How not to be a dick to your friend/loved one/relative with eating disorders

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Content warning: disordered eating, fatphobia, misogynistic language, description of child abuse

Note: this is written based on my own personal experience with relatives, friends, loved ones, and my eating disorders. Other people may have different eating disorders and different experiences, and my post is in now way trying to speak for them. It’s just me venting about stuff that I go through every day.

My eating disorders are, for clarity, binge/emotional eating and anorexia. Eating is a complete MINEFIELD for me before we even factor in other people’s comments, reactions, etc, because I am constantly fighting a battle with myself about what food I “should” or “shouldn’t” eat. If I binge eat because I’m upset, I then spend several days starving myself because I’m full of self-loathing. But as I know stopping myself from eating is bad, I then force myself to eat, and feel horrible about it.

So here are the things that are said/done, quite often, either to or around me that DON’T HELP AT ALL.

“This is so bad for me; it’s got, like, 100 more calories than I’m supposed to have in one serving.”

Here’s the thing. When I buy food, I can’t even look at the “nutritional” information on the back of the food I’m thinking of purchasing, because the second I look at the calories per serving bit, my brain starts telling me it’s too much, I should put it back, in fact I’m such a huge fucking cow that I should stop eating because I don’t deserve to have any food. If I’m already having a bad day, mental health wise, looking at the calorie count while grocery shopping can reduce me to tears and have me leaving the grocery store without any food, going home hungry, and curling up in my bed because sleeping doesn’t take that much energy.

Secondly, something having a lot of calories doesn’t make it bad for you. This is pure bullshit that has no basis in reality or actual nutritional fact, and it’s pumped out by the fatphobic diet-industrial complex that so many people are complete slaves to. So no, it’s not bad for you because it had 100 more calories than some arbitrary rule says you should have in one serving. It’s bad for you because it’s got wheat and you’re fucking gluten-intolerant. Or it’s not bad for you at all, and you’re just running your mouth off about how something’s bad for you because you desperately want other people to hold you accountable for your “diet”.

Look, your diet is your own goddamn responsibility, and it’s not up to me or any other relatives or friends or loved ones to hold you to it. If you are so desperate to lose weight that you’re going to cut your calories and exercise more in pursuit of the almighty low number on the scale, to the extent of ignoring actual health or nutrition, fine. Have at. I don’t give a shit.

Thank you, Tumblr.

Thank you, Tumblr.

Stop talking about it around me. I don’t want to hear your diet talk. And especially not at the dinner table. Eating’s already nearly impossible for me; you triggering me at the table is not fucking helping. You reminding me that my brain tells me all food is bad for me because I don’t deserve it is not making my dinner enjoyable.

“Are you sure you really need that cupcake/brownie/cookie/spoonful of Nutella?”

My instant response to this is “Are you sure you don’t really need a good punch in the face?” But I refrain from saying it, because I was raised to have some fucking manners.

It is not your business what I eat. At all. Ever. No exceptions to this rule. Whether I’m having Nutella for lunch or it’s the first goddamn sweet I’ve had all week — it’s not your business.

I literally have to put stickers all over my kitchen that have little affirmation sayings, like “You always make the right food choices for you,” and “You are allowed to eat whatever you wish,” to counteract the constant refrain of YOU DON’T DESERVE ANYTHING YOU FAT CUNT that screams itself through my brain on a daily basis. Cooking is painful for me, because in the time it takes me to make my pork chop and veggies or pasta or fucking ramen, I’m going over all the reasons whatever I’m cooking is bad for me because it’s got calories, period, and how I should just stop eating altogether. Cooking for one? It’s a goddamned nightmare.

Baked bran muffins in four tins.

Muffins I made for the Ogre.

I love cooking for other people, because then I can shut up the voices — I’m making the food for someone else. Someone better than me, someone who deserves what I don’t.

So when I go and grab something easy — whether that’s fast food or something microwaveable or a cookie or a spoonful of Nutella — just to get something in my body, for Christ’s sake, it’s not because I don’t care about my health. It’s because the tightrope I have to walk between caring about my physical health and caring about my mental health is thin as fuck and razor sharp, and it makes my feet bleed as I canvas the cruel earth, trying desperately not to fall apart too much on any one side, lest I lose it all.

Making comments about my food choices is not only a dick move, it’s just plain rude — regardless of whether your target has eating disorders or not. So fuckin’ quit it.

“I feel so virtuous; I’m only eating one meal a day. And it’s mostly salad!”

This, while delicious, is NOT enough for a full day's worth of food.

This, while delicious, is NOT enough for a full day’s worth of food.

I get that you may only be talking about how you feel virtuous because this is a goal you’ve set for yourself, and I get that you might not actually have any eating disorders yourself. Maybe your one meal a day is really big and actually is enough to keep you going, or you’re having lots of little snacks throughout the day and just one “formal” meal. But a statement like this sends up a million red flags for me as well as triggering me all to fucking hell.

