“I can’t even tell that you have one.”
This sentence helped take away 8 years and 40lbs of my life.
Such a simple few words. We say it all the time.
“Oh, you’ve gained weight? Couldn’t tell.”
“You’re hungover? Couldn’t tell.”
“Wait, I don’t see any zit on your chin? What are you talking about?”
“You got a haircut? Sorry, didn’t notice.”
We’re human. Our sensors are overloaded by stigma. We don’t always notice much outside of our peripheral.
It’s okay, and likely for the good of mankind… But, to someone with an eating disorder- that sentence is a trap.
That sentence is what continues to breakdown conversation for someone who may need the professional help that our country can provide.
My entire teen and young adult life I struggled with disordered eating.
I have a great family, loyal friends, and a slew of loving partners mixed in throughout those years, but I could never find the groundwork to tell them the reality of what I was doing behind closed doors.
I was miserable, lonely, isolated, and after 4-5 years, absolutely terrified that my body would never be able to recover … But on I thrashed for another 3 years before someone stepped in.
Because I never felt thin enough.
Because I lived in agony of hearing that exact sentence of which I’m writing about now.
At 5’3, I am a short person. I have never been classified as overweight. The opposite actually, I grew up underweight.
For someone like me, losing weight is never drastic when you hover at being on the thin side anyway.
Naturally, as I hit puberty and started college, I gained 10-15lbs- which signaled the end of the world. In retrospect, I was exactly what a normal weight looks like… But to my body dysmorphia, it was unmanageable.
I had lost my “thin” childhood identity.
I spent 3 years after that weight gain attempting to lose every bloody pound, and failing.
Work out 3x a day- sure. Eat only cereal all day- check. Drink wine instead of eat dinner- done.
Throw up when the roomies are out of the house- you betcha.
But on my weight fluctuated up and down those 10-15lbs despite what I did.
In other words, it was mostly unnoticeable.
Eating disorders are almost always still stereotyped as gaunt, white females… But the reality is that most people with eating disorders fluctuate rapidly- and often.
Think about it… It’s hard to keep off weight for a normal person on a diet.
Now take that and think about someone who is limiting his/her caloric intake to 2 grapes and a slice of cheese.
And likely someone struggling with anorexia will break at times and eat (or overeat) like a regular person would simply because they’re famished or maybe even trying to be “normal”.
There are countless times I can remember going 3-4 days running 10-15 miles and eating like a mouse… But inevitably I’d break and turn around and eat an entire family size bag of Doritos.
Eating disorders are a chore, much like making the bed every morning… And sometimes you don’t make the bed, or make it lazily right? That’s basically how someone with an ED operates.
Some days you’re diligent at your career. Other days you’re bored and clicking around on BuzzFeed.
Eating disorders are a constant regardless, and it wasn’t until 8 years in that I finally had pushed myself to the brink.
At 23 and xxlbs I’d finally “won” … And it was only then that I finally felt validated enough to start sharing my struggle with those closest to me.
Caressing my back bones in the mirror, I’d stare at them in the bathroom and think “you’ve finally done it. You’ve broken the ED cycle. You win.”
But, I began to realize, what was I actually winning?
I was frail, gaunt, hungry, depressed, isolated, and everyone was beginning to take notice.
I was finally validated.
And I was still absolutely bloody miserable.
My friends and family began to step in. At first, I denied it- but the truth is that I just didn’t know how to tell them “my God, you’re just now noticing!? I’ve done this for years.”
Still not sure whether or not my anorexia was “severe enough,” it wasn’t until the picture posted above that I finally felt like I could comfortably tell someone that I was sick.
My best friend at the time hadn’t seen me in a year at the time that pic was taken, and when he did I remember his face staring at me up and down.
I smiled. I knew I was finally sick enough.
The whole weekend was spent with him texting my other friends asking what the hell was going on, and to be honest I remember gleefully seeing a text conversation between he and my friend at home and thinking “YES- now maybe someone will help me.”
I had yet to find my own voice and yet to develop the self respect to reach out for myself.
So on I went after that weekend waiting for someone to put my life back together for me.
It took 6 more months.
6 more months of trying to maintain an underweight frame. 6 more months of struggling and fluctuating. Of 15 mile runs.
And in the end, it was two boxes of cereal that finally got me that help.
Aware of my rapidly deteriorating frame, my parents were watching my food and took heed when they saw I’d cleaned out the pantry of two boxes of cereal in a day.
After 8 years, someone finally said to me:
“I can tell you have an eating disorder.”
And from there my life changed.
Eating disorders are mind games. They are a warped sense of reality.
Be careful what you say to someone. Be gentle. Eating disorders are fragile-
And in turn, they make those struggling fragile.
