The theme of this year’s National Eating Disorders Awareness week is Everybody knows Somebody. And with over 10 million people in the USA and over 70 million people worldwide facing some form of Eating Disorder, the odds are, you do know somebody. In light of this [sad] reality, I decided it would be appropriate to write a post on “Being Sensitive in an Eating Disorder Society”(I hope you are OK with that title, it was the best I could come up with…)
Being sensitive in an Eating Disorder Society involves two things: First, you need to understand what Eating Disorders are all about (watch my video in which I explain Types of Eating Disorders HERE) and Second, you need to be aware of the things that you say or do that potentially have a negative effect on those around you who are fighting an ED (lesson 1: ‘ED’ is the acronym for Eating Disorder and is most commonly pronounced ‘Ed’ like the name).
I won’t get into too much detail regarding what Eating Disorders are so if you’d like more information, I recommend checking out The National Eating Disorder Information Center (they have excellent resources, definitions, and statistics).
Here are some things you need to know about Eating Disorders:
- Eating Disorders are a mental illness not a ‘lifestyle choice’ and therefore one does not simply ‘snap out’ of their ED and they do not go away on their own
- Eating Disorders are not about the food or weight (watch my video explaining why HERE). Eating Disorders are an internal issue, not an external one and there are multiple psychological, emotional and biological elements that contribute to someone developing an ED – it is not just about ‘wanting to be thin’.
- Eating Disorders are deadly. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses – with 20% of those with Anorexia Nervosa dying prematurely from complications due to their ED (including suicide).
- Eating Disorder patients are not stupid – they know that what they are doing is dangerous and, very often, they are scared; therefore, trying to ‘scare’ someone out of their ED by showing them pictures of emaciated women (or men) is not helpful.
- Eating Disorders are not sexist – as many as 20% of those battling an Eating Disorder are men.
So now that we understand a bit about Eating Disorders, it is time to talk about the Do’s and Dont’s. I have to thank Jess (one of our writers here at Libero) for showing me an excellent article by Adios Barbie addressing this very issue.
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Here is what they said about what not to say:
- Why? (Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with multiple factors, and the last thing you want to do is put him/her on the spot, after a vulnerable revelation.)
- But you don’t look like you have an eating disorder! (Sounds like: “You’re fat!”)
- If you want to lose weight, why don’t you just diet and exercise? (This is like telling an alcoholic to just have a “few” drinks.)
- It’s what’s on the inside that counts. (Sounds like: “You’re ugly.”)
- You look great to me! (You do not know if this is his/her healthy weight, or what s/he may have done to get here.)
- How long has it been since you’ve eaten? (This is unimportant, and sounds callous. Eating disorders are never, at the heart, about food.)
- I had a friend once whose sister was bulimic, and she… (Invalidates him/her as an individual; sounds like you think you know it all. No two eating-disordered people are the same.)
- Just eat what you want! (Sounds like: “It’s not a big deal.”)
- Nice weather we’re having. (Self-explanatory.)
- ____ (Self-explanatory.)
Since I am talking more about how to be sensitive in an ED society, and not only when talking with a friend who has an ED, I want to expand on the things Adios Barbie had to say and offer some tips on being sensitive in our day-to-day lives whether we are out for lunch with a friend, at home with our kids (OR grandchildren!), or walking through the grocery store.
Here are some things to avoid:
- Don’t hate on your own body. This is a good thing to avoid in general, but if you aren’t willing to avoid it for you, then avoid it for the sake of other people. You don’t know how someone is comparing themselves to you in their mind and so if you ‘bash’ yourself, then this not only sets the example that NOT accepting yourself is OK, but it also could make the other person feel more insecure. (For example, if you are smaller than him/her and you complain about your ‘chubby thighs’ he/she may think “Well if her thighs are chubby, what does that make mine???”)
- Don’t talk about your weight loss goals or new diet plans. Yes, we live in a diet-centered society (which is why 1 in 2 women struggle with Disordered Eating), and if you are choosing to buy into that (and I hope you are not…) then please keep it to yourself. Weight-loss talk and diet talk are HUGE triggers to someone who has an ED – so please, please keep it to yourself (and off of your Facebook page as well, thank-you).
- Don’t trash-talk other people’s bodies – and this includes celebrities. By talking about how ‘fat’ Britney Spears is getting or how ‘sickly thin’ she looks, again, you are sending a message to those around you that whatever size Britney is, it is bad or ugly. You are also sending the message that there is an ideal body size/shape, which, though as mentioned before does not cause someone to develop and eating disorder, can fuel the flame to their existing ED and potentially be triggering if they are in recovery.
- Don’t perform your own diagnoses – unless you have a Ph.D., please keep the labeling to yourself. The more we throw out terms like “she’s definitely anorexic” or “she’s so thin, she must have an eating disorder”, we are desensitizing ourselves to these issues and when done this way without genuine concern, we make it seem like EDs are something to be ashamed of (or at least something that society ridicules) and this can make it more difficult for someone to want to admit their struggles (and keeping an Eating Disorder a secret is a very dangerous thing).
- Please leave out all the ‘food’ talk. Food is not evil, food is just food. So please don’t talk about ‘evil brownies’ or ‘thigh-ballooning’ pizza or all the things you should eat – this could very quickly throw someone in recovery off track in regards to their Intuitive Eating (which isn’t just for those with EDs by the way, find out more HERE). Even if it’s a joke, or you are laughing about how you “should be eating fruit” as you put cake in your mouth – just keep the thought to yourself. Food is just food.
And, quickly, here are some Do’s:
- DO talk lovingly about yourself
- DO compliment those around you (NOT referring to their weight, though, what about their beautiful hair? Or new shoes? There’s more to a person’s appearance than their size)
- DO lead by example and throw away the diet books and talk (embrace Intuitive Eating!)
- DO be someone your friends/family feel comfortable talking to (by not being judgmental as mentioned in #3 & 4)
- DO realize that eating disorders are a part of the society in which we live and therefore we need to do our part in being sensitive to those around us in light of this
Remember, Everybody knows Somebody (even if that ‘somebody’ is living out their struggle in secret…)
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