10 Things you shouldn’t say to someone with an eating disorder.

It can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t say around someone who’s in recovery from an eating disorder.

It can be hard to know what you should and shouldn’t say around someone who’s in recovery from an eating disorder. You would assume that everyone knows not to say “Oh you look like you’ve gained weight,” and yet I’m still surprised by the number of people in my life that think this is appropriate. It’s true that people often mean well with the things they say, but there’s such a massive misunderstanding around eating disorders that it’s hardly surprising confusion exists. Even those of us struggling with eating disorders find it difficult to understand!

Although the above phrase may be obvious there are hundreds of less obvious statements that may be potentially triggering. Here are my top ten statements to avoid when speaking to someone with an eating disorder.


10 Things you shouldn’t say to someone with an eating disorder.

One. “Just eat. It’s not that hard.”

Eating disorders are complicated illnesses. Ninety percent of the time they are solely about food. They’re more commonly a condition with what’s known as co-morbid conditions such as body dysmorphia, anxiety, perfectionism and so much more. So, what you deem as easy feels like climbing a mountain to me. It’s far more difficult to ignore the thoughts that keep us trapped within the disorder, and sadly there’s no barrier between the logical and disordered parts of our brains.

Long story short, eating disorders make no sense. None. At all. And we’re just as confused as you are, if not more! The worst part is the guilt. We feel guilty for not eating and we feel guilty for eating. Having extra guilt piled on by others makes things worse, not better, and telling us to ‘just eat because there are people in the world without food’ isn’t necessarily helpful. In fact, it’ll just make us avoid telling you anything in the future. It might even cause us to avoid you altogether.

Instead, try something like this:

I don’t know what’s going on but I want to know more. Can you explain to me how eating makes you feel?

Two. “You’re so skinny! I wish I had your willpower.”

If you’re thinking of saying this or any version of this, just don’t. Please. There is nothing admirable about an eating disorder, and stating that there is only adds fuel to the fire. Although you may see control, it’s entirely the opposite. We are under the control of the eating disorder, not the other way around. It doesn’t take dedication, it’s not pretty nor should it be romanticised.

Eating disorders are spending days and night crying about the mess we’re in. It’s being unable to go to social events for fear of having to eat. You compulsively move even when you’re exhausted just to burn those extra few calories. I’ve even avoided drinking just to lose weight.

It’s not dedication, it’s an obsession, and believe me when I say you don’t want this.

Three. “Haven’t you been in recovery long enough? Why aren’t you better yet?”

Recovery isn’t linear. It’s a long and complicated process that can take years, possibly decades, to overcome. Even then, over 50% of those with an eating disorder will never recover fully. You might seem better, you might recover to the point where you can cope but it’s never really gone. Recovery is struggling up mountains, through forests, and wading through troubled waters. Although it’s a journey that the sufferer has to walk alone, it’s always made easier with a hand to hold. Even if they never fully understand, feeling loved, supported and heard never made any journey harder, only easier.

Instead, try something like this:

“I’m here for you, I support you and I hear you. I might not understand fully, but I’m going to be with you regardless. Take your time but whatever you do keep moving forward.”

Four. “You don’t look that thin.”

The fact that only people who are sickly thin can have a serious eating disorder is a dangerous misconception. Eating disorders are not solely weight disorders. The weight gain or loss is caused by the actual disorder, but the thoughts and actions behind it are the cause of something much, much deeper. Even someone who is sickly thin can feel ugly and big in their own skin. I’ve had countless people tell me this because of my genetically big hips despite being categorically underweight. It only serves the ill and disordered thoughts and helps add fuel to the fire. I already feel massive and ugly and ashamed, so telling me I don’t look that sick triggers the part of my brain that needs to lose weight to feel valid.

We know the record is getting old. Believe me, we wish we could change it, but stick with us. Support us when we tell you we feel like an alien in our own bodies. You might not be able to find the right words but saying nothing is better than “you’re not actually that thin.”

Five. “Stop being so attention seeking.”

I hate this phrase. Not only is it dangerous but it puts a barrier between us and getting the help that we need. By telling us we’re attention seeking we’re more likely to shy away from speaking up about our issues. We’re less likely to reach out for help because of the fear of being a burden, not being believed, or causing trouble. Telling anyone that they’re attention-seeking when they ask for help or when they’re clearly struggling is an awfully invalidating this.

