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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Dealing with triggering comments in recovery

The weight restoration phase of recovery is hard. We're dealing with physical pain and discomfort, (such as nausea, bloating, constipation, headaches, early satiety, to name but a few) along with the intensely crippling anxiety, fear of change and losing control, guilt and shame being thrown at us by our eating disorder because we're eating more. These experiences are real and it is important to work through these emotions (and symptoms) with your therapist.

One thing that is particularly terrifying is the prospect of what other people might say as your weight change becomes visible. I like to maintain my belief that people are going to be considerate, aware and respectful enough not to comment on other people's bodies; unfortunately occasionally that belief is misplaced: a lovely client of mine, who really struggled when she first hit overshoot this summer, was asked whether she was pregnant at two separate social events.

So how do we cope with this sort of inappropriate question or comment in the moment when all we want to do is run away or curl up and die?

1. Ignore and disengage

So firstly, I want to say that you have every right to ignore and disengage from the negative comments.

And sometimes no response is, in itself, a pretty powerful response. You don’t actually owe anybody an explanation about your choices, how you are eating or what your body is doing.

Remember - not responding doesn’t have to mean that you don’t know how to answer, but it can mean that you have decided that the comment just wasn't worthy of your attention and mental energy.

And sometimes we can actually fuel the comments by engaging. We may get very defensive and try to overly explain ourselves and this can generate even more questions and more discussion.

So sometimes it's can be best to stop engaging and it’s more productive to ignore comments rather than trying to endlessly explain yourself.

Remember, you don’t owe anybody anything. If they have a problem with your eating or your body, it’s THEM who need to get over it.

2. Give a simple answer and change the subject

Secondly, you can give them some simple general answer and then change the subject.

Your answer doesn’t need to be some example of genius wit and repartee, but you can say something general that they can’t argue with.

For example, a client of mine said she'd thought about saying something like “My body, my business” or “My eating, my business” which can be a simple answer to many comments. It’s great because it's comprehensive and easy to remember.

Or even saying Mind your own business” is a great answer. Because by them commenting about you, they are literally in your business and have no right to be there uninvited.

For example:

Comment: “You’ve gained some weight, you should watch what you’re eating”

Response:My body, my business” and then you can quickly change the subject to something else.

Or if that feels a little blunt for you, you can try I know what is best for me but thank you” ( a simple version of this can be “I know what is best for me”)

For example:

Comment: “You should probably start working out more”

Response: I know what is best for me but thank you”


Comment: “I wouldn’t eat that much of x because it’s a lot of fat/carbs/calories”

Answer: Ok. This is what is best for me.”

3. Respond in a neutral way to rude comments

If someone is being rude then it's best to stay calm and respond in a neutral way. You don't have to go down to their level.

I think a neutral response is always better in this circumstances than any overly emotional response. If someone is being rude and trying to press on your nerves then they WANT you to react to it.

But getting very defensive and trying to overly “prove” yourself is rather fuelling the fire than helping the situation.

So try to remain calm and respond in a neutral way.

For example:

Comment: “Not exercising can’t be healthy for you because you are overweight”

Response: Thank you for your worries, I appreciate that you care, but I'm working with a professional in my recovery”

Comment: “But you don’t need to gain any more weight. You looked so much better before”

Response: “My body and how I look is my business. You should focus on yourself.”

This way you are giving a response but doing it in a calm and more neutral way while still standing your ground and not getting emotionally too involved.

And if they try to discuss it further then just use basic assertion by repeating and stay true to what you already said. Don’t give them more explanation because that's not your responsibility. You don't have to justify yourself, your choices or your recovery.

4. Speak up for yourself

I know for many of us it’s really hard to stand up for ourselves. Many of us try to avoid conflict at all cost because it’s scary, unpredictable and can be painful; We don’t want to confront people because it can create a scene, make people around us uncomfortable or angry and can make us the centre of attention. We are often inculcated with the idea that standing up for ourselves is aggressive or something negative.

But there is a big difference between going into conflict with someone for no good reason, and going into conflict to protect yourself and to protect your own recovery. The intention and context are what matter.

If someone is constantly commenting on what you are doing and it’s not helpful, then, by avoiding confrontation, you can actually be sending them the message that it’s ok to treat you badly.

