What Not to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder - Avalon Recovery Society (2023)

What Not to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder - Avalon Recovery Society (1)

You may have heard about eating disorders before, but what do you actually know about the disorders and what may not be appropriate to say to someone battling one? Here are the basics you need to know. Eating disorders are persistent eating behaviours that negatively impact health, emotions and a person’s ability to function in many aspects of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa,bulimia nervosaandbinge eating.

Most eating disorders have a focus on weight, body shape and food, leading to dangerous eatingbehavioursthat can significantly impact one’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases.

Research indicates that the prevalence rate of eating disorders is between 2% and 3%. Based on 2016 Statistics Canada population data, an estimated 725,800 and 1,088,700 Canadians will meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder. Today,we’re looking at common phrases spoken to individuals with eating disorders and providing insight on what is and isn’t appropriate.

As a loved one of someone with an eating disorder (ED), it can feel tricky to find the right words to express your love and support for them. If you’ve ever said the kinds of comments we identify below as “what not to say”, please know that you are learning and growing as we all do, and the important thing is that you are educating yourself on how best to help them. It can also be difficult because you may never know who around you is struggling with an ED (as many people suffer in silence), so it’s better to always be mindful of making certain comments or suggestions that could be triggering to someone listening.

What Not to Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder - Avalon Recovery Society (2)

(Video) EDNOS: Most Dangerous, Unheard of Eating Disorder | Nightline | ABC News

Anything about appearance or weight

Any comments – positive or negative – that acknowledge or judge a person’s appearance or weight can fuel obsessive thoughts and negatively impact their recovery. Telling someone they look thin can validate an ED and encourage it to continue and telling someone they have gained weight can trigger a relapse and contribute to further restrictive and dangerous behaviours.

  • “You would look/feel better if you lost/gained some weight.”

This is not a helpful comment, it is an unnecessary judgement on someone else’s appearance. There’s no need to make assumptions about their weight or health, so instead, focus on how they are feeling.

  • “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.”

Many people who experience EDs maintain a “normal” weight throughout their illness, and the mental and emotional sides are not apparent to someone’s physical appearance. If someone appears “normal” to you, they could still be dealing with severe underlying issues. Instead, focus your attention on positive non-physical changes that you notice in them, like improved energy or attitudes.

  • “You’ve lost a lot of weight; your diet is going well” or “You’re so thin/skinny!”

This kind of comment affirms that the ED is working and can perpetuate a dangerous relationship to food and eating. If a person is constantly being told that results are visible, they’ll want to carry on and seek further validation. It also supports the belief that many of us subconsciously carry that being smaller physically makes one more worthy and acceptable, and emphasizes appearance being a great source of value for oneself.

  • “Does thisoutfitmake me look fat?”

People with EDs are often hyper-aware of the people around them and how much they’re eating, what they weigh, and how they fit their clothing. Making negative comments about your own appearance can make someone focus even more on their weight and foodissues andencourage comparison to others. It’s helpful for people in illness to be around body-positive people, and it also helps you to eliminate negative self-talk for your own well-being.Instead, try saying,“I feel great in this outfit!

  • “You look great/healthy/better than ever.”

This can be a well-intentioned comment, but a triggering one as well. Telling someone in recovery from an ED that their appearance is changing can be a confirmation of weight gain, and the term “healthy” can be perceived with a negative connotation.

Anything about food or eating

Eating disorders are a mental illness thatnot onlyimpact one’s relationship to and thoughts about food, nutrition, and eating,but are often the product of traumas and many other underlying issues. To make blasé comments about what or how much someone else consumes is unnecessary and very harmful.

(Video) Anorexia's Childhood Roots (CBS News)

  • “Just cut out (insert food/food group).”

This only serves to encourage restrictive behaviours and dieting. For someone with a binge eating disorder, hearing the suggestion of eliminating a certain food that they binge on will only create guilt and a feeling of loss of control within them. Dieting is the largest predicator of eating disorders, so suggesting that someone create more rules and rigidity around food is only going to make things worse.

  • “I’m so glad you ate today.”

This isn’t a necessary comment, unless it is part of a professional treatment plan. Part of the illness for anorexics or bulimics is the irrational belief that people are constantly watching what they eat and judging them for it – so making remarks like this confirms their worst fear. Many people in recovery feel guilty for eating and they don’t need any more attention drawn to it, so instead, you should focus on how they are feeling and what kind of support they might need.

