National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Are You Hurting Others When You Talk About Food?
February 25th – March 3rd, 2019 is a very important week that you may not know about: National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Eating Disorders are a complex and deadly disease that are vastly misunderstood affecting 30 million people in the U.S. alone, 2/3 women of which are women 1/3 who are men. Even though this disease is as prevalent as breast cancer, HIV, and schizophrenia, it is often not talked about. This could be because the subject makes people uncomfortable, or it could be because people simply don’t know much about the disease. The aim of this post is to steer you, the reader, away from accidentally speaking in a way that is not only harmful to those with eating disorders, but potentially harmful to yourself as well.
Eating disorders are often mistaken as being a choice or as if it’s a road someone has gone down on purpose. Eating disorders are not a choice and are an accumulation of one’s biological, sociological, and cultural influences. Just like any other disease, eating disorders need to be treated properly and cared for by friends and family (part 2 of this series speaks more on this).
There are 3 specific behaviors that I would like to discuss for everyone, including friends and family, to consider in everyday life.
Discussing Weight or Food Can Be Detrimental to Those with an Eating Disorder
If you are in community with someone that you either suspect to have an eating disorder or that you know has been diagnosed with one, it is extremely important to not discuss weight or food around them. Everywhere I go I hear a comments such as:
- “I shouldn’t be eating this”
- “I need to go on a diet”
- “I just want to get back to my pre-baby weight”
- “I wish I weighed as much as I did in high school”
- “I’m totally cheating on my diet”
These types of comments suggest that food is the enemy. This is a potentially harmful way to talk around someone who struggles with any disorderly eating patterns. Obviously, not everyone is a clinician and cannot be sure if someone nearby struggles with disordered eating patterns. So, as a basic rule, try to stop diet-talk all together. If it helps, imagine if someone with an eating disorder were to hear you say those things and what effect that could have on their mental health and well-being.
Instead, practice finding joy in the food you eat, knowing that it gives you energy to work, think, and love others. Speak words of affirmation to yourself about what parts of your body you appreciate. Be thankful for how it moves, thinks, breathes, filters, and processes all kinds of things. Do these things and do them proudly so that others may learn from your example.
Give Compliments Unrelated to Food or Appearance
When giving someone a compliment, especially someone with an eating disorder, compliment them on qualities related to their character, abilities, and personality. Do not compliment looks or talk about eating and/or food. Focusing on what is inside and what they are capable of is essential.
Lift Each Other Up With Encouragement
The last thing I recommend is please, please, please don’t judge others for the lifestyle they follow or the body they live in. You never know what somebody is going through, what disease they are fostering, and what their financial situation is. Instead, encourage them to live their best life by choosing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, water, and to exercise often. Take the focus OFF of numbers and put it ON how healthy someone feels.
For more information on eating disorders, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or call the National Eating Disorders help line at (800) 931-2237.
If you struggle with an eating disorder, find a provider to speak with at CHI Health.
Michelle Yates, RD, LMNT, is a clinical dietitian at CHI Health Lakeside Hospital, specializing in the Medical/Surgical unit & the Oncology unit. She doubles as a dance instructor as well as a master’s student for Health Psychology. Her passions are to help others break free from any negative ideas of food they carry, along with opening their eyes to the joys of “everything in moderation”.