There is a lack of social recognition regarding the implications of eating disorders. Despite the fact that roughly eight million Americans suffer from eating disorders, there is still a heavy stigma affiliated with mental illness. Is this because persons are unsure of how to approach someone they suspect may be suffering from an eating disorder? Regardless, there are definitely things that should not be said to any person dealing with this type of mental illness.
(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. Time is the key factor involved 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, convincing 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 regard 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, consult an expert or a survivor. The wrong choice of words can do far more harm than good when it comes to this type of illness.