Eating disorders have little to do with food. They are disorders of perceptions. Eating disorders are the result of skewed perceptions: too big, too thin– all equate to not fitting an imbalanced perception of ‘perfect’. Recovery from eating disorders is one of the most challenging recovery processes. Alcohol and drugs, though highly addicting, are non-necessities. One does not have to drink alcohol or take illegal drugs. One does have to eat. A loved one needs careful conversation regarding partying, drinking, or drug use in their early recovery from drugs and alcohol. Much in the same way, a loved one in recovery from eating disorders needs special attention paid to conversation about weight, food, and body image.
Talking about Weight with an Eating Disorder
In youth, harmful conversation about body image impacts a child. For example, listening to a mother complain about their weight, size, and appearance. A child hears that information without having any other knowledge of themselves or the world. They learn that if this is wrong with them, they are not good in some way. Research has shown that it is not even negative commentary that influences perceptions about the self. One study revealed that any commentary, positive or negative, created a long lasting memory. Persons who remembered hearing any comments about their weight tended to have a higher BMI (body mass index). More discouragingly, they had long lasting negative perceptions of their bodies. Even when a weight issue was not a problem, they reported feeling unsatisfied with their physical appearance.
Comments about weight and physical appearance are equated with worth and self-value in young people. Why this is has a lot to do with culture and society as a whole. Without changing the world surrounding them, family members cannot tell people sensitive to these comments not to “take it so personally.”
To support a loved one in recovery for an eating disorder, encourage their recovery processes with respect. Pick up healthy portions, foods, and eating habits to show them it is possible to be done. Though it seems food is the point of their current struggle, resist from offering a special or comfort food as a reward for their treatment. Make meal preparation a fun, family-centered affair. Mindfully practice your comments about your own body or their own. Try to avoid gauging their progress in recovery based on how their body looks or feels to them. Instead, ask them how they are feeling emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.