If someone is constantly commenting on what you are doing and it’s not helpful then by avoiding confrontation you can actually the message that it’s ok to treat you badly.

Sometimes standing up for yourself and risking conflict is actually very healthy and needed. It can be a really positive growth experience for you in your recovery to stand your ground, be assertive and learn you have a right to take up space in this world. Others don’t have to understand you or agree with you, but remember that you don’t have to agree with them either.

If they are inserting themselves in your business, commenting on how you eat or making comments about your body, you definitely have the right to stand up for yourself.

For example:

Comment: “Why are you eating so unhealthily?”

Response: I am recovering from something serious and your comment is what’s unhealthy for me. You have no right to comment on my eating and I will no longer discuss this with you.”

Comment: “You eat so much and don’t move enough. You are fat. Why don’t you exercise more?”

Response: “I don’t owe you an explanation about my eating or my body. My body, what I eat, whether or not I exercise is my personal matter. Please mind your own business.”

It’s not about “winning the argument” or being able to “convince others” or make them understand you, it’s about drawing your boundaries, asserting your autonomy and standing up for yourself. Even if they disagree with you or you know they won’t understand you, it doesn’t matter. What matters more is that you stood up for yourself and did what is best for you. And this is about protecting yourself and learning it's ok to stand your ground.

5. Explain how the comment is unhelpful and how they could help instead

Sometimes people mean well, but they just don’t understand eating disorders, what you're struggling with and what comments are helpful and which ones are not.

A person who has never gone through an eating disorder doesn’t know what is the best thing to say and they can end up saying things that are stupid.

Not to intentionally hurt you, but just because they have very limited knowledge on the subject and how easily words can create a whole downward spiral.

If It’s not actually meant personally, try not to take it that way. The goal in this instance is to not take the comment in a way the eating disorder wants you to take it, but see the positive intention behind the message and try to respond to that instead.

For example:

Comment: “You’ve gained weight”

(where it WAS meant as a compliment) then you may actually acknowledge the underlying positive intention that was something like

Positive intention: “I'm so glad you are recovering and doing better. I care about you”

And with having that positive intention in mind, you could respond with…

Response: I appreciate that you care and want me to get better. But talking about my weight is not helpful for me and I rather want to get away from focusing on my weight. It would be really helpful if instead, we could do something fun together and talk about something else.”

So with this response, you acknowledge their positive intention with the comment, but say why its not helpful and give them a way they could actually be supportive and helpful for you.

Or, for example:

Comment: “You are looking healthy and fit” or “You look well” ( I hated this one)

Where maybe their positive intention was to actually make you feel good and to say something nice.

And with having that positive intention in mind, you could respond with…

Response: Thank you! But for me, I find its way more important and healthier to focus on how I feel inside rather than how I look.”

So here again, you acknowledge their positive intention but also give them an idea of what you would truly appreciate hearing, so next time they know what kind of comment is more meaningful for you.

6. Change what YOU think and believe

And lastly, an important way of dealing with triggering comments in recovery is changing what WE think and believe.

Because a huge part of recovery is working on our own mindset.

In a lot of cases, the comment by itself doesn’t hurt us, but what really hurts us is the MEANING we attach to it: How we interpret the comment and what STORIES we add to it.

For example, reminding yourself I will try to not let what others say mean too much, and remind myself that the weight gain is healthy”

So here you're choosing a more positive focus , instead of letting others’ comments ruin your day or run your lives.

No matter what others comment, what YOU think and say to yourself is what really matters at the end of the day.

Because we cannot change what people do, say or think, but we can change what MEANING we attach to what’s being said, we can change our own thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

For example, if you still believe your body or weight is bad and wrong, then someone commenting on it will be triggering because you BELIEVE what’s being said is true. But when you don’t believe it, then the comment won’t have such a negative impact.

So it’s very important to work on your own beliefs and mindset about your own eating and your body.

Always focus on what is YOUR part in this. And work on that.

Because what others believe, say, or do is never in our control. But what we believe, say and do IS in our control. Focusing on this is where true change can happen and how we can get more resilient to dealing with triggering or negative comments.

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