Are You Using Triggering Language?
I was eating dinner at a restaurant recently and overheard the conversation from the table approximately 3 inches away from mine. The college-aged girls were chatting about school, work, and friends. Pretty normal, right? Well unfortunately, so is toxic, negative gossip about body image. It was only a matter of time before the topic arose, where the girls speculated about their friend’s eating habits. Many misconceptions about disordered eating are so stigmatized, they’re normalized. Years ago, the verbiage they used would have been very triggering to me. So now, I want to debunk some of those myths - not because I’m judging those girls for their insensitivity, but because we should all choose our words more wisely.
1. “Just eat more”
We don’t tell people who are sick to “just” get better. Your outside reflects what’s on the inside. Purposefully under eating and living in a state of malnourishment doesn’t start with eating more, it starts with healing from the inside. Also, how much or how little someone eats doesn’t necessarily correlate to his/her overall health. To provide support, do not comment on what/how much/how little someone is eating and just enjoy their company.
2. “Just own up to the fact that you have a problem”
Anyone who’s ever said this has never been to therapy. I didn’t start getting help until I wanted to on my own terms, which was after several attempts made by concerned people in my life. People who are suffering from any kind of addiction will sacrifice everything - their family, friends, relationships, body - to feed their insecurities and toxically cyclical thinking patterns. It’s physically destructive and mentally draining living with these issues, and talking about it likely exposes crippling fear, insecurity, and vulnerability. It is more productive to not offer an opinion or an insensitive comment disguised as a solution.
3. "Any normal human being would struggle”
People whose health is compromised aren’t considered “normal”. They’re considered ill. There is a difference between being self conscious and being obsessed with your appearance or weight to the point where you can’t leave the house. There is a difference between being insecure looking in the mirror and having body dysmorphia disorder. There is a difference between wanting to lose a few extra pounds and putting your health - or even life - in jeopardy because you need to lose weight. Mental illness takes these seemingly “normal” feelings that society tells us we should feel to a different extreme. Make the distinction.
The bottom line is, the words that we use - to our friends, to strangers, to acquaintances, to ourselves in the mirror - are very powerful. Choosing positivity over toxicity will make a better friend, partner, coworker, sister, daughter, mother...every time.