Constant, open communication with a loved one suffering from an eating disorder is an important part of recovery. There are instances, however, that even the well-intentioned things can backfire and at times, trigger anxiety in patients. That said, be careful not to say these things to someone recovering from an anorexia:
“You’ve put on weight; you’re doing better.”
Your loved one may have been eating healthily lately, but behind that is a deep struggle to fight off negative thoughts and deal with poor body image and appearance.
When you’re zeroing in on their weight as the determiner of recovery of “doing better,” not only are you dismissing all the other psychological and emotional factors of their journey, but also highlights one of the things that made them slip into the downward spiral of their disorder — weight issues. Worse, eating disorder thoughts will make them guilty about putting on weight.
Instead of commenting on their weight or appearance, just ask them how they are. This will help them open up about struggles in fighting anxiety and guilt. This is the core of treatments for eating disorders, helping patients manage negative thoughts so they could avoid negative behaviors.
“You’re going to get better soon.”
This puts pressure on the patient to get well soon and at the same time, disregards the fact that recovery from an eating disorder is a huge task. For some, in fact, it’s even an impossible task. Don’t sugarcoat recovery. Instead, acknowledge it for what it is: difficult.
Let your loved one know that you recognize that it’s going to get tough, and that there will be times when they will feel like they’re losing more than they’re winning in the battle. But give them the assurance that all throughout the recovery, in the good times and the bad, you will be there to support them.
“You should try to eat this or that.”
People who suffer from eating disorders may have strange food combinations or restrict themselves to a particular food, as they’re trying to get into this habit. As much as you want them to try your pasta or salad, if they’re not into it, don’t force them. If they would need to follow a meal plan every day, ask their doctor and therapist how you can properly encourage them to eat. Usually, health experts challenge the eating disorder mindset to deal with this.
Maintaining a good communication with your suffering loved one is important for eating disorder recovery. But be mindful of the things to say and not to say to them.