Excerpt from Lynn Crilly's 'Hope with Eating Disorders' - Say the right thing
Posted by SANE
2nd Mar 2020

Say the right thing

It can be really hard to know what to say to someone with an eating disorder. You do not want to ignore the illness, but sometimes you just do not know if you are saying the right thing.

With help from my past and present clients and others with eating disorders, I have put together a list of some words that are helpful for those with eating disorders, and others that are best avoided.

What to say

  • You might ask questions such as: ‘Can you tell me what is happening?’ or ‘Do you feel you would rather talk to someone else about this?’
  • Give them space and time to express themselves, asking: ‘Would you like my advice or would you rather I just listened?’
  • Encourage your loved one by saying something like: ‘There is nothing you can say that will stop me loving you.’
  • Praise them for every small step forward by saying: ‘‘This must be hard for you, but you are going to get through it,’ or ‘I am so proud of you.’
  • Help take away their fear by telling them: ‘You are not alone, and I want to help you in any way I can.’

What not to say

  • Try not to apportion blame or anger by saying things like: ‘Why are you doing this to us?’ or ‘Look at the effect this is having on the rest of family.’
  • Try not to minimise the problem by saying ‘What do you have to worry about?’ or ‘This is all in your head.’
  • Try not to ask someone to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull yourself together’. Eating disorders are complex, deep-rooted problems and cannot be switched off like this.
  • Try not to comment on the person’s body or weight or say things like ‘You look great now you have put on some weight.’
  • Try not to judge them, whatever they confess to you. Tell them: ‘I respect your viewpoint’ even if you do not agree with what they are saying.
  • Try not to say ‘I do not know how to help’ as they are looking to you as someone to help take their pain away.

A lot of the time, simply just listening can be helpful. It is important to talk to the sufferer in the same way you have always done – remembering they are the same person that they were before.

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