Now, I’m not saying this is right for everyone. It’s just something that would’ve worked and helped me, when my friends were trying to help.
How do you talk to a friend who is struggling? You don’t want to say something that sets them back, but you don’t want to be silent and let them crumble. You know in your heart, you have to do something.
What kind of things can you say? What kind of things can’t you say?
WHAT NOT TO SAY
- You look healthy. This could set them back. They may take this as, I have gained weight, I am fat, I need to lose more weight.
- You don’t look skinny enough to have an eating disorder. NONONONO. This is unacceptable. Anyone, of any size, gender, race, etc. can have an eating disorder. Ed does not discriminate. Never assume. I saw this as a challenge. If I didn’t look skinny enough, then I had to eat even less. Never. ever, say this.
- Why don’t you just eat/Why don’t you just stop purging? (Two common examples, many more could be said involving other behaviors). This isn’t a choice. We don’t ask to have an eating disorder and force ourselves to hate our bodies. Ed does this. We can’t just stop everything and go back to eating properly. It takes a long time and lots of professional help (usually) to get to a point where you can eat and love yourself. It’s like telling someone with cancer to just stop having cancer.
- Why are you doing this to us? We aren’t choosing to make everyone’s life harder. We just want an escape and to feel better about ourselves. At the time, we didn’t know any better way to accept ourselves. Don’t act like they are attacking you.
- You look terrible. Most of us have body issues already, and this doesn’t help. We want to feel good about ourselves, and this makes us feel like we are completely worthless. We want to feel pretty, not be told we look like death.
- If you think you’re fat, then what am I? Don’t compare our thoughts to how we see you. That isn’t fair to us. You increase our anxiety and we could seriously panic, which can cause a lot of harm. We see ourselves different than how you see us, and it takes a long time to take off the blurry glasses. I know I hated being approached with this.
- I wish I could lose weight like you/I wish I could be anorexic for a day/I need to lose a few pounds. These make us feel like we are doing something really good for ourselves, and honestly, we aren’t. You normalize the eating disorder, like everyone should have it, and everyone needs to lose weight. If you have been told by a doctor you need to lose weight, an eating disorder is not the way to go. Don’t talk about losing weight around us. It made me feel like I had to lose more because everyone else was going to become as skinny as I.
- I binge all the time, it’s fine! (Or something of this manner). Don’t make the eating disorder behaviors normal. No one needs to do this. There are healthier ways to deal with emotions and problems. Do not promote an eating disorder.
- Don’t you know how much you’re hurting yourself? Please, once again, we are trying to get rid of pain. This only adds guilt and shame. Don’t be telling us how wrong we are for having an eating disorder. It wasn’t our choice and we have no control over it.
- I ate so much and now I have to skip [meal] or eat less today. Nope. No one needs to cut down on food just because they ate a little more. And if you do, by accident or so, don’t talk about it around us. It will make us feel guilty about how much our body needs to eat right now, and we’ll want to stop eating altogether.
- You brought this on yourself; you made your bed, now lie in it. Ah, this is my favourite. Well, it’s one I heard a lot and I hate to hear. My favourite least favourite. If you even think about saying this, stop. This is never okay to even think. WE DIDN’T CHOOSE THIS LIFE!! IT FELL UPON US. We didn’t actually want things to get this far. We didn’t know how much control Ed gets over us. Stop blaming us. This is not our fault.
WHAT KIND OF THINGS TO SAY
- Let them know they aren’t alone. This is a hard illness. We feel like we’re the only ones struggling with our bodies and we aren’t normal anymore. We think of ourselves as freaks (I am proud to say I am a weirdo and there’s nothing wrong with that) and outcasts. We want to belong. Knowing we have support from you can really help.
- Tell them they are beautiful and don’t let them say no. They need to know they are worthy and beautiful no matter how they look. No one needs to lose weight (unless a doctor medically says you should) and everyone should be kind to themselves.
- Try to encourage them to seek help. I personally can say I never wanted to listen to this when I was deep in my disorder. After a few years of having no life, I decided it was enough. And I asked for help. I can say the help I received (specifically from McMaster) really made a difference and I don’t know if I could’ve done it without professional help.
- Ask them what they need. Sometimes we don’t want to be told what to do. We want to have some decisions in our life. This validates us and makes us feel like you really care.
- Let them vent. We all are holding stuff in. And it only causes problems. Let us say everything that’s on our mind. But there are rules when we are being open and talking to us:
- Be supportive
- Don’t be judgmental
- Don’t approach us with food
- Definitely don’t force us to eat or make it your job to solve all of our problems
- Be patient
- Be calm
- Do not say anything that you think will be hurtful (anything from my list, or anything that you even have the slightest doubt about saying. Filter and think before you react)
- Everything has consequences, chose your words wisely.
THINGS TO DO TO HELP THEM
- Help them distinguish Ed from themselves. They are two different beings. We are not our eating disorders.
- Once again, let them vent without judging.
- Give them a hug.
- Have them write down their values.
- Tell them to compliment themselves everyday.
- Have them write down things they like about themselves, but nothing to do with weight.
- Say you are their Ed, and let them talk to you to get out what they want to say to Ed.
- Take them to a spa. Show them they can love their body and praise it, even if they don’t feel they’re worthy.
- Introduce them to new music and hobbies to distract them.
- If you are sitting with them while they are trying to eat, it’s good to eat something yourself, so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones who have to eat.
- Tell them to write positive messages on all their mirrors.
- Or, tell them to get rid of their mirrors.
- Tell them to get rid of the scale (hard to do, but it really is a step in the right direction).
- Start slow with them. Introduce new foods at a steady pace, don’t do it all at once. It is a scary thing, but it has to be done.
- Delete old Ana and Mia sites from their bookmarks.
Sometimes you want to say you understand what we’re going through. But no book, not even I, can say what anyone is going through. It’s different for everyone. I will say what it felt like for me.
I thought I was being buried alive. Everyone kept pushing me closer towards the hole and eventually I fell in. Every time I tried to climb out, someone threw something at me. Every hurtful word or phrase was another clump of dirt. I was dying. Eventually I gave in and decided it was my time to die. I hit rock bottom. I never thought I would get out of that hole. I knew I had friends with this disorder, but I didn’t believe I had it. Ed convinced me I was just eating healthier and losing weight to make myself look better. I trusted him. At times when I started to feel like maybe something was wrong, I felt like no one was doing anything to stop me. Everyone was letting me overexercise and under-eat. I was alone. It was always dark. I never wanted to see my friends, because they knew what was going on and wanted to help. I was sure I didn’t need help, I just needed to lose another 5 pounds. Then ten, and it never stopped. I had no hope. I wanted to die. I wanted to starve myself to death and leave everything behind. Life was like Hell. Everything was always on fire and I was being beaten down everyday. Soon I stopped going out altogether. My life ended up consisting of me, and a garbage pail (either filled with vomit, or the lunch I was supposed to eat). I wouldn’t even call what I was doing ‘life’. I was not living. I was practicing for after my funeral. I started planning my funeral. I wrote suicide notes. I said goodbye to my friends. It was the end.
I am no longer in that place. I met a group of people who, instead of throwing dirt at me, threw me a ladder. I climbed out. I am almost happy. I can stand up for myself. I have self-respect once again. I want everyone to be able to feel this again, and it is possible.
Please get help if you need it, if you have a friend with this problem, try to get them to read this. Drowning isn’t fun. We need a life preserver. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, I will respect you if you reach out (I respect you no matter what, but this is an incredible step).
Don’t give up, there is hope for everyone.