The sentence “I can’t even tell that you have one” serves no purpose other than to send the message that one must “work harder” in order to really “have” an eating disorder that validates any medical attention.
And that, I’m afraid, is truly the most dangerous game.
15 thoughts on “The One Sentence You Should Never Say To Someone With An Eating Disorder ”
Pingback: Anorexia: Everyone’s Favorite Eating Disorder | I Haven't Shaved In 6 Weeks
Hi, just found your blog and I’m catching up, hence the late comment. I identify with this soo much. I’m an alcoholic and while most people (including me) would rather not be labelled alcoholic, it’s weird how when you mention to someone that you have a problem with drink they almost invariably go “Nooo, you’re no worse than anyone else” or “You just need to slow down a bit, change drink, control it etc”. In the end it felt like I rushed a few drinking catastrophes just to prove how fucked up I was. Not necessarily on purpose but when those things happened I did kind of feel vindicated when a couple of friends said “Maybe you can’t drink”. I wanted to say “See, I told you!”. The whole addiction/disorder thing is insane. I’m learning new things everyday and just now, reading your blog, I’m realising that my problematic relationship with food (which I’ve never spoken to anyone about before) probably is related to my alcoholism in some ways. Anyway, thanks for writing and sharing.
You’re absolutely right. That sentence could motivate a person to continue allowing the eating disorder to control their lives.
Ohh I can relate to SO MUCH of this… particularly because another family member has a “legit” and “visible” problem, which means that member gets taken very seriously and is coddled in love and support… but when it’s not super visible, well, exactly what you said… Sending so much love to everyone else out there who is struggling, too, be it visible to the rest of the world or not xoxo
Sending love to you!! Thanks for your comment 🙂 Know what you mean on the ”visibility”
I struggled with disordered eating for almost 10 years. I was never “underweight” so I felt like I couldn’t really talk about it. I thought people would think I just wanted attention because I wasn’t even skinny enough for it to be dangerous. I learned the hard way that just because your body isn’t underweight doesn’t mean you can’t die from an eating disorder.
Great Post 🙂
Absolutely felt that way too- thanks for your comment. Really appreciated. It was ALWAYS about being worried that people would think I was suffering for attention (cause truthfully, I am definitely the type of person who walks into the room and demands attention. It’s just in my nature) so I worried for years that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. It’s all so warped. And our culture doesn’t help in that regard either.
This is a really great post. I have never felt thin enough either and I have definitely ‘worked harder’ at times to make it visible, while at the same time doing everything in my power to keep it invisible. EDs very much are a warped sense of reality.
Yep! And it unfortunately feels like it stays that way for years to come- you just keep fighting to keep the reality of it all. Thanks for your comment 🙂
It’s funny–I guess ironically really…– a few months back when I was deciding if I should try group or find a therapist/a professional to talk to I took a quiz on a website for an Eating Disorder organization and was told by my results that I did not have an Eating Disorder. But here I am, following what for some people are strange patterns of behavior with food– overeating to the point of nausea, restricting despite hunger, compulsively finishing off a package of cookies. And it’s all things people can’t see or don’t think are severe or occurring because I’m on the heavy side. So you wonder, do you just continue to go at it alone when you’re not even sure it’s a real problem? It really messes with your head. Great post Lindsey.
I totally know what you mean!!! I did that too a few years ago. I was trying to decide whether or not to come forward to my parents and tell them that I felt like I needed help – and I remember sitting on the computer taking tests and some of them discouraging treatment… so again, I stayed mute. It always floors me that specialists who have never experienced ED personally think they can understand what qualifies as one and what doesn’t. I had a fairly big issue with that in treatment as well. I could almost immediately tell which counselors had suffered with one themselves, and which hadn’t. It was clear in the way they responded to us.
Happy and healthy shows in this beautiful smile!!!!!
This is so spot-on. I think that sentence is the whole reason I’ve never told more than a couple of key people about my ED. I can’t handle the thought of them saying something insensitive that might make me want to “prove I’m sick enough.” It’s just so incredibly toxic to think that way. The cost of “winning” that game is just so high. Excellent post 🙂
Thanks so much- I know exactly what you mean. It was so often the fear of someone discrediting my ED that kept me from ever fully being able to come forward with it- even after 3-4 years when I knew I had an issue that was so beyond self-healing. Thanks for your comment 🙂
Thanks for being so direct and telling us “not what to say”. For those of us that know you we can tell you are working daily at being healthy…physically and emotionally. I am relating to that as I try to figure out this retirement that people said “oh you will love it”….and that didn’t happen for me. I am figuring that out though Linds and I find your words help me do just that.