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JUST EAT — How NOT to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

“Just eat.”

If only the solution were that simple.

I am an adult woman who has battled anorexia and exercise bulimia for nearly 30 years. I have heard those two little words more times than I can count. While often voiced with an intent to “help,” they actually cause immense harm.

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions with no straight line to recovery.

You can’t “snap” out of it. There are no “easy” answers.

The voice of an eating disorder takes over your life and makes you believe you have no choice. It demands your attention.

“Just eat” will never work. Neither will any advice that starts with “you should” or “you shouldn’t.” And it is NEVER helpful to compare your food intake or body appearance with us.

Three Ways You Can Help Someone Suffering from an Eating Disorder

  1. Listen. Disordered eating is a very difficult thing for people to understand so be open to listening to the one you are trying to help. Be a safe place. Avoid lecturing.

  2. Be patient. Just because you are ready for us to recover doesn't mean that we are. It took time for us to get to this dark place, and it will take time to begin digging ourselves out of it. You may think you gave the pep talk of a lifetime, but this may take time and many more gentle attempts.

  3. Eliminate food and body talk. Never comment on what they eat or don't eat. So often in social situations, people hone in on what is on their plates — the calorie count and "good" vs "bad" foods. Avoid saying things like, "Oh I shouldn't have this, but, …” or “Why don't you have this on your plate?” Also stay away from complimenting someone's physical appearance. This only perpetuates them feeling that they must remain in the disorder to look a certain way.

February 27 - March 5, 2023, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and I am on a mission to raise awareness about adult eating disorders. Approximately 13 percent of American women 50 or older experience symptoms of an eating disorder, and it is one of the deadliest mental health conditions.

If you or someone you know struggles with disordered eating, here are a few resources that may help:

  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

  • National Alliance for Eating Disorders

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness



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