I go quiet, because I don’t quite know what to say. I don’t know how to say your statement has sent up red flags for me, because I know exactly what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those sorts of expressions of concern. We don’t always listen. I don’t know how to say your statement about feeling virtuous because you might be starving yourself is triggering the constant stream of hatethoughts in my brain, telling me I’m NOT virtuous, because I eat more than one meal, and snack a lot besides.

Experience tells me that if you’re really serious about hurting yourself, you don’t tell other people. You get good at hiding your disorder. So I don’t actually know if your statement is a cry for help, or just a misguided expression of “I’m doing so well on my diet.”

If it’s the former, please seek help. Professional help. I can offer solidarity fistbumps, but only if you’re actively fighting against your disorder.

If it’s the latter, stop. Stop stop stop. As noted already, I don’t want to hear about your diet. I really really don’t. And talking about it this way is the worst possible way to do so — you are actively telling me that I’m not virtuous because I’m eating. Because I’m fighting my disorder. I know you don’t mean to tell me that. But it’s what your words say to me; it’s all I hear.

So stop.

“I saw an old picture of you and you were MUCH skinnier!”

Usually said with a sort of “Ah ah ah, what a bad person you are, gaining weight!” tone, and followed up with questions about what you’re doing to lose weight.

Seriously? I mean, I’ve actually heard this said about my fiancé. He brushed it off, but I was LIVID. Who the FUCK thinks it’s okay to say shit like this? To anyone? I don’t give a shit if you’re family; you don’t get to say that stuff to people.

Saying this reminds me that I’m fat, my fiancé’s fat, and you know what? We don’t need the reminder. It’s…kind of glaringly obvious, and seeing as we’re the ones who have to deal with our own bodies every single day and not, you know, you, maybe you should shut the fuck up?

 

Wait...I'm FAT? NO FUCKIN WAY

Wait…I’m FAT? NO FUCKIN WAY

And you know, this applies across the board, not just to people who have eating disorders. Even if I didn’t have horrible mental problems when it comes to eating, a statement like this would surely ruin my next few meals. I’d feel like I was being watched and judged (because I don’t feel that way already, being fat and daring to have food), and I’d probably eat a lot less than I wanted. Yeah, I’d go hungry, so people around me would SHUT THE FUCK UP about my weight.

Adding that on to my massive problems with eating? Well, I guess I should just stop eating altogether, right? I mean, that’s what you want, isn’t it? Oh, it isn’t? Then stop saying shit like this.

“How do you even eat that much food? That’s SO much food. If I had to eat that much food, I’d, like, DIE. That’s just SO MUCH FOOD.”

Wow, a full meal. How will I EVER survive it without DYING?

Wow, a full meal. How will I EVER survive it without DYING?

Hey, you know what’s fun? When people make me feel like shit over how much I’m eating. Really. Because I’m not already doing that inside my own head, so it’s really nice when people ask me how I could POSSIBLY be eating so much because they’d just DIE if they ate THAT MUCH FOOD oh my GODS it’s SO MUCH GUYS.

Ok, I get it — you don’t need as much food as I do. What you may not get is often, this is my first meal of the day, or my first chance in the week to actually eat my fill. I don’t eat that much during the week. Not by choice; I’m often quite hungry. But money is tight, and food is expensive. So when I head over to my fiancé’s house for the weekend, I tend to eat more — because he has all the food. We don’t live together yet. I have to wait till the weekend to eat food he buys. During the week, I rely on my own money to eat food — and there’s just not enough right now. My rent is way too high.

And he’s fine with it! And he realizes that I’ll probably be eating smaller meals, more often, when we live together. But for right now, the weekend is when I get to actually have some goddamn food and not feel hungry all the time.

So when we’re out to dinner and my fiancé and I get big plates of food, maybe you should, you know, NOT comment on HOW MUCH IT IS OH MY GODS and how you would just DIE with that much food (seriously, have you never heard of doggy bags?). A, it’s rude. B, you’re making me feel like shit and lose my appetite.

“I stole a bit off your plate, I hope you don’t mind! You’re not eating all those fries anyway, right?”

If you do this to me you will get stabbed. Seriously. I have stabbed people with forks before.

I spent my childhood having to wolf down my food so fast I nearly choked because if I didn’t eat it fast enough, my biological sire would steal it off my plate. Often he’d take me out to Dairy Queen and tell me to get any Blizzard I wanted. Wow, I’d think, what a treat!

And then he’d take it from me before I was done with a quarter of it and say “You don’t need this, you’re getting fat,” and eat the whole thing in front of me.

I used to tell him I needed money for pads and exaggerate how much they cost. I’d then buy Oreos with the extra cash, which I’d hide in my underwear drawer and cram down my mouth whenever I was upset. Which was often, at his house; if he wasn’t abusing me emotionally, he was doing so physically.