  • “Just eat like me/thisand you’ll get better.”

Individuals with eating disorders are probably aware their relationship with food and eating is different than those around them, and likely compare themselves constantly. Again, even if this is well-intentioned, you do not need to tell anyone else what, when, or how much they should be eating, especially if you don’t know their history with EDs or have little knowledge about the complications of it.

Anything that perpetuates stereotypes about eating disorders

Eating disorders are most often associated with white adolescent females from an upper-middle-class socioeconomic background. This stereotype erases the experiences that so many others have with EDs, and those people need support just as much. Check yourself and your pre-conceived notions of what someone with an eating disorder “should look like” and recognize that ANYONE can suffer (and will continue to do so in silence if a supportive, inclusive environment is not available).

  • “But ____ (men/older people/people ofcolour/lesswell-offpeople) don’t get eating disorders, so it must be something else.”

If someone is reaching out to you for support and sharing such an intimate and personal experience with you, you should meet them with nothing but love, support, and acceptance. The smallest indication of judgement, criticism, or rejection can cause them to shut down and lower the likelihood of them overcoming the illness. The fear of negative social stigmas is why so many people won’t reach out. Instead, reflect on your own stereotypes and how they are preventing you from fully embracing and understanding the experience of your loved one.

Anything that normalizes eating disorders

Eating disorders are a serious mental illness that require attention, support, and treatment. Making someone feel as though their disorder is not valid or worth looking into, can hinder their recovery journey and allow it to rampantly continue. If re-assured that what they’re doing is acceptable and right, they will be less likely to seek treatment.

  • “I skip meals sometimes too.”

Even if this is a true statement, it is not the same as having an eating disorder. It minimizes the experience and severity of a real ED, which goes much further than simply skipping meals occasionally.

(Video) 80% of TikTok users surveyed said app hindered eating disorder recovery | ITV News

Anything that shows impatience or judgement

There is no room for unsupportive behaviour or comments. Anyone with a mental illness deserves patience and space to work through their underlying issues without feeling pressure or judgement. Show care and compassion and make sure they know that recovery is possible, and they are not alone.

  • “Why can’t you just eat something?”

It’s not a simple choice to eat or not. Often, eating disorders have little to do with the food itself, and not eating is a symptom of many other issues at play that may include low self-esteem, personality disorders, trauma, or body dysmorphia. There are also complex genetic, biological, and socio-cultural factors that may affect an individual’s ability to eat a certain amount or type of food. To someone on the outside, it may seem like a superficial obsession with body image or food choices, but it is a serious medical condition and should be treated and respected as such.

  • “Just stop binging.”

A common misconception is that binging reflects a lack of self-control or willpower. This is not true! It is often caused by trying to rigidly control eating, which only leads to feeling restricted and deprived. If you’ve identified their binging habits in the middle of an episode and call them out for it, it will create deep feelings of shame and embarrassment. You must be mindful of the fact that no one chooses to have an eating disorder, and for the individual it serves some kind of purpose in their life, whether it’s a crutch for them, a way to self-sooth during difficult times, or a coping strategy.

  • “But you have so muchgoingfor you!”

Anyone can develop an ED, regardless of where they are at in other parts of their life. By saying this, you’re implying that there is no valid reason to be ill. Everyone has their own unique talents and skills, but no one is immune to struggles with food, body image, or intrusive thoughts.

  • “You’re just seekingattention.”

This is simply not true, a mean-spirited assumption to make, and de-legitimizes the seriousness of eating disorders as mental illnesses.

To conclude, the most important thing to do when speaking to someone with an eating disorder is to communicate your love for them and your willingness to stick by their side and help them through the recovery journey. Though this list may seem long, there are many things you can say that are simple and encouraging:

  • Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to support you?
  • I’m here for you if you want to talk.
  • Would you like to see someone who can help you through this?
  • I love you no matter what.
  • You are much more than your eating disorder.
  • I know this is hard, but I’m so proud of you.

If you’re looking for recovery support groups, Avalon offers ABA (Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous) meetings for women looking to find and maintain recovery in their eating practices and to help others gain recovery, as well as OA (Overeaters Anonymous) meetings for women dealing with compulsive overeating, food addiction, and binge eating. Learn more and register for these meetings on our websitehere.

