I don’t often share my history of eating disorders with other people unless it happens to come up in conversation. I used to avoid doing so at all costs, but as I’ve distanced myself further from my patterns I find I’m more comfortable sharing my experience.
When I share my story, I often get comments. I think people are unsure what to say when you tell them that you once starved yourself so thin you scared yourself when you looked in the mirror – and I understand that. If I were to never have that experience, I wouldn’t be sure how to handle that either.
About fifty percent of the time, I get comments such as, “I could never be anorexic. I love food too much.” It’s a strange comment to receive – and often I’m not sure how to respond to it. Usually I just laugh and say, “Yeah, I get that,” and we go on our merry ways.
But it’s not like those of us who have suffered with eating disorders woke up one day and said, “I’m going to be anorexic!” It’s not something we aspired to achieve; it is a method of control when we feel like we have no other options. And then, the mindset ends up controlling us.
You would not tell someone who confides in you that they are depressed that, “I could never be depressed. I love life way too much.” Or someone with cancer, “I could never have cancer. I’m way too healthy.”
I don’t get upset when others say this, because who is taught what to say? Nor do I fault them. Had I never suffered an eating disorder, I would probably say the same thing.
But just know that, when you say that, it’s almost like you are elevating the status of an eating disorder – like it was a choice, or a goal, instead of a prison. I think most people are wrapped up in their own mindset – that they want to lose weight, or they have troubles with willpower, and they see this comment as a compliment on our willpower or admiration of our accomplishment to be thin.
The reality though is one where we were controlled by our compulsions. It wasn’t a decision of freedom or of willpower, it was a trap of obsessions and isolation and shame. It’s nothing to compliment, or to aspire towards, or admire.
Or maybe they’re just unsure what to say, and so they say the only thing that pops in their head. Either way, if you’ve ever found yourself on the other end of this conversation, don’t fret. It’s no big deal. You’ve broken no one with your comments, and it’s just more awkward than it is anything else.
But, for the future, the best thing you could possibly say would be, “Wow. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been.” And leave it at that. It will save us both some awkwardness.