Asking for help isn’t attention-seeking. Reaching out and admitting when you’re struggling isn’t a “look at me” moment. It’s a “help me, see me, hear me” moment and it takes a lot of strength to admit.

Six. “Have you tried going on a diet.”

As much as I understand that there will never be a full-proof way for me to avoid talking about diets, I still detest hearing about them. Whether aimed at me or not, it’s so easy for someone in recovery to not become sucked in.

Have you tried paleo? What about keto? Intermittent fasting works!

Although it’s not an issue I deal with currently I’ve known people with binge eating disorder or bulimia who’ve simply been told to ‘stop eating and go on a diet.’ As if it’s the easiest thing in the world when you live with an eating disorder. In fact, as an ex-binge eater and part-time bulimic, I find that diets do more harm than good. It’s easy to go from one extreme to the other and in my opinion suggesting an unhealthy diet to an already unhealthy person is never the answer.

If you are aware of the other persons eating disorder, whether it’s Anorexia Nerovsa of Binge Eating Disorder, please be considerate when it comes to diet talk.

Seven. “Do you know how hard this is for ME?”

I’ve no doubt that it’s incredibly hard to watch someone go through an eating disorder. There are sleepless nights, endless worries and constant vigilance. But this isn’t about you. And chances are that the sufferer already feels incredibly guilty about what they’re not only doing to themselves but others. By saying things like this all you’re doing is adding fuel to the fire. We have so much shame and guilt and anxiety already. We don’t need others to reinforce what the disorder is already telling us.

Eight. Do you know how many calories are in that?!

Who retired and made you the head of the food police? No seriously, don’t food police! Someone else’s food choice is their business, not yours, and it’s never a good idea to comment on what you don’t know. For someone in the midst of an eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa, it’s likely that whatever their eating is part of a strict food plan. That plan has many ‘fear foods’ in place, and commenting on such food will only cause further preoccupation and anxiety. Trust me when I say that we’re already hyper-aware of the food that we’re putting into our mouths, especially during the early stages of recovery. Commenting on food choices on serves to validate fear that not only are they being watched, but every bite they eat is on trial.

Nine. You just need more self-control, then you’ll stop binging.

It’s not that simple. Nothing about an eating disorder whether it be binging or starving is simple. We can’t flip a switch and suddenly we’re cured. Although it may be easy for you not to eat, for someone with binge eating disorder or bulimia, it can be so, so difficult. Binging can even be the result of tightly controlled eating and often occurs in Anorexia Nervosa, although on a much lesser scale. We we deprive our bodies of food for too long they eventually take back control.

For some food can be a comfort. They already feel shame and guilt, but they way in which they deal with that is to eat which then starts a cycle of shame – eat – purge (bulimia) – shame.

Ten. I feel so fat/ Does this make me look fat / I’m so bad for eating that.

Although difficult please try to avoid ‘fat talk.’ How you speak about your own body can make a person with anorexia or bulimia become even more focused on food, weight and their own bodies. Even talking about how ‘bad’ you are for eating a piece of cake can reinforce the thought that certain foods are bad and should be avoided, while others are good. No food is bad or good, it’s how society portrays them that’s the issue. We’ll not want to eat the cake if we keep hearing how bad cake is! When, in fact, the cake is delicious and to be enjoyed in moderation, just like many foods.

It’s hard not to make comments about ourselves when we’re feeling rubbish. But talking negatively about yourself and your body is not only dangerous to other adults, but it’s especially dangerous to young, impressionable children. To you, it’s a fleeting comment but to someone else, it could stick in their minds for the rest of the day or possibly their lives.


What things do you think people shouldn’t say to someone with an eating disorder? Have you an experience to share?

Would you like to read more about eating disorders? Check out some of these post.

what not to say to someone with an eating disorder

127 comments

  1. We should have cultural sensitivity and also be more professional when talking. We should ask for tips to counselors or psychiatrists so we can better communicate with them. Be more sensitive!

  2. Surely! No person struggling with an eating disorder should have to hear any of these horrible statements…most especially, “you are too skinny”! I really hate that one!

  3. when you meet someone who has an eating disorder, you should focus on being more supportive rather than being judgemental about his or her condition.

  4. I agree with you, having a food disorder is not really healthy, and no one wants that. Thank you for sharing these great tis!

  5. We recently discovered that my cousin is anorexic. This guide will help me so much in being able to speak with her and support her.

