Anorexia is an incredibly, frustratingly illogical disorder – it’s not normal to not want to food, it’s a basic human need and often the sufferer’s mind is so taken over by their illness that you may worry that your well meaning words could be distorted and upset them. For starters I’d just like to say that if this has ever happened to you, if you’ve ever said something you thought was innocent – maybe you even thought it was a compliment – and upset someone with an ED then please don’t feel guilty. I know it seems like it was you that caused us upset but in reality it was the disorder, not you and most of the time we are able to recognise that. But I thought I’d share some tips of how best you can support us and try to avoid upset either way!
- Try and avoid talking about your diet or weight loss. This just reinforces the idea that it’s normal (when it’s really not) or, for example, if you’re talking about having lost X amount of weight with pride, then if makes us think that aspiring to lose weight is good and something we should be doing to. When you tell us that you’ve lost X pounds in the last month, even though we know how dangerous it would be for us that logic disappears and the disorder takes over and says “Why haven’t you lost weight like that?” So please, if you have to talk about it with anyone, don’t do it with someone with anorexia. And if possible avoid negative self talk (things like ‘Ugh I feel so fat today’ or ‘I think I’ve gained weight and I hate it.’), I know someone else’s disorder shouldn’t dictate your own life but it just makes us feel really uncomfortable a lot of the time we’re being made to gain weight and you saying things like this just reinforces the idea that weight gain is bad thing and that our fear of ‘fat’ is justified. Try and avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as well – the eating disorder does that enough for us anyway, you saying the same things as the disorder just tells us that it’s right when it’s really not. We’re also probably trying to challenge the foods that you label ‘bad’ and that just makes it harder for us to do that.
- This next one’s a bit of a judgement call to be honest, I can’t tell you exactly what to/not to say because there is no right or wrong answer. Try and avoid commenting on their body, I mean it’s hopefully obvious not to say things like ‘Oh wow, you’ve gained weight!’ even if you do mean it in a positive way (the ED definitely doesn’t take it positively no matter what you’re intentions were or how you say it) but there are some other things that the ED will twist into meaning the same thing. For example, ‘You look well!” or “You look better,” because both of those the disorder twists into meaning, ‘You have obviously gained weight and they think you’re fat.” Is it illogical? Yes. Does that matter in the moment? No. So please just try and avoid things like that. There are a few more that could potentially be upsetting but I don’t want to tell you to avoid them completely because they could be compliments and really nice to hear but they could also be twisted by the ED. It’s a bit of a minefield I know! If someone’s really unwell and consumed by their anorexia then even something as simple as ‘you look nice’ could be twisted into ‘you don’t look ill enough.’ So just try and be mindful of that fact that your words might not be taken the way you intended them to be but also that every sufferer will be different and you’ve just got to go with what you think will be okay for the individual.
- Try and accept that there are going to be things that trigger/upset us that you won’t understand and that that’s okay. We’d prefer that you didn’t understand some things because the only way you could understand them is if you were in our position and we wouldn’t wish that on anyone. When we do get upset we’re not expecting you to say, ‘Oh, I completely understand, it’s okay’, because you won’t and we don’t expect you to. Just try and comfort us the best way you can and show us that we’re loved, that’s all anyone could ever expect of you.
- Try and get them involved with as many ‘normal’ activities as you can to help remind us that there’s more to life than just our illness and that we’re fighting for a reason. I’m not saying to do anything extravagant, just little normal things that will mean the world to us. Don’t leave us out of things just because you think we won’t want to, if we turn you down once (or even ten times) then that doesn’t mean we won’t ever want to do them when we’re in a better place. I know it feel quite tiring and maybe even insulting but I promise that it isn’t you and so please don’t take it personally. And try and bear in mind that there are potentially things that we won’t be able to do if we’re really ill e.g. going on long walks or out for big meals but again, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to do them or spend time with you, just that we need to make some more progress first.
- Just be kind. Check up on us – a simple ‘Hi! How are you doing?’ text honestly means the world. It shows us that you care and that we’re loved and there’s no better feeling. Again, we’re not looking for extravagant gestures, just little simple things. I’ve been so lucky in that my friends are incredibly supportive and always checked up on me and even visited me when I was 75 miles away in hospital when they could – illness does a really good job of showing you who you’re real friends are and I couldn’t be happier with the friends that I have left, that have stuck with me through it all and continue to stick by me no matter what. If you really want to be our friend then please, push past the awkward ‘I don’t really know what to say’ stage and remember that we’re still the same person underneath our illness. And showing that you want to be our friend even though we’re ill again, means more than we can say.
- And the last one -don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re not sure about something then we’d much rather you asked us to make sure rather than saying or doing something that would upset us. Most of the time we’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have so please don’t be scared!
I hope you found this helpful and informative, if you have any questions or if you have an ED yourself and think there’s something that you think friends/family should know that I haven’t included then please comment below and I could always include it in another post!
Lots of love,