eating disorders thrive in darkness.
- Don’t use compliments to dismiss ED feelings/beliefs. Don’t counteract “I’m so fat!” with “No you’re not!” It gives credence to the disordered beliefs instead of drawing importance away from looks. I talk about this more at length in an article on Super Strength Health.
- Don’t EVER EVER EVER ask qualifying questions. Don’t ask how low of a weight someone got to, or how little they actually ate, or if they were hospitalized, or anything else in order to judge “how sick” they are/were. It’s extremely triggering, and it’s hurtful to not just be believed.
- Similarly, don’t talk about other people’s extreme ED stories. Talking about someone else who had an extreme eating disorder will only make the person you’re talking to feel like theirs isn’t extreme enough, it can push them to want to harm themselves further.
- As someone is recovering, don’t put them back in their ED box. Don’t remark on what they are eating in relation to how they used to eat: “You NEVER say no to seconds!” “You NEVER eat this much!” “You NEVER eat this little!” “You NEVER eat ice cream!”
- Don’t make fun of celebrity weight loss or gain. It’s just mean and shows the people around you that you focus on others’ weight and think someone’s struggles with it are funny. It’s easy to forget but celebrities are people, too.
- Don’t make weight or looks a big deal in your relationships – yours, theirs, or anyone else’s. It’s easy small talk, and is ingrained in certain cultures (especially corporate culture) but try to avoid constant chatter about weight, diets, and size. Talk about the weather instead!
- Do some research. Look up the eating disorder and read about it, read information from support groups, look up resources on how to be an ally and also get support for yourself. Loving someone with an ED can be very sad and draining at times, make sure to do lots of self-care.
- Do let them know they are loved. Compliment or mention non-physical things you love about them, and just make them generally feel supported. Remind them that they matter outside of their physical appearance and that someone cares about them, cares about their well-being.
- Do talk openly. Ask them what they need from you, tell them what you need from them, and keep the dialogue open for both of you so speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Let them know you won’t react badly to being told something is a trigger. Don’t be afraid to set some boundaries. You love them but you are not their therapist. It’s ok to take breaks or put a limit on their obsessive body talk.
- Do respect their boundaries. If your loved one tells you something is a trigger, believe them and respect it. Don’t make fun of them for being oversensitive, or try to decide on your own which ones you think are valid and which aren’t. If a line is drawn, don’t cross it.
A Little Levity
The content today was pretty heavy, so go get some shoes, betch!
“Umm, this style runs small, I don’t think you’re going to fet. I mean, your feet are kinda beg.”
Links and Resources
- Delta Airlines Ends the Transport of Exotic Animal Hunting Trophies (Change.org) – Sign to support Delta!
- Sausage and Bacon Sales Drop After Report Linked Process Meat to Cancer (MFA Blog)
- Snoop Dogg Handed Out Over a Thousand Turkeys to Families in Need (Upworthy)
- Hawaii Becomes First US State to Ban Wild Animal Performances (HNGN)
- Prolife Activists are Celebrating the PLanned Parenthood Shooting (HNGN)
Resources & Further Information
- The Full Helping’s Green Recovery stories are amazing – stories of people whose veganism helped them recover from eating disorders. There’s a lot of insight here to what struggling with an eating disorder looks like, feels like, and what kinds of things helped or hurt on their journey. Very moving stuff, I can’t recommend it enough.
- 5 Ways to be an Ally to Your Partner’s Eating Disorder Recovery and Avoid Triggering Them (Everyday Feminist)
- Support for Families and Friends of Loved Ones with Eating Disorders (National Eating Disorders Association)