What NOT to say to someone in recovery
Being in recovery is hard enough without people wanting to share their ‘helpful’ opinions and advice with you (by the way, not helpful)
The thing with eating disorders is that they don’t come with instruction manuals or cheat sheets so it’s complicated to know what to say to someone in recovery and that’s okay, I think people forget they can always just ask. If you know someone is in recovery, the best thing you can do is communicate with them about what triggers them and what they don’t feel comfortable discussing.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case for people, so here is a short article on what not to say to someone in recovery.
“You’re in recovery? You don’t even look sick.” Is one of the worst things you can say to someone who has a disorder in their brain that tells them the same thing every waking moment, what somebody looks like in recovery varies depending on their recovery plan and secondly, is none of your business.
“Have you lost/gained weight?” If you ask anyone in eating disorder recovery you’ll probably find this is the most common and triggering question you can get. I don’t understand the obsession with needing to comment on other people’s bodies, when did that become something we were all entitled to do? Somebodies recovery journey can have many different looks and all of them are perfect for that person and their journey.
“For someone in recovery, you sure eat a lot” believe it or not this is actual things people say to people in recovery, you don’t know how far in recovery they are, you don’t know what they are recovering from and you don’t know their daily routine so comments like this are so unhelpful because what you’re deeming ‘a lot’ might be the healthiest amount someone has been able to eat in years.
“Oh I know how you feel, I haven’t eaten today.” I get this one a lot, people are led to believe by society and Hollywood that not eating all day is a flex and is something to brag about (which it’s not) but for someone who is living with an eating disorder that is constantly making everything a race and a competition, it’s so hazardous for someone’s recovery because your ‘innocent’ comment might be the reason someone skips a meal or relapses.
“You’re looking well.” As someone with A-typical anorexia I got this one a lot, I understand in some weird way it could be deemed as a ‘compliment’ or ‘helpful’ but I promise you it’s not. The only thing I’m hearing when someone says that is “you don’t look sick enough”. “You clearly aren’t anorexic because you look ___”. Even though the person might be meaning it with all love, people don’t consider how they leave that person’s mindset after a comment like that.
“Wow you ate all your food, well done!” For some people maybe, they thrive off the congratulations and it pushes them to feel more motivated and that’s okay, this advice isn’t gonna be for everyone because everyone handles things differently but I find it really patronizing and straight up annoying. My friends & family do congratulate me and tell me they’re proud of me but they do it like an adult. “Proud of you.” Is all you need to hear, never at a table in a restaurant or in the middle of trying to eat a meal, sometimes that congratulations pushes the eating disorder voice to push against you even harder and It makes something that maybe didn’t feel extremely hard, near impossible.
“So are you just fussy?” No, I’m not just fussy and don’t like peas on my plate, eating disorders are a real disorder in your brain that makes you terrified of weight gain, types of food and tons of other stuff, that does not qualify as being ‘fussy.’ I had someone tell me one time “Oh I was gonna invite you for a Chinese but I know you’re weird with food.” Which is definitely not something I would recommend saying to anyone in recovery.
“I didn’t invite you because I thought it would be too much for you.” Again, this is one of those things where it is completely how the person feels about it but I think not inviting someone because they are in recovery is adding extra isolation to an already isolating disorder, like I said earlier, communication is key, it’s nice to be invited even if you have to turn it down.
“I don’t know how to talk to you so I just didn’t.” I had a member of my family say this to me and then didn’t speak to me for about 4/5 months because they didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I understand it can be scary, it’s like when someone loses someone close to them, words won’t fix it and there’s nothing you can say to make it easier but it’s not about that, it’s about being there for someone when they need that extra help or support, it’s not about assuming you’ll say something wrong so just not talking to them. Eating disorder recovery is such an unbelievably isolating, horrible feeling, why add to that?
It’s so frustrating to write this in a way because to me, this is all common sense and I would never imagine saying this to anyone I know is in recovery or generally anyone at all but that’s not the case for everyone, when I came home to stay with my Mum to recover she had no idea what to say to me and often said the wrong things and that’s okay because like I said there’s not classes or manuals on how to be there for someone with an eating disorder but through communication, patience and care we both made it and now she knows exactly what to say and what not to say. So if this is you and you are walking on eggshells around someone, stop. Talk to them. Allow them to tell you what they need or would like from you, don’t assume, that never gets anyone anywhere good.