By Emma Balek
Image by Anna Levinzon
While eating disorder recovery can be very different for each person, I think most people would agree that it is a difficult time. Not only can this be an emotional, exhausting, and sometimes scary process for the person going through recovery, but their family and friends may struggle with how they can best offer their support. Offering support is one of the best things you can do for someone in recovery, and here are a few ideas of what you should, and shouldn’t, say to them so you can be an effective support system to them.
What to Say
- “You are worth it.”
Recovery is a choice. Part of making this choice is realizing that you are worth it. Even once the person has made the decision to recover, they may still have days where they feel discouraged. On these days, it is very important to remind them that they are worth it. There may not always come a time in the conversation where it feels right to say the exact words “you are worth it,” but make it known to them how much they mean to you, why you value their friendship, or why you love them.
- “You are strong.”
Recovery takes a lot of strength, and on their tougher days, people in recovery could really use the encouragement of hearing someone else tell them how strong they are. Let them know that you believe in them and have confidence in them, and this may help them to gain confidence in their own strength.
- “I’m always here for you.”
This is a great alternative to telling someone that you understand or know how they feel. I cannot stress how important a support system is to someone going through recovery. Recovery can feel lonely; some people like to have someone to talk to while others may not. Even if they do not want to talk about what they are going through, just knowing that they have someone there for them who will listen can mean a lot.
- Ask them if they want to go out
Going out, to eat, shop, or play, can be very stressful even for someone with an eating disorder, and even someone going through recovery. Often, it is something that they want to do but feel too uncomfortable. Always offer them the opportunity, but it they say no, just leave it at that.
What NOT to Say
- “You look like you’ve gained weight.”
The topic of weight during eating disorder recovery is a huge taboo. Many eating disorders begin with a fear of gaining weight. While recovery does entail healthy weight gain, you never want to come forward and tell your friend or family member that they are gaining weight, even if you tell them that the weight gain is good for them; this can be very detrimental to their recovery.
- “I understand.”
I think that one of the worst things you can do to someone in these situations is act like you know how they feel. Even if you went through an eating disorder recovery yourself, your friend or family member’s situation is most likely very different from yours. Telling them that you understand may make them feel belittled or defensive. Instead, tell them that they can always talk to you and you will listen.
- “It’s good to have you back to your old self.”
Eating disorder recovery changes a person–for the better! When a person is recovered, they are not the same person that they were before; they are stronger.
- “Why don’t you eat___?”
People will eating disorders often have “fear foods”–foods that they avoid because they cause anxiety about weight gain. People going through recovery may slowly start eating their fear foods. However, it is important to let them do this at their own pace. Offering them their fear foods isn’t always a bad idea, but asking them about why it was a fear food in the first place may make them very upset and cause them to get defensive.
I hope that you enjoyed my insight about some of the best and worst thing to say to someone going through eating disorder recovery. A lot of people who have a friend or loved one who is going through eating disorder recovery struggle with the best ways to help them. These are based off of my personal experiences and opinions, and I am aware that everyone’s situation is different, but I hope you are able to use some of these to offer valuable support for their friend or family member.
Emma Balek is a dietetics student at Boston University and a certified fitness instructor. Her personal struggles with anorexia nervosa, and the media’s false information about health is what inspired her to study nutrition. She intends to pursue a career in eating disorder recovery. If there is one thing she wants people to know, it is that you should never lose hope that a full recovery is possible.