What not to say to someone with an eating disorder

Supporting someone with an eating disorder can be a bit of a mine field
What do you say?
What do you not say?
It's incredibly difficult to watch someone you love spiral out of control
I find that people are so uncertain what to say
Some people are very blunt 
And ask lots of inappropriate questions
And some people just avoid the subject
And pretend it isn't there
Neither of these ways is very helpful
Although I would prefer someone asked me straight out
Rather than pretend that the problem isn't there

From my experience 
Here are somethings that you shouldn't say to someone with an eating disorder

Don't tell someone they are too fat to have an ED
How ignorant can you get?
EDs are not about food, weight or shape
A person with an ED genuinely hates themselves
And doesn't need someone adding to that
Eating disorders come in all shaped and sizes
From emaciated to obese
And everything in between

Don't talk about weight/comment on the persons appearance
I know people mean well
I really do
But don't tell a person with an ED that they look really well
Or really healthy
The person will most likely assume that you think they are fat
At the same time, don't comment that someone is very thin
This can reinforce someone's ED
I know people want to acknowledge it if someone is on the road to recovery
But I think all comments about appearance should be avoided until the person is fully recovered and
can handle such comments

Don't tell someone that they don't look sick
Eating disorders can be invisible
Just like depression
Don't assume someone isn't sick because they don't look sick

Don't assume that someone is ok because they look ok
This is a mistake that so many people make
They assume that because someone has gained weight and looks healthy
Then they must be healthy and recovered
Ed's are not about food and weight
They are about low self esteem, low confidence, fear and anxiety
If someone has gained weight
Please bear in mind that they're own mind and thoughts may still be eating disordered
Recently I've had to deal with a lot comments on my appearance
That I look really healthy
Everytime I have to give myself a pep talk
That people want to be kind
They want to acknowledge my recovery
It's still hard to hear though

Don't comment on the persons food
If the person is eating in front of others, this takes immense courage
Please don't comment on what they are eating
How much or how little they are eating
Or what they are eating
This can be very damaging and triggering
And may discourage the person from eating in public again

Don't make the person feel guilty about eating
Please don't plead/threaten/or guilt the person in to eating
The person will already feel enough guilt about their ED
And doesn't need anyone else adding to it

Don't criticize others weight/food choices
If the person with an ED hears you comment on others weight of food choices
They may bring it back to themselves
Or compare themselves
It could reinforce the fact that their own choices are not perfect
This can also be triggering
I know when someone makes a comment about my own food choices
I immediately feel guilty
Like I shouldn't be eating it

Don't talk about food being 'healthy' or 'unhealthy'
The person with an ED will inevitably have had a list of safe and unsafe foods
One of their goals in recovery will be to not put food in categories
Food is food
There is no good or bad

Don't ask for diet advice or say things like I wish  that I had your willpower'
EDs are not about willpower
They are about fear and self loathing
And they are not on a diet
And this is not a lifestyle choice
People with EDs are very inwell
It is an illness
Not a choice
I remember when I was working in a hotel a few years ago
A woman asked me how I kept so slim
I was honest with her
And told her that my diet was not healthy
And it was not something she should emulate

Don't joke about eating disorder
It's not funny
It's our lives

No numbers!
Please don't mention numbers to someone with an ED
As in weights
Clothes sizes
Calories etc
It will drive them mad
And they will inevitably compare themselves
Numbers are best avoided!

But you eat.......
Yes of course I eat
If I didn't I would be dead quite quickly
Contrary to popular belief
People with eating disorders do eat
Of course they do!
It's very disordered eating
But they do eat

Just snap out of it!
Just snap out of it?
This is like telling someone with a broken leg to just get up and walk

Oh I had a friend who was so ill. She got down to XXpounds and was in hospital for months
Please don't tell us about your friend who was so very ill
We are competitive
And will inevitably compare our weight and ourselves to that person
We will think to ourselves that she was really sick
And we are just frauds
And not really sick at all
When you define yourself by your weight
Any one with a lower weight is doing it better

Some really silly things that people have said to me over the years
You don't look like you have an eating disorder
Aren't anorectics skinnier?
Are you doing this for attention
You're not that bad ( A nurse in hospital)
You're a bad person for doing this
You're always eating
You eat so unhealthy
Have you lost/gained weight?
You look so healthy!
You're so slim, you're so lucky

What silly things have been said to you?