  6. Some of those comments are plain negative. I guess we really have to watch our words especially if the person we are talking to is undergoing something.

  7. These things are really mean to say and should not be said to people who have eating disorders. It’s just rude. Thanks for sharing

  8. It is tricky to comment on people with eating disorders. I guess it is best not to say anything directly, and just make the person feel that you are always there to support and if they needed any help. Allow the person to reach out first.

  9. These are really mean things to say. Glad I haven’t said anything like this to someone.

  10. These are interesting approaches. I think this topic is really sensitive so we should be careful enough to pick words when approaching them because it could be very offensive and hurtful for them without us knowing it. Thank you for sharing

  11. I’ve been surfing on-line more than three hours today, but I never found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It is lovely worth sufficient for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made just right content as you probably did, the web will probably be a lot more useful than ever before.

  12. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I think people really need to consider their words more carefully before commenting on others.

  13. I always hated ‘skinny” comments. To me, it made me feel even more awkward about myself when I when I was struggling with something that affected my weight. Words like “skinny”, “fat”, or even worse… “are you expecting?” should be avoided, because they can be very strong trigger words for some people. (I had a friend who was devastated recently when someone asked if she was expecting. She just gained a few pounds and was very self conscious of it, and that question really hurt her. If someone is expecting, they will probably be more than happy to share the news without being asked!) I always try to keep comments neutral when it comes to someone’s appearance, like “that color is very flattering on you” or “I love that dress on you, it makes you look so youthful.”

  14. I’m so grateful for you sharing this post. I feel those that don’t have an eating disorder or know of someone that does should still take this in and be cautious or what they’re saying. My relationship with food has been a struggle for many years at reached a point where I stopped eating. This is so important to talk about and the subject can be tricky to bring up because you’re laying yourself down. Thanks for writing this ????????

    All the love,
    Kerry-Ann

    http://www.voluptuouschatterbox.co.uk

  15. WOW! I can actually hear this being said by so many people. Well-meaning I am sure to a certain extent but so damaging to people.
    I recently had a friend tell me I had put a lot of weight on… The result I am now so broken from those comments that I am in fact heavier!
    This was the same person who told me I was too skinny at my smallest.

    No one should ever comment on another persons weight, just so wrong!

    Thank you for sharing this list, it is a real eye-opener x x

  16. Eye-opening list! I don’t know why it is that people think they can tell others that they are too skinny, when it isn’t often done on the other end of the spectrum. Thanks so much for sharing.

  17. I know what it is like to fight an eating disorder. I have had friends tell me that they look fat or that I needed to lose some weight. I was binging and I was gaining. They didn’t know that I had a past history of vomiting to help me lose weight. Now I know if I gain weight from overeating I know to lose weight slowly and carefully.
    I have had family members post meme on Social Media about binging and when I went and spoke with them about how it made me feel they never took the post down. They just kept sharing hurtful things.

  18. This post is really an eye opener and a great help for all of us. Thank you for sharing these phrases. I will keep them in mind.

  19. Great points. Yes eating disorder is really tough to going through. They need support.

  20. This post hits me..multiple people have said multiple of these. I love the awareness of eating disorders on your blog! My blog is about the environment and eating disorders, I’d love it if you would consider taking a look x

  21. Great points. I would really share this. Some people are so insensitive when it comes to this.

  22. This is a really wonderful post. I agree about all these too. This is such a sensitive topic and you should definitely never say any of these to anyone with an eating disorder. You never know what others are going through.

  23. I agree with what you suggested here. Yes, there are sensitive peps, so we should always be careful on what we say.

  24. This is very helpful. Sometimes we think we’re helping but we’re not. I think the key is to be kind. Put yourself in other people’s shoes.

  25. Thanks for sharing this, yes we are not an authority to judge something we don’t know. I know eating disorder is very difficult one.

  26. My goodness, I can’t believe people have the nerve to say things like that! But unfortunately many in our society have no tact. Thank you for sharing all this information!

  27. Such an important post. It would be great if people stopped using the word ‘fat’ altogether because of all the negative connotations it has. I’m really tired of hearing it!
    I hope you’re doing well and continuing to be safe!

  28. While I have never said any of those things to a person with an eating disorder-and think it is terrible that someone would- I have said the I feel so fat, etc. in general. I’ve been catching myself when I want to say that- especially around the 4-year-old in our family-as I don’t want to give her a complex. Good luck on your journey!

