How can we be more considerate of eating disorders over the festive season?
Tilly O'Brien discusses her personal experience of Eating Disorders and suggests some tips on how to change your dialogue to be conscious of those with EDs this Christmas.
December tends to be a difficult month for people with EDs. With Christmas fast approaching, food is literally everywhere…
You never know who may be battling with an ED, trying to lose or gain weight, or struggling with their body image or relationship with food. Thus, in this post, I hope to help you not subconsciously trigger someone’s ED or make them feel guilty for what they are or aren’t eating.
Ever since I was a young teen, I’ve had a negative relationship with food, I have struggled with my body image, and have suffered from various eating disorders including bulimia and orthorexia which is an ED whereby someone has an unhealthy obsession with being healthy. And to make things harder, people in my life (particularly those of the older generations during family meals) have said unhelpful things about food and my eating habits in a way that has triggered my EDs and made me feel guilty about eating and not eating. The worst experiences of this were in my last relationship in which my ex made numerous negative comments about my eating habits which led me starving myself, not wanting to eat around him, and even crying after eating a chocolate bar he’d bought me. It’s no secret that words can have powerful impacts on people and often people might not even realise the affect their words have had on others, so here’s a list of comments about food and eating that I’ve experienced that could help you to be more conscious of your words this Christmas.
“That’s a big plate of food”- This comment has been said to me many times at family meals even once when I ordered a vegan salad from Pizza Express (it was literally just a bowl of veg). It always makes me feel guilty for having ordered that specific meal as I had not made the food myself meaning I couldn’t have known how much food would be on the plate. This acts as a pre-warning for me to not eat the whole meal as clearly the person who made the comment is suggesting that they wouldn’t eat the whole plate.
“You don’t have to eat it all”/ “Only eat what you can”- These comments have also been said to me a lot throughout my life and, having the same affect as the previous comment, suggests that the person making the comment will judge me if I do eat the whole meal even though it’s not up to them what I eat.
“You’re really going to eat all of that”/ “Wow, you did well to eat it all”- These comments again can make people feel guilty about how much I’m eating as they undermine how hungry someone might be, and this makes eating seem like a challenge to accomplish rather than an enjoyable experience.
“You’re always eating”- I’m someone who tends to eat little but often, especially on days when I’m not busy, and I always feel endlessly hungry when I’m hungover, so I might snack all day. This comment has been made to me a lot and has made me feel as though I’m greedy and so has triggered my EDs to a point that I’ve cut back on how much I eat and rejected food even when I’m hungry. It shouldn’t bother anyone how much and how often another person eats really.
“You eat really quickly”- It may seem minor, but fast indulgence has connotations of greed so commenting on the speed that someone eats their meals can make them feel conscious of their eating. My mum has always told me that I should eat slowly so that I get fuller more easily and thus eat less. Therefore, I’ve always been conscious of not eating quickly.
“Are you not full?” – We’re not in control of when we get full and how big our appetites are, so when I received this comment, I questioned why I’m not full when others would be if they’d eaten what I’d eaten and have thus tried to eat less in future meals.
All of the above comments are about eating too much and are the comments that have triggered my EDs but there are also comments on the other hand that when I’m going through my EDs, can make me feel bad for eating too little.
“Why aren’t you eating that?”/ “You haven’t eaten much”- Someone
might be struggling to eat due to their EDs or genuinely eating less for
numerous reasons like dieting and feel ashamed of their ED, so this comment could boost that sense of shame. I’ve been suffering with orthorexia for years and struggling with diet culture and I hate it when people make these comments as a lot of the time it’s been an internal battle for me to decide not to eat something or to eat less.
“I think you should eat that” – Often there are foods that I really want to eat, but due to my inner orthorexia demons, I’ve made the difficult decision to not eat those foods so as to avoid feelings of guilt and a potential bulimic purge to rid me of this guilt. So, whilst I understand that the person making this comment is trying to persuade me that it’s okay to eat this food, it also makes the inner struggle even more difficult and makes me feel embarrassed for feeling so guilty about eating the food.
“You need to eat more” - People with EDs may be struggling to eat. There’s so much mental
angst that comes with anorexia and the sufferer is probably aware that they should
eat more, but feels that they can’t, so this comment can make the sufferer feel
guilty for not eating.
“You look like you need to eat a burger (or any food considered unhealthy)” – Often people lose weight unintentionally or could be struggling to put weight on (I’ve been there), so pointing out someone’s unintentional thinness can be triggering.
This list is based on comments I’ve received or heard and aren’t only personal to me. They can be worded in different ways and to some may be completely normal, but changing our narratives around other people’s personal experiences with food can avoid triggering someone’s ED.