(Video) 'Shock' of anorexia in later life - BBC News








(Video) The dos and don’ts of helping a drug addict recover | Maia Szalavitz | Big Think




What do you say to someone with Ed? ›

"I love you / I care about you."

Let them know that they're not, let them know that they're loved and cared about. Don't let anyone forget. Be an ally in this extraordinary fight against a dark corner of someone's mind. Everyone deserves a full recovery.

What are 3 examples of disordered eating behaviors? ›

Disordered eating may include restrictive eating, compulsive eating, or irregular or inflexible eating patterns. Dieting is one of the most common forms of disordered eating. Australian adolescents engaging in dieting are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not diet (1).

What are four red flags that indicate someone may have an eating disorder? ›

Increased talk about food, weight, calories, fat, etc. Complaining of being cold (especially fingers and toes) Increased consumption of diet soda or water. Increased perfectionism.

How do you make a man feel good with ED? ›

7 strategies for partnering up with ED
  1. Discuss the issue. ...
  2. Find the right time to talk. ...
  3. Reassure your partner that he is not alone. ...
  4. Learn about the condition and treatment options. ...
  5. Offer to go with your partner to his doctor's appointment. ...
  6. Help your partner help himself. ...
  7. Express your love in many ways.
19 Nov 2020

How do you arouse someone with ED? ›

1. Try something new. “Very often a big, big first step is just enhancing arousal,” says Kerner. This can mean ramping up foreplay, reading or watching something sexy together, or coming up with a suggestion for something you haven't tried before, says Kerner.

What do you say to an anorexic girl? ›

5 Things to Say When Someone Has an Eating Disorder:
  • “I know this is difficult, but I am proud of you.” ...
  • “You are worth more than your eating disorder.” ...
  • “I might not understand, but if you need someone to talk to I will help as much as I can.” ...
  • “Let's do ____ together.” ...
  • “I trust/believe you.”

How do you help someone who doesn't want to eat? ›

You could try the following:
  1. Include them in social activities. ...
  2. Keep meal times as stress-free as possible. ...
  3. Find safe ways to talk about it. ...
  4. Help them find good information and avoid bad sources. ...
  5. Share stories from other people. ...
  6. Encourage them to seek professional help.

What to say when someone finished eating? ›

The meal tonight was very tasty. You've done a great job. Thanks very much, you cooked that meal to perfection.
To acknowledge a good meal and comment on the taste of the food, you can say:
  1. What a fantastic meal!
  2. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
  3. That was a delicious meal.
  4. It was a very satisfying meal.
17 Jan 2019

Which eating disorder is the hardest to treat? ›

Anorexia is difficult to treat and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence.

What's the most serious eating disorder? ›

Experts consider anorexia nervosa to be the most deadly of all mental illnesses because it has the highest mortality rate. For this reason, we can consider it to be the most severe of the 12 types of eating disorders.

What are the two most serious eating disorders? ›

Overview. Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, your emotions and your ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

What personality type is most likely to have an eating disorder? ›

Individuals with certain personality traits such as perfectionism, the need for control, and impulsivity are predisposed to eating disorders however these certain personality traits along with many others have been shown to help individuals recover from anorexia nervosa, binge eating, and bulimia nervosa.

What personality traits do people with eating disorders have? ›

Personality traits commonly associated with eating disorder (ED) are high perfectionism, impulsivity, harm avoidance, reward dependence, sensation seeking, neuroticism, and obsessive-compulsiveness in combination with low self-directedness, assertiveness, and cooperativeness [8-11].

Can eating disorders cause narcissism? ›

This study thus concluded that there is a positive association between those with an eating disorder and high levels of narcissism. Specifically, there is a clear correlation of vulnerable narcissism to eating disorders, and bulimia nervosa is the eating disorder most strongly linked to high narcissism levels.

When do men stop ejaculating? ›

In most men, this happens between the ages of 30 and 50.

How do men feel during ED? ›

In fact, close to 70% of the men with ED in the survey said they felt that they are letting their partner down, and more than 40% said their partners feel they can no longer initiate sex. Those feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment often lead men to hide their condition from their partners.

What helps get a man hard? ›

If you're wondering how to get rock-hard erections, consider doing the following:
  • Change Your Diet. ...
  • Work Up a Sweat to Regulate Blood Pressure. ...
  • Drink Less Alcohol. ...
  • Stop Smoking to Improve Blood Flow. ...
  • Sleep Longer. ...
  • Get Supplements. ...
  • Consult a Physician About Taking Medications. ...
  • Get a Cock Ring.
13 Jul 2021

How Do You Talk to an anorexic patient? ›

Be patient and supportive.

