Eating disorders can be complex to understand and many myths permeate throughout our culture around eating disorders. Many people struggle to understand what an eating disorder is, let alone how to support someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not only mental but they are also physical as well. If you have someone in your life struggling with an eating disorder it can be challenging to support them. There is of course not a one-size-fits-all for supporting someone struggling with an eating disorder, as each person has their own unique triggers, eating disorder behaviors, feelings, and beliefs. There are, however, statements and topics that usually are not going to be helpful for someone struggling with an eating disorder. So continue reading to learn how to support someone with an eating disorder.

Don’t push your beliefs about food or weight 

Be aware of diet culture and mindful of how your own judgments and beliefs about food may impact someone struggling with an eating disorder. It’s helpful to support someone with an eating disorder by not judging food or expressing negative beliefs about food. Working on not negatively talking about food and your body/other people’s bodies are helpful for someone when they are struggling with an eating disorder. Be aware of any good food or bad food talk and instead try to talk positively about food or be neutral. Examples of this are “Ugh this food has so many calories” or “Pizza is so unhealthy” or “I really need to lose weight”. Statements like this can reinforce someone’s beliefs and attitudes about food and bodies when they struggle with an eating disorder.  

Delete Fat Talk From Your Vocabulary 

Have you or someone you know ever been asked “Do l look fat in this?”. The natural inclination is to jump back, almost in shock, and say “Oh my god no you are not fat!”. Thus reinforcing that fat is somehow bad and providing reassurance that they are not that. While this has good intentions, it ends up giving the same message that fat is bad. Even expressing how you feel “fat” can lead to someone comparing their body to yours and if they perceive their body to be similar or larger they may internalize that you too think they are fat. Challenge yourself to talk more vulnerably about your emotions or give a compliment not based on the way someone looks. Work on removing fat talk from how you speak especially around someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. 

It’s Not About The Food

Eating disorders are deeper than just food. Usually, food or eating disorder behaviors around food are being used as a way to cope with many different things. The desire to be thin often comes from a desire to be accepted by others. Not knowing how to cope with your feelings can manifest through control of food, or using eating disorder behaviors. Food can be a way to self-soothe, control, and release tension or anxiety. Even underneath using food to cope, people will use food as a way to change their bodies to minimize judgment and/or as a means to connect with people. 

Avoid Glorifying Eating Disorders

It is not uncommon to hear people say things such as “I wish I had that much willpower” or “I wish all I wanted to eat was an apple”. I assure you no one with an eating disorder actually wants to be starving themselves but rather it is a way they have coped with anxieties and fears far deeper than the food. Sometimes one might say you look so skinny or give compliments driven around glorifying thinness. All of these types of statements can encourage someone who is struggling with an eating disorder to keep engaging in harmful behaviors. 

Ask Someone What They Need 

Don’t be afraid to ask someone who is struggling and/or has an eating disorder what type of support they need. 

Take time to ask someone what they need or what might be helpful during meal times or how they can bring up concerns they have if they see you engaging in eating disorder behaviors. Oftentimes, someone who is struggling knows what is and is not supportive for them and it can be different for everyone on what is best supportive. Eating disorders are not a one-size-fits-all so providing support can vastly vary from person to person. 

Article by Julie Raymond, LCPC

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