  29. I can just relate to this post., nice thanks for sharing… All the points you have mentioned are exactly true. More Power to you …

  30. Thank you so, so much for popping in and reading, pet. As always I appreciate your reading and sharing bits of your own story. Sending you much love. x

  31. My family still come out with these even 15 years into this disorder. It’s almost like they refuse to listen.
    Thank you so much for reading. x

  32. Thank you for reading pet. I hear these alot on a daily basis, especially from family. It’s been the one upside of covid. Not having to cope with comments like this.

  33. Thank you so much for reading, pet. I still can’t believe some people think these are appropriate but at the moment nothing surprises me.

  34. It’s a great post! Recently struggling hard to stay in shape or you can say not to grab on junk. I never remark on foodie issues, it’s a clear personal and emotional perspective. This post offers a better belief towards what I feel! Thanks for sharing.

  35. This is a really good post that brings awareness. I’m sorry that anyway has said these things, as I know how much some of these would send me on a spiral. Everyone just needs to stop commenting on other people’s physical appearances as it’s none of their business!!!

  36. This is such a helpful post. I feel more prepared to know what not to say to someone with an eating disorder.

  37. A lot of friends say to me the last one, that whatever i eat and even had two kids, i still maintain my body. So i always encourage them that whatever body they have, thin or fat, the important is they have a good heart.

  38. I’ve heard so many of them the best is about being on diet because I feel like my whole life is one big diet.

  39. I’ve known so many people over the years that have struggled with eating disorders and I like the way you discuss it, very honest and real! Thank you!

  40. As someone who has gained a lot of weight over the years, I am sensitive to comments about weight gain and food choices in general, even if they aren’t directed at me. Since it isn’t always obvious that someone has an eating disorder, I try to avoid making comments about food and weight around others.

  41. Wow, thank you for posting this. I don’t personally know anyone with an eating disorder (that I know of). I generally try to steer clear of any comments like the ones you listed above. You never know what someone is going through.

  42. Such a beautiful and relatable article, I wish all of us were a little more sensitive towards others and also to ourselves and stop saying these damn phrases. Sometimes it is just best to let things be.

  43. Often people do not realize how serious eating disorders are. You gave some great tips to help people not put their foot in their mouths and cause damage to people.

  44. This is an important post filled with great tips. Over the years, I’m learning to have a more affirmative conversation with my body. The things we say to ourselves or to others are downright negative. This sheds lights on the negative power of words. Thanks for sharing.

  45. The last one is extremely important. Many times we don’t realize or know who is suffering personally from body dysmorphia. We’re such a weight conscious society these days and we let it dictate our happiness. I think many of us have issues with weight but some more dangerously so than others and with that in mind we need to start using positive reinforcement when it comes to ourselves and others.

  46. I have to admit that I have said some things without thinking to a friend when she was beginning to develop an eating disorder. It wasn’t till I saw her again and knew for a fact that something was wrong that I approached her and we had a conversation about it. Sometimes words spill out and one doesn’t realize the impact that a few phrases can have.

  47. I can’t believe these things are actually said to people struggling with an eating disorder. Some people really don’t think before they speak it’s so sad.

  48. It is hard to not let peoples rude comments get to you. Keep your head up and don’t listen to them.

  49. One thing that I have found positive when it comes to eating is a quote from Ratatouille (yes, I’m quoting Pixar). “I don’t like food, I love it. And if I don’t love it, I don’t swallow”. For me, that screams “don’t eat something that will make you unhappy and unhealthy, love what you put in your body.”

  50. This blog post is so deep and meaningful no doubt in this..We never know one thing how hurts someone therefore it is better to not say anything to anyone..glad you shared these with us..this is much helpful blog post…

  51. These are all definite things you should not say to anyone!This post was very educational and I do hope that more people heed you insights and understand that the way they say things will have a negative connotation. I hope we can all be more appreciative of each other as humans.

  52. This is so important to talk about. While some of these statements are well-meaning (they are trying to honestly figure out how to help), we need to spread the word so that people understand how these statements can be harmful. I have recently gained quite a bit of weight thanks to a new medication and have had people point that out multiple times, as I’m not ‘overweight’, so obviously I don’t have an issue any longer. However, as you stated, eating disorders aren’t just about being thin. You can be overweight and still have issues.