If they are willing to talk, listen without judgment, no matter how out of touch they may sound. Make it clear that you care, that you believe in them, and that you'll be there in whatever way they need, whenever they're ready.

What to say to someone who doesn't eat? ›

Telling them you care about them, and that you're there to help, is the most effective way of showing your support. Give them space to talk about how they're feeling and what's going on for them. Don't get frustrated or annoyed by the person's eating habits or try to force them to eat.

How Do You Talk to an eating disorder client? ›

How to Talk to Someone With an Eating Disorder
  1. Pick a good time. ...
  2. Explain why you are concerned. ...
  3. Be prepared for denial and resistance. ...
  4. Ask them if they have a desire to change. ...
  5. Be patient and supportive.

How do you help someone who doesn't want to be helped? ›

Here are a few things to consider when working with your loved one who doesn't want help:
  1. Listen and validate. If your relationship is iffy, it doesn't hurt to just listen. ...
  2. Ask questions. ...
  3. Resist the urge to fix or give advice. ...
  4. Explore options together. ...
  5. Take care of yourself and find your own support.

What to tell someone who doesn't like eating? ›

The closest thing to your request would I think be "abstemious." This is an adjective (an abstemious person). It can refer to someone who eats and/or drinks in moderation. Since you specify something short of pathological eating, moderation seems to fit the bill.

What is it called when you don't want to eat at all? ›

Anorexia. If you get an anorexia diagnosis (known as anorexia nervosa), you're not eating enough food.

What does putting a napkin on your lap mean? ›

As at a restaurant, the napkin should remain on the lap until you need to be excused for some purpose or the meal ends. Watch your host or hostess closely during the meal. He or she will generally signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table.

What are 3 rules of table etiquette? ›

During the Meal

Eat slowly and cut only a few small bites of your meal at a time. Chew with your mouth closed and do not talk with food in your mouth. Pass food items to the right (i.e. bread, salad dressings).

How do you cheer someone up with food? ›

Foods to Cheer You Up
  1. Dark chocolate. Chocolate's pleasurable taste, texture, and smell already promote good mood, plus it is also. ...
  2. Probiotics. ...
  3. Bananas. ...
  4. Oats. ...
  5. Berries. ...
  6. Nuts and Seeds. ...
  7. Coffee. ...
  8. Beans and Lentils.
7 Oct 2020

What is the average time to overcome an eating disorder? ›

While the psychological piece to eating disorder recovery is often a life-long endeavor for many individuals, the average length of stay for our lower levels of care can vary from about four weeks (Partial Hospitalization Program) to eight weeks (Intensive Outpatient Program).

What eating disorder has the best prognosis? ›

Bulimia nervosa is more common than anorexia nervosa and has a better prognosis. The rate of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders is higher in the families of bulimic than anorectic patients.

What country has the highest eating disorder rates? ›

It is fair to say that the increasing rate of eating disorders, Japan has the highest rate of prevalence, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea.

What are three life threatening conditions for patients with eating disorders? ›

Bulimia can lead to rare but potentially fatal complications including esophageal tears, gastric rupture, and dangerous cardiac arrhythmias. Medical monitoring in cases of severe bulimia nervosa is important to identify and treat any possible complications.

What is the number one eating disorder in the US? ›

Binge-eating disorder

Unlike bulimia nervosa, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. As a result, people with binge-eating disorder often are overweight or obese. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Which eating disorder is most common in females? ›

Epidemiological studies have shown that anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN) are more common among females than males.

What are 3 things that can cause eating disorders? ›

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder include genetic factors, influences at home or at school, the individual's personality, the presence of certain psychological conditions, cultural pressures, or a number of biological factors.

What are the 7 examples of disordered eating patterns? ›

Read more about these different types of eating disorders, and how to recognize the symptoms.
  • Anorexia. ...
  • Bulimia. ...
  • Binge eating disorder. ...
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) ...
  • Pica. ...
  • Other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED) ...
  • Orthorexia.
6 Sept 2021

What are rare eating disorders? ›

Pica. Orthorexia. ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) Rumination Disorder. Diabulimia (ED-DMT1)

What are two common behaviors of a person with anorexia nervosa? ›

Behavioral symptoms of anorexia may include attempts to lose weight by: Severely restricting food intake through dieting or fasting. Exercising excessively. Bingeing and self-induced vomiting to get rid of food, which may include the use of laxatives, enemas, diet aids or herbal products.

