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Hello, all. Rachel May here again.

Back for yet another list. This time it is a top 10 list of things not to say to an anorexic and why. This post is mainly for friends and loved ones of people with eating disorders. Note that this is just my opinion, but also note that on this list are things that people *ACTUALLY* said to me while I was at my worst in my illness. Some of the comments were well-meaning, but others were said by people that I believe are also a bit disordered in their ways of thinking. Each item on the list said by various people hindered my recovery in some way or another. It may not have that affect on everybody, but I figured I would share with you guys some things I have learned from personal experience.

My Top Ten List: What NOT to Say to an Anorexic and Why

1. “You have so much discipline/self control.”

Why it’s bad: It is a false statement. Anorexics do not posses "magical powers" and certainly, contrary to popular belief, not self-discipline or control. Furthermore, since this statement in itself is to an anorexic validating such false beliefs, it causes the anorexic to second guess him or herself. And second-guessing a disorder is never a good thing, especially when you are the one that has it.

Other alternatives: Just don’t say it. Seriously. Or anything of that sort. Some people might say things like this in order to make the anorexic feel good about themselves, so that they will “stop it.” Others might just want to express how much they don’t understand their situation and would like to. For these purposes, I would suggest saying something like, “I can’t imagine how that must feel.” Or “Do you want to talk about it?”

2. “You look so/too thin.”

Why it’s bad: No matter how you may mean this or what the inflection of your voice is, the anorexic WILL often take this as a compliment and/or as silent encouragement. Many will hear this phrase and think that what they are doing is working and/or will lose even MORE weight to “improve themselves further” to gain more “compliments.” Also, although this may seem pretty obvious do not use synonyms for the word “thin” like skinny, slender, slim, etc. Again, these words are words anorexics WILL take as compliments, which is counterproductive to the end goal, which is helping and supporting them to get better.

Other alternatives: If you are trying to express concern, try saying something like, “I’ve noticed that you seem sick lately and I am very concerned.” Or “Recently you have been losing weight pretty rapidly and I have been worried about you.”

3. “Eat something or –insert threat here-”

Why it’s bad: Threats do not work. The more you try to create a power struggle, the more the anorexic will pull away from you and/or become suspicious of your motives.

Other alternatives: If you notice an anorexic has starting slipping into his or her own habits do say something about it and encourage them to seek professional help. Force-feeding an anorexic does not help because, again, self-starvation I not the problem, but the symptom of underlying psychological problems. And this, of course, is a job for someone who is trained to handle these types of situations.

4. “Snap out of it!”

Why it’s bad: Anorexia is an illness and an addiction. They cannot just “snap out of it.”

Other alternatives: Instead of judging or criticizing them for their disorder, try to be understanding of their situation and listen to them. One of the first steps to an anorexic’s recovery (and also one of the hardest) is being open to the people around them. It may not seem like it, but a listening ear can go a long way.

5. “You shouldn’t worry so much about your weight.”

Why it’s bad: That’s not going to make them stop worrying. It also trivializes the issue and doesn’t get to the root of the problems. Anorexia is about much more than self-image. In a nutshell, it is about power and control and often serves as a coping mechanism for life events, past and present.

Other alternatives: Sincere praise and compliments, although they won’t solve the problem, may help. Examples are “You are beautiful just the way you are”, “You have a lot to offer the world”, and “I love and care about you.” Everyone, eating-disordered or not needs to hear that at some point in their lives.

6. “Stop being so selfish.”

Why it’s bad: Most anorexics already feel bad about themselves. And once again, what makes them feel good (temporarily)? Losing more weight. Not having outside support tends to be a very popular excuse for retreating back into the eating disorder.

Other alternatives: Talk about how others are feeling as a result of his or her eating disorder rather than criticizing the person or his or her actions. Use statements such as “We are becoming frustrated with this situation because we honestly don’t know what more to do about this? Is there anything that you need from us?”

7. “Can you give me some weight loss tips?”