  53. Those are all awful things to say to someone struggling with an eating disorder. I had a friend in college who would tell me all the time how I needed to eat more, eat a hamburger, put meat on my bones – and I didn’t have an eating disorder, but it was really bothersome. People need to keep their comments to themselves!

  54. Oh dear, what a brilliant list of things not to say to anyone with an eating disorder. The thing is I don’t really know who has it. Anyway, I am so guilty of number 10 because I experience this every single month when Mr. Bloat pays a visit.

  55. Great advice. It is so important to know what NOT to say. My first experience with eating disorders was over 35 years ago when my friend had anorexia. I think social media makes it even harder for those suffering from eating disorders.

  56. This is such an important post! When I was struggling with my ED, I found that my family (especially my sister) would say a lot of these comments that you’ve mentioned here and I wish it was more widely known what things are harmful to say to someone with an eating disorder

    Roni | myelevatedexistence.com

  57. Thanks for the tip! You never know who you are to encounter next and how you would want this person to feel next to you. It is very helpful

  58. Having an eating disorder is very serious and you need to be very gentle with your words and actions around others who have an ED.

  59. I’m so grateful for this post! I know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder and it’s not something I fully understand. I appreciate the wisdom.

  60. yes to ALL of these! I think people don’t really realize that you are never out of recovery… like no!

  61. I feel like these things shouldn’t be said at all to anyone. Thanks for sharing the what should be said instead.

  62. There is no doubt that we have to be sensitive to others specially when they have illnesses

  63. I have been told you are so skinny I wish I was like you. When I have my own struggles and agree with all of your suggestions.

  64. These are good. I’d also like to know what to say! I appreciate learning how to say the right things.

  65. If anyone says these things to anyone who has a eating disorder, then they are not a decent human being whatsoever, I’m so glad that you have written this post and raised awareness of this lovely x

    Lucy |

  66. Such a beautiful post that many people do not talk about. Thank so much for sharing.

  67. This is such an important post – I am trying to come to terms with the fact I suffer from disordered eating as it is something I fall back on feel anything I eat.

  68. I never understood why people would say these things. I do struggle with saying the last one myself so thanks for raising my awareness about that.

  69. Do people really say, “Why aren’t you better yet?” Dang. That’s terrible! Thanks for raising awareness!

  70. Eating disorders are serious and not just about a little weight losss or gain. I think we have seen the devastating results all too often

  71. Thank you so, so much for reading and commenting. Some of the things people say are horrible and I just feel like beating them all over the head.

  72. These are terrible and to be honest I can’t believe that some people have the nerve to say them in the first place – especially the “why aren’t you better yet?” They all sound so infuriating! I’ve certainly had experience with similar things said about my anxiety and OCD – my favourite being “you just need to stop worrying so much.” Thanks for that! ???? Thank you for sharing, it’s so important to make people aware of what is and isn’t okay when discussing MH conditions xxx

  73. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. My jaw would be on the floor all day if I was still so shocked about some of these. People can be so inconsiderate.

  74. Such an important post. Sometimes it really can be hard to know what is appropriate to say and what is not. Thank you for sharing

  75. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m so body-conscious at the moment and even the smallest comment can make me feel like shit.
    Sending you much love.

  76. Thank you for sharing these. Will keep all of these in mind. We always have to remember that people carry different crosses.

  77. I think this is a great list – sometimes people just don’t know what to say (or not say!) and i think giving them a helping hand is great! Also, this was very educational for those of us that don’t know as much about eating disorders.

  78. Oh cripes, all these things are awful. Actually reading some of them made me cringe. Although I don’t have an eating disorder, I know how awful some things can feel when they’re said to you from my anxiety, the main one being “why don’t you just stop being anxious?” oh man, didn’t think of THAT. This is a really informative post – I hope a lot of people learn something from this!

  79. Eating disorders are so common place now it’s scary. I think half the time outsiders may not even know someone is a sufferer, it’s not like a broken leg there for all to see.

  80. My jaw is on the floor with some of these, but others… eye opening. As I am currently on my own journey with my body I never realized how my words about myself could hurt someone else. Thank you friend.

  81. Thank you so much for sharing this! I don’t really talk negatively about someone’s body even if they point them out themselves. As much as possible I try to lift up what they feel and support them on what they wanna do with their own bodies. <3

  82. The last one hits close to home. I always say that phrase to my friends, boyfriend, family. I am just so body-conscious because I’ve been stuck at home for months. But boyfriend has been very supportive and knows the right words to say. Thank you for this!

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