Is anorexia a form of narcissism? ›

Narcissism is commonly associated with a variety of other disorders, including mood disorders like depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

What is dissociative eating? ›

When we eat to the point that we feel sick, eat food and don't remember it or want to stop eating and can't stop ourselves, we might be dissociating. In those moments, food is no longer food. Food becomes a tool to comfort, numb or distract us from any emotional pain we are feeling.

What are five signs that someone may have an eating disorder? ›

7 Eating Disorder Warning Signs
  • Alterations in Weight. ...
  • Preoccupation With Body Image. ...
  • Disruptions in Eating Patterns. ...
  • Preoccupation With Nutritional Content. ...
  • Changes in Exercise Patterns. ...
  • Mood Fluctuations. ...
  • Use of Laxatives, Diuretics, or Diet Pills.

Which disorder is most commonly comorbid with eating disorders? ›

The most common psychiatric disorders which co-occur with eating disorders include mood disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder), anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma, substance use disorders, personality disorders (e.g. ...

Is an eating disorder a delusion? ›

Eating disorders and psychotic disorders are both characterized by distorted thoughts, overvalued ideas, depersonalization and derealization phenomena, and delusions.

Can emotional abuse cause eating disorders? ›

This emotional abuse and its internalization makes children susceptible to eating disorders and dysfunctional behavior. Children who are emotionally abused are just as likely to develop eating disorders as those who experience physical or sexual abuse.

What does a narcissist crave the most? ›

Narcissists thrive on getting attention, feeling special, and having control. He is an expert at getting an emotional reaction out of you – good or bad – because it makes him feel powerful and better than you. The best thing you can do is not react.

What is narcissistic feed? ›

The narcissist feeds off the attention, admiration, respect or fear they illicit through their false self. They are addicted to being idealised by others, the way a person might be addicted to cocaine or heroin.

Can ED end relationships? ›

ED also affects the mental health of a person's partner. According to a 2016 review, ED can make a person's partner feel confused, anxious, undesirable, or suspicious that their partner may be unfaithful. These feelings can place strain on a relationship.

Can a man with ED still come? ›

Results: Ninety-two percent of the men with ED were able to ejaculate at least a few times during sexual stimulation or intercourse. Conclusion: Men with even severe ED claim they can ejaculate during sexual stimulation or intercourse.

How does ED affect a man emotionally? ›

Common feelings among partners of men with ED are a complex mixture of rejection, guilt, feeling unloved, shame and frustration. Coming to terms with the problem and trying to understand why it occurred is undoubtedly difficult.

Can a marriage survive with ED? ›

Many cases of it respond well to lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, or other treatments. Even if your efforts to treat ED are unsuccessful, you and your partner can still enjoy physical intimacy and a satisfying sexual life. Learn some strategies to keep the spark in your relationship alive.

Does ED stay forever? ›

In many cases, yes, erectile dysfunction can be reversed. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a remission rate of 29 percent after 5 years. It is important to note that even when ED cannot be cured, the right treatment can reduce or eliminate symptoms.

Why does a man get erect in the morning? ›

Your testosterone level is at its highest in the morning after you wake up. It is highest immediately after waking up from the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage. The increase in this hormone alone may be enough to cause an erection, even in the absence of any physical stimulation.

Why can't I get a hard on with my wife? ›

Losing an erection or being unable to become erect often results from nerves, anxiety, or using alcohol or other drugs. Sometimes men worry about performance, and sometimes they're anxious about whether or not having intercourse is the right decision, or whether they're with the right partner.


1. Boy With Severe Food Allergy Can Only Eat 7 Foods | Good Morning America | ABC News
(ABC News)
2. Fear of Food or "Food Neophobia" | Nightline | ABC News
(ABC News)
3. How Do Eating Disorders Start?
(Saltzer Health)
4. 11-Year-Old Girl 'Allergic' to Sunlight | ABC News
(ABC News)
5. Francesca Rose on Eating Disorder Recovery, Self Love And Mindfulness
(Francesca Rose)
6. I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike | NYT Opinion
(The New York Times)
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