  1. I'm a dad of of a patient in Rhodes Farm (current). Slowly learning what NOT to say. Slowly because I make mistakes all the time despite my best efforts. Some things are fairly obvious but others aren't.
    Problem is that when you make the list of what NOT to say - sometimes it feels like there isn't much clear space to have a safe conversation.

    Can you offer any tips on what may be heard as positives?

    ... and thanks for making this site. Very useful ind interesting.

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for your question and comment. I hope you see this reply. I'm sorry that you have a child who is ill. I know it's so difficult to watch someone you love self destruct.
      I think your question is really important so i am going to write a post about it if you don't mind. I will post it tomorrow and hope it help.

      Take care x

  2. OK great! Whenever you can. Really appreciated. Thanks.
    .... and I have learned (big time) a few no no's already - such as 'you're looking a lot better' (heard as 'I'm getting really fat!') - 'I know you can get through this with all our help' (interpreted as 'I'll prove him wrong about that one!') - ......

    Parents, literally, go through hell. I'm usually the happiest person I know but this has turned my world up side down at this point of time.

    Your blog really helps - thanks again.

  3. I try to avoid comments about looks, "good looking" "gorgeous" all of that. All I thought I had once was looks and thinness and that's a terrible life. I realy felt like i was nobody. I couldnt bear to be alone. I had no interests or hobbies other than the usual disordered stuff i wont specify. Underneath I was an empty shell. A brittle empty shell. I wasted a lot of years. I feel so much for anyone and everyone who's been there. But I know there's hope and a future!

    I'm in two minds about clothes. I used to wear clothes to emphasize areas but now I'm shifting to utilitarian clothes. So I can feel like a Life Warrior. So I can participate instead of watching. So I can "be" without ruminating. Therefore I try not to compliment too much about outfits and the like because I still feel like it's focusing on the wrong things. As I say it's important to have self care though and be appropriate so I am still in two minds.

    I loved this post. It is so real x

  4. Love this! I go to numerous support groups for my addiction and they all make comments about my weight. I know they mean well, but them telling me I look like I've lost weight A) Tells me they thought I was fat before, B) Encourages me to lose more, and C) Shows how much they judge my size. And there's always food, so since they have known about my bulimia, they always notice whether or not I eat and then pester me to eat when I don't. It's soo enraging. I have a hard enough time eating without people watching me and telling me to eat. Just makes me want to run away.

    I think I'm going to take this list to them. Because I know they mean well and are trying to be helpful, and that they just don't know they effects it has on me. So I need a nice way to educate and tell them without being harsh. Thanks for posting this.

  5. I never got round to reading this before but it's probably one of the best lists I've ever seen, and yeah you do hear stupid insensitive shit, even from people who mean well and do care. It is tough!


  6. Pretty much sums up the same points I made in my video 'Comments Anorexics/Bulimics Are TIRED of Hearing' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjn8QzwGblI&index=6&list=PLBFD945A91E2B2AE7). Sometimes it's hard to know what you can and can't say, but some points also just seem so obvious!

    Great post and nice blog!

  7. Seeing your blog for the first time; This one in particular made me laugh and cry at the same time!
    Things I've heard during my 30 year struggle (keep in mind, I have just admitted to close loved ones that I have anorexia 4 months ago):
    How do you stay so tiny?
    It must be nice being so tiny!
    All men like a tiny girl... makes them feel more like a man (from numerous men)
    You must not make very much money because you must not have enough money to buy food.
    Don't you want to gain weight? (duh)
    (During binge times) How can you eat like that and stay so skinny?... obviously there was a lack of common sense in how food and metabolism works
    Every time I gain weight "Are you pregnant?" Even after I had a hysterectomy... everyone knows I had one.
    "Why can't I be anorexic so I can be as skinny as you?"
    "At least your not throwing up to lose weight"
    "You need to live with me; I'll fatten you up"
    I'm biracial black/white... "That must be your white side"
    "Aren't you hungry???" again... duh

    --Thanks for reminding me I'm not alone in thinking that people say the dumbest things.


Thank you for leaving some love x