He never listened to my food preferences. I’ve lost count of the number of times he held my head and shoved food I hated down my throat, like I was a dog who wouldn’t take her meds. Once he told me that if I didn’t eat my squash, I could sit at the table all night. I was determined to do so, and I sat there for several hours after dinner, even though I really needed to pee. But I didn’t dare get up, because if he caught me he’d hit me.

My step-siblings came in from swimming in the pool, like you do when you’re upper-middle-class and don’t have to worry about your lights being cut off because your father refuses to pay child support, and tried to convince me to throw the squash in the compost and just tell dad I’d eaten it. I refused, because I knew he would find out. They did it for me and left the room. When dad came back in, I told him I’d eaten the squash, not daring to hope it’d worked.

It didn’t. He’d been in the other room, had heard every word. He took it out of the compost, covered in old coffee grinds and other organic waste, and force-fed it to me.

Whenever I did get food I liked, he would take it from me if I didn’t eat it fast enough for him.

He topped this all off by screaming at me that my horrible mother and grandmother were “making me fat”. Because, you know, they actually treated me like a fucking human being when it came to feeding me.

So when we’re out to dinner and you reach for my food and I say, “Don’t do that,” and my voice is a little loud and wavery, and I seem upset? It’s because you just triggered my eating disorders; you just gave me flashbacks to my childhood.

This. is. MINE.

This. is. MINE.

It’s not a joke, it’s not something to laugh about. Please. Don’t take food off my plate without asking if you can have some.

(Don’t do this to anyone unless you’ve already established, verbally, that you’re in the sort of friendship where they won’t mind. Even then, it’s always best to ask. It’s rude to take food off someone’s plate without asking.)

“That’s your comfort food? That’s not really healthy for you, you know.”

Shut up. You’re not my doctor or my nutritionist. You’re not me. You have NO IDEA what is healthy for me or not. You do not get to make snap judgements on what is healthy for me or not based off what YOU believe about nutrition (which may be horribly wrong, especially if you got your info from, oh, society at large, which is fatphobic and stupid when it comes to the truth about eating and food — ie, see points I already covered).

Comfort latte! My business, not yours.

Comfort latte! My business, not yours.

I have very few comfort foods that will actually make me feel better. Whether or not they’re healthy doesn’t fuckin matter to me! I eat them to feel better when I’m feeling like shit, which is often. Your comments? Don’t help. Also, they make you look like an idiot, because you’re professing to know more about my nutritional needs than I do when you’re not my fucking nutritionist.

 

This is by no means a comprehensive list of things you shouldn’t do, but it’s as close to comprehensive as I can get from my own experience and the amount of energy I have to devote to this post. Writing this brought up some very horrible memories and feelings for me, and I can’t put any more of my time into delving into that pain for this.

If something I’ve said in this post makes you angry and spluttery and you feel the need to take to the comments with a “But I only say these things because I CAAAARRRREEEEEEEEEEEEE”, or any other excuse-making bullshit that people are quick to pull out when you call them on their behaviour, I urge you to take some time to self-reflect and consider that, just maybe, the correct response to someone saying “Hey, you’ve stepped on my toes” is not, in fact, “FUCK YOU FOR HAVING TOES.”

Thanks, and good night.

-Kat

5 thoughts on “How not to be a dick to your friend/loved one/relative with eating disorders

  1. Kana

    Who even looks at a person’s food in ANY social situation and starts talking about how that amount of food would make them die? Disregarding the incredible rudeness, that doesn’t even sound like a normal, natural or intuitive thing to say.

    And now, vocabulary time! Yayyyyyyy

    Kummerspeck – the excess weight gained from emotional overeating; lit., “grief bacon”.

    Oh Germans, you have all the awesome fucked-up words…

    Like

    • Katje van Loon

      I mean, some hyperbole is to be expected in my descriptions, but yeah, that’s the sort of shit I get to hear from certain people in my life. They eat SOOOO little that apparently my meal of a whole pizza with a side of pasta would just, you know, murderalyze them. In one fell swoop.

      Anyway.

      Grief bacon is literally the best thing I have read all week and I thank you so much for that.

      Like

  2. madunham

    Just wanted to say how much I love this post. Thank you, this was certainly something I’ll be passing on to some unintentional shitheads I know.

    Like

    • Katje van Loon

      I’m glad it resonated with you and yes, please, pass it on. (My hopes of the people in my life who need to see it actually doing so are low, so if it some other unintentional shitheads see it and get a clue I’ll feel better.)

      Like

  3. Twistie

    “just maybe, the correct response to someone saying “Hey, you’ve stepped on my toes” is not, in fact, “FUCK YOU FOR HAVING TOES.”
    Best. Thing. Ever. Said. On. The. Internet.

    Like

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