I would categorize myself as an eating disorder awareness advocate, specifically because it seems as though there is a lack of social recognition regarding the tremendous implications of this type of mental illness. There is still a heavy stigma affiliated with mental illness, and I would argue eating disorders even more so than other mental illnesses. Perhaps this is because persons are unsure of how to approach someone they suspect may be suffering from an eating disorder, but regardless, there are definitely things that should not be said to any person dealing with this type of mental illness (I speak from personal experience).
(1) Can’t you just eat? – This is arguably the most ignorant and insensitive statement that could be proposed to someone dealing with an eating disorder. Recovery is not simply eating, or even eating greater amounts of food; time is the key factor in eating disorder recovery and it takes significant effort to overcome the fear of food, calories and weight gain.
(2) Don’t you want to get better? – Again, saying this to a person who is quite literally dying before you is incredibly insensitive. Chances are, yes, the individual would like to get better and begin their recovery, but fear is such a powerful component of eating disorders and it often obscures a person’s perception of reality and convinces them that recovery is the enemy rather than the illness itself.
(3) Are you doing this for attention? – No. I cannot absolutely guarantee that every single person who has dealt with an eating disorder feels the same way as I do in regards to these three statements, but I would argue that a majority of individuals dealing with an eating disorder are not putting their body and mind through hell simply for attention or social recognition.
If you are concerned that someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, feel free to send me an email in order to determine how to approach the situation. You likely have good intentions, but the wrong choice of words can do far more harm than good when it comes to this type of illness.