I hope you had a great weekend! I just finished an article that I thought some folks out there might relate to. I want you guys to be the first to read it below:
Just Eat: And other things not to say
by Jenni Schaefer
“Just eat,” they said.
“They” were my well-meaning friends and family members. I was in recovery from an eating disorder.
Whenever I heard the words, “just eat,” I sarcastically thought to myself, “Let me grab a pen and write that down. I have never heard such great advice!”
The truth is that if I could have simply “just” eaten, I would not have been struggling with an eating disorder in the first place. I could not just eat. I could not just stop bingeing, and I could not just stop purging. For the longest time, it seemed like I could not just do anything. To most people I have met struggling with eating disorders, “just” combined with any other words does not feel supportive.
The problem is that the eating disorder acts as a filter for words. But the eating disorder filter does not purify; it contaminates. Words said with kindness are transformed into ideas with a completely different meaning. With the eating disorder filter, for instance, “You look healthy” directly translates to “You are fat.” When I was really struggling with my eating disorder, “Your hair looks good,” and “You have a beautiful smile,” also translated into, “You are fat.” If someone could not comment directly on my entire body, I just knew they thought my body was fat. There is that word again, “just.” I suppose I was good at just assuming things without asking for clarification.
I was sensitive to dinner table conversations. In recovery, I began eating more at mealtimes, and people excitingly asked, “Are you going to eat all of that?” To me, this combination of words meant --- you guessed it --- “You are fat.” People in my life began to say that they felt like they had to walk on eggshells around me. They were frustrated that I took what they said the wrong way, and they did not know what to do in order to support me.
What is supportive? My former therapist, Thom Rutledge, taught me that the best way to support someone in recovery from an eating disorder or any addiction is to simply ask, “How can I support you?” Different things benefit different people. Words that felt supportive to some of the women in my eating disorder therapy group did not always work well for me and vice versa.
What helped me was for friends and family members to avoid talking about food and weight. I did not find it helpful to be asked, “Did you eat today?” or “Have you gained weight?” I enjoyed talking about other things in my life, including my job and hopes for the future. As long as I was connected with health care professionals who monitored my food and weight, other people in my life did not need to take on that burden. My friends just had to be friends, and my family just had to be my family.
For other people in recovery, it does feel supportive to talk specifically about food and weight. And I have learned in my work today that parents are sometimes forced to confront behaviors with food, especially when the child suffering with the eating disorder still lives at home. In these cases, the parents can ask their child, “What is the most supportive way for us to speak with you about your behaviors with food?”
An eating disorder is a complex illness with no black and white answers. Due to this complexity, it can be beneficial for an entire family to seek professional help. One of the most powerful components of my recovery was participating in therapy sessions with my family. I learned that I am not as good at reading my parents’ minds as I thought and that I needed to speak with them directly about my concerns. Keeping the lines of communication open was a key to my recovery.
My parents learned that they did not have to understand my eating disorder. They just had to believe me. When I said, “I am fat,” I did not need my mom to try to convince me that I was not fat. The truth is that I really believed that I was overweight. My mom did not understand how I could actually have this thought, but she believed me. My family and friends never understood my eating disorder. The good news is that they never needed to understand it. They just needed to stand by my side, listen intently, and believe me. And they did.
I would not have found freedom from my eating disorder without the people in my life who walked beside me along recovery road --- picking me up every time I hit the ground. I fell down many times, so they probably became very tired along the journey. I am grateful for their persistence.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, teach people how to best support you. Talk with your therapist about it. If you love someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, listen and be compassionate. Clarify how you can be the most supportive. Find support for yourself. Do not worry about being perfect.
Just do it!