What not to say to a teen struggling with an eating disorder
By: Christena N. Wilkerson, MSEd, LMHC, Supervising Therapist
For a teenager struggling with any type of eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, certain compliments, comments or words of advice might trigger adverse reactions – no matter how innocent they seem.
You should not focus or make statements drawing attention to their weight change. These statements might encourage them to continue engaging in unhealthy patterns, whether that is eating more, eating less, binging, purging, and/or excessive exercise.
“Why don’t you just eat more or less?” could do more harm than good. Focusing on what one is eating or not eating could have a negative impact on the individual’s recovery.
Stereotyping eating disorders is not a good idea. Females, males, all racial groups, and individuals considered overweight could have an eating disorder.
Statements like, “I skip meals, it’s okay” reinforce the behavior and normalize the behavior.
If you know of someone who has an eating disorder do not be judgmental. Instead, show genuine care and concern. Don’t assume you know what they’re going through and that you have all the answers. Let the person know you don’t totally understand how they feel, but want to help them. That’s something that takes time for the person with the eating disorder to realize for themselves.
- Anorexia Nervosa: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
- Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder: Advice for Parents, Family Members, and Friends
- Bulimia Nervosa: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Help