Maybe you don’t struggle with eating disorders or unhealthy food patterns. If not, I’m so happy for you! But maybe you know people who do and want to be able to support them. Or maybe you want to help contribute to healthy food patterns in our society instead of feeding into the unhealthy messages that are on the cover of every other magazine. Either way, this article is for you. I’m going to break down some things that you should never say to someone struggling with an eating disorder, and also some helpful things that you can do to help support someone who’s struggling.
So let’s start with some things that you should never ever comment on/say to someone who’s struggling with an eating disorder—and let’s be honest, to ANYONE!
Stop making comments about weight. Never ask someone if they’re pregnant. And also, never give a “compliment” about losing weight. A lot of times we feel like we’re giving someone a compliment when telling them they look good or they look like they’ve lost some weight. And while this may be our intention, we never know the whole story behind someone’s weight. You don’t know if that person lost weight due to an illness or an eating disorder or not having food available to them.
You don’t know if someone has gained weight because of an illness, stress, or an unseen condition.
You don’t know if someone is happy or unhappy about the changes with their weight. So keep your comments about weight to yourself. Why, you may ask? The main reason, this puts so much focus on weight, which should never be the main focus. And it also can be very triggering for someone struggling with an eating disorder to continue an unhealthy behaviour, or triggering to someone who doesn’t struggle to start an unhealthy behaviour.
Stop asking someone if they’re going to eat all of the food that they put on their plate. Quit asking someone if they’re going to eat more because they eat like a bird. Stop asking someone if they’re going to eat the “unhealthy” foods that they chose. Stop shaming people for not eating all of the food on their plate.
Bottom line, stop making comments about the foods that others are eating. Everyone has different eating habits and different foods that they like/dislike and foods that they feel good or bad eating. It is never your business to know why someone is eating the way that they are. These comments about food really feed into the negative diet culture in our society and are not helpful for anyone.
Now for some things that you can/should say or do to help support a healthy food culture and also those who struggle with eating disorders.
Start giving compliments to people on things other than their physical appearance. Give compliments based on peoples’ characters and the way that they treat others.
Let people know if you really like their hair, their shoes, their clothes, the way they handled themselves in a situation, the way they treated someone, etc. This can be hard because it’s not what we’ve been conditioned to notice or compliment, but with some practice it can become easier.
Start supporting and loving people no matter what they’re eating, no matter how much they weigh, and no matter if you agree with their food choices or not. Give support. Be a safe place for people to talk if they want to talk about their food choices/struggles. Being a safe place starts with how you talk to them, how you talk to others, and how you talk to and about yourself.
And above all, do the internal work of recognising where you struggle with unhealthy food patterns or diet cultures and healing yourself. Our world changes with one person at a time. So work on you first, and then spread your healing and love to the world. And always remember, food is your friend!
Abby Horst Mallard
A podcaster, wife, health/wellness coach, beach lover, and musician. She specialises in nutrition education, meal planning, and developing sustainable habits. She passionately works with her patients to help them build healthier and happier relationships with food, exercise, and themselves.
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