Why it’s bad: Even though most anorexics are obsessive and/or knowledgeable about nutrition and weight loss, they are disordered and will probably either give you the wrong advice or won’t adhere to the advice they know to be true as a result of their disorder. Also, in order for an anorexic to recover from his or her disorder, he or she must try to focus on more the issues that caused the obsession rather than the obsession itself. Thus, asking an anorexic for nutritional advice is a bad idea because it not only encourages this obsession, but it validates it.

Other alternatives: Ask someone else about weight loss and/or do your own research. Seriously.

8. “I tried starving myself once and it didn’t work so well. What’s your secret?”

Why it’s bad: This makes an anorexic feel superior which once again give he or she another reason to continue what he or she was doing. Also there is no "secret." Anorexia is a mental disorder, not a fad diet.

Other alternatives: Get help. If you are asking for advice on how to starve yourself, you obviously have some issues with self-esteem and/or disordered thinking yourself.

9. “I wish I could be thin like you.”

Why it’s bad: It encourages the anorexic to maintain his or her illness.

Other alternatives: Just don’t say it. If you’re going to be jealous of an anorexic, be jealous of their recovery. Imagine the world of difference it might make if you tell a recovering anorexic, “I wish I could be as strong as you. I really admire you. Recovering from an eating disorder really takes courage and willpower.”

10. “You’re hurting everyone around you.”

Why it’s bad: It’s accusatory and yet another reason to retreat. Guilt is one of the many emotions that several anorexics would rather avoid and statements like that may not only futher the disorder itself, but encourage the secrecy of it. And the more secrets an anorexic keeps, the more in danger he/she is.

Other alternatives: Try bringing up the topic gently and making sure that the anorexic is using his or her resources. If there are some that are not in use and/or that the person does not know about, by all means, bring them to his or her attention. If he or she really wants to recover, they will utilize them. Seek your own resources as well. As a loved one of an anorexic, you are going through a lot too and it is important not to neglect yourself. Seek counseling for yourself. Ask for advice from professionals. Develop your own healthy coping strategies. When you’ve done all you can and your loved one still isn’t getting better it is frustrating. At this point, continue to be a good example to them. Treat yourself with as much respect and care as you treat them. They may take note of this.


And there you have it. That is my list for today. Feel free to comment or make suggestions on how this can improve. Also, I want to know, what things have been said to you or a loved one that hindered someone’s recovery, what do you think the person’s intentions were, and why do you think it was a bad approach? Looking forward to reading your responses.

Peace, love, and food.

Rachel May


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 8th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
like i told you before, i am not an anorexic nor have i ever had the compulsion to, but your entries are very helpful in understanding the illness from a human perspective. it will help me deal with friends suffering from it.

i did have a girlfriend that was a recovering anorexic and i felt, at the time, that my verbal displeasure with her not eating, when she occasionaly relapsed, was helpful to her getting back on track. only once did i ever shout at her, but i told her plenty how she was hurting herself in the long run and starving was not the way.

i know every case is a case, though.

would you mind if i made your livejournal known to my circle of friends?
May. 8th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
... humaine perspective ...
May. 8th, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
Hey. Thank you for writing. I am so glad you are gaining perspective from my entries. Feel free to pass this along for anyone you feel will benefit or be interested. In fact, the more the merrier. I'd like to make this a place where people can comment, ask questions, and exchange ideas. I feel that the more we learn about eating disorders, the better we will be able to conquer them or in your case, to support others who are trying to conquer them.

