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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Tips on communicating with someone who has recovered from an eating disorder

“How’s your new diet going?” I hear one woman ask another at the playground. 

“It’s hard. I’ve been eating the shakes and the bars. So far I’ve lost ten pounds. How’s your trainer going? You look amazing!” she says.

“I’m not as thin as my friend who’s been seeing her, as if she has an ounce to lose!” 

They laugh. My heart starts beating wildly. My vision blurs. It’s hard to breathe. I find myself in a panicked “fight or flight” mode and remove myself from the conversation, finding a place to calm down, telling myself that everything is going to be okay. 

This type of discussion, as I’ve come to discover since my eating disorder recovery, is common among women. In fact, I hear it often among my friends. My relationship with food is thankfully at a fairly stabilized place — which has been unbelievably hard to achieve. Anything that could get in the way of my recovery, even discussing my food habits and choices out in the open, feels like becoming a recovering alcoholic who’s taking just one little sip. 

I reached out to other women whom I know have been through intensive eating disorder recoveries, asking them about their experiences with being around these types of discussions, and they all had the same to say: The conversations caused extreme anxiety and discomfort and a feeling of the need to escape to protect their recoveries. 

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I’d like to highlight Eating Disorder Recovery in the narrative, as it’s an ongoing battle far after the treatment is over. Research suggests that more than 1 out of 4 patients who have recovered from anorexia or bulimia relapse (Journal of Eating Disorders). If you know someone who has recovered from an eating disorder, here are some suggestions:

1. My body is not open for discussion. No matter what your intention, it is never okay to comment on how my body looks, even if you are trying to tell me that I “look healthy.” If you feel proud of me for how I seem to be doing and want to make a comment, I suggest “You seem to be in a really good place these days.”

2. Don’t comment on what I eat. Again, probably with the best of intentions, you may want to say, “It’s so good to see you eating!” or “You never used to order something like that!” Anxiety surrounding food and feeling watched is something that someone who has dealt with an eating disorder has likely felt for years, and is thankful to be getting away from. Please don’t bring those feelings back.

3. Avoid talking about foods you eat for weight loss, don’t tell me about how much weight you’re losing, and don’t ask me for tips on what to eat. This one is huge. If you think it sounds overly sensitive, just consider: Would you ask a recovering alcoholic for advice on which beer to order? Likewise, if you’re proud of your weight loss and want to find out about healthy eating, go talk to other friends about that. Don’t talk about it around me, as it brings me one step closer to relapse.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, or even if you are in recovery (a lifelong process) and need extra support: REACH OUT. I am one of the 1 in 4 relapse statistics, as strong as I have tried to be after all these years. Sometimes, you need extra support. I reached out and got a therapist and I am so thankful to have made that choice. 

Being vulnerable when you are experiencing deep shame or even confusion about your own actions is hard…Sometimes it feels impossible. It felt impossible to me for several years, before my in-patient eating disorder treatment. Now, with proper support, I am confident in my ability to recover.

If someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder and you would like to know steps to take to support them on their journey to recovery, or simply lend a listening ear as the person you love continues to struggle, please reach out:

Call NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) at 1-800-981-2237
(Monday-Thursday: 8am-6pm
Friday: 8am-2pm)


Vanessa Dueck
Vanessa Dueck
Vanessa Dueck is a Milpitas resident and local muralist. Find her work at: @vanessahardedge


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