If your friend has an eating disorder like bulimia, anorexia or binge eating, it can be really hard to know what to say and how to help. And while, generally, the best thing you can do is be educated, non-judgmental and supportive, there are certain seemingly benign phrases that could actually be major triggers. Avoid these four at all costs.
You look so good.
Of course, your well-meaning intention is to be encouraging of her recovery—and who doesn’t love a positivity boost? But your pal is deeper into negative body thoughts than you can possibly imagine right now, and for someone struggling with food, being told she looks “good” or “healthy” will likely equate to “fat” or “thin” in her mind. So don’t make comments about weight or appearance, period. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compliment them: Positive reinforcement unrelated to outward appearance is actually a great way to provide support and comfort (think: laughing at her jokes, telling her she seems well-rested, etc.).
Please eat something.
Let’s be clear: An eating disorder is a mental illness. And since these diseases go so much deeper than just issues of food (they correlate with anxiety, depression, genetics and more), asking your friend to eat something insinuates that she has control over her illness—thereby downplaying it. This rhetoric also draws attention to her outsider status, making her ashamed and less likely to open up about how she’s feeling. Instead, make it known to them that you know they aren’t choosing to act this way, and find quiet moments to encourage her to seek professional help (and offer to go it with her if she’d like).
I’ve done [insert unhealthy eating practice].
We get it. By telling your friend you binged on doughnuts last week or crash dieted back in high school, you’re trying to make her feel like she isn’t so alone, and that on some level you understand what she's going though. And while you probably mean for it to be a source of comfort, can you be brave enough to admit you’re trying to normalize her condition for your own sake, too? This comment can be read one of two harmful ways: 1) It can make her feel like what she’s doing is normal/OK, or 2) It can suggest that you aren’t taking her illness seriously. Channel your sympathy into instead assuring her that no, you don't understand what she's going through, but you want to try anyway.
You’re hurting me/scaring me/breaking my heart.
This is, of course, a true statement. And if this friend is incredibly close to you, you may think that appealing to her on an emotional level will make her want to help you, and in doing so, help herself. But in reality, it might only make her feel more guilty, more defensive, and less likely to look to you as a source of support. Instead, prove you have her back—just text her to ask about boring BFF things, like how her day is, and whether she saw the latest episode of GoT. One of her best chances of recovery? A strong, kind, supportive friend to help her through the storm.
RELATED: 5 Things You Should never Say To Friend With Depression