It is also really interesting and enlightening to read your comments. If you don't mind me asking, just out of curiosity (because of course I'm on the other end of the issue) what are some things you have had to deal with being a friend and former significant other of an eating disorder sufferer? How does it feel? What are some things that changed in your relationships as a result of their mental illness? What are some challenges have faced and/or still have to face? I'm thinking about doing a blog post specifically about how loved ones and others are affected and I'd really like to gain some perspective.
May. 9th, 2011 12:44 am (UTC)
well, about my girlfriend, I met her when she was 21 and she told me very naturally that she was an anorexic at 19. maybe she was just testing me, since I was on the muscular side and ate suplements for weight gain and rip and stuff, did lots of exercise and i was crazy about having no fat.

she did plenty of gym and looked very fit, so i didn't assume she was or had been anorexic. she told me that, at 19, she passed days eating only an apple and lots of water, doing plenty of exercise.

i started noticing that she ate very little all day long. since i had lots of reserves, I had no trouble skipping meals. we had lunch together at the cafeteria (we were college colleagues) and spent afternoons without eating nothing, just taking our leisure time holding hands and going everywhere. then she told me she had no breakfast because she had no time to and she sometimes just ate a piece of fruit for dinner. i noticed she ate very little at lunch, so I pressed on the matter.

we were together for over seven years, so all kinds of water went under our bridge, but from the very beginning i started asking her to eat more of the plate at lunch and we started a ritual of eating a very big croisssant each a day, every afternoon at the coffee shop that had the biggest croissants of Lisbon ever. I couldn't be sure if she ate dinner, but at least she had lunch and a snack in the middle of the afternoon.

since we took to talk for hours, she eventually told me everything about her illness and we overcame it together. I started eating more than i did too (not that i needed, because I had a daily dinner) and she realized she could get the body she wanted by metabolzing calories through sports. and we did a lot of those together. moreover, she had a smaller sister that was beginning her journey as a teenager and the sister thought the world of her, so she also took more care of herself to be her little sister's role model.

when noticing a friend is becoming too skinny, i always approach her by asking if everything is ok with her, problems at home or job and say that she looks tired and if i can help unburden her somehow. but it's always a tough subject, an anorexic is never too open to discuss it.

i only speak about weight when we're alone, because people open up more when it's one-on-one, and i try to make it light by being funny, saying things like "why try so hard at something that is not important" or saying that men like to have what to grab. i don't know, it's a different with different people and it's always a bit awkward, but i know they know i mean well.

and it's not that I have all that many anorexic friends, this day and age i feel more surrounded by obese people tnah anything else.
May. 10th, 2011 02:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for the information. I sure hope she is doing well now. It sounds like you did a lot to try and help her. Just out of curiosity, did her eating disorder have anything to do with the ending of your relationship? If you don't want to answer that's fine. I was just wondering. Regardless, I am very glad that she was getting better as it really takes a lot of strength to recover. I am also glad that she used being a good role model for her sister as a good reason to recover; that shows a lot of will and initiative.

Yes, it is definitely important to bring up the topic in the right place. I had a former teacher in high school that asked me very loudly in a group full of people whether I was anorexic. Needless to say, I grew a bit defensive at the perceived "accusation" and of course slipped further into denial. Also,I think it is very wise that you bring up the issues (such as problems at her home or job) before bringing up the weight loss. Already you have shown that you know that anorexia is much more than just about being thin, which is great. Also, humor is a very good thing and if it helps, go for it! Just make sure to exercise caution with that kind of thing, which it seems you are doing. :)
May. 14th, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
our separation had nothing to do with her being an anorexic and she only had an active eating disorder during our first year together. after that, she ate everything. always taking notice of the calorie ammount of each piece of food, but she had macdonalds and pizza hut and good old greasy chicken (with the skin peeled off, of course) with fries.

there is a life outside the tunnel.

Sep. 24th, 2013 08:37 pm (UTC)
As a person with a friend that is just starting the road to recovery from anorexia, this post was so so so very helpful to me, because it taught me a lot! I wish I had read it earlier, then I might not have made quite so many stupid mistakes while trying to encourage her.

Keep doing what you are doing by teaching others, and i hope I did not read this incorrectly, but you hinted that you're a recovered anorexic... so I just wanted to say I am proud of you and I admire the strength and determination you must have!!


Peece and Love
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