I don’t really know how many of these steps there are going to be. I kind of just write about them as they pop into my head even though I may have given them some more thought previously. Anyway, on with step number four. Step number four has to do with dealing with the people you may encounter in your life and the people who are important to you. Just like I wrote about with the support structure for mental illness, I have to say here that it is important for you to have people in your life who are not going to judge you based on what size you are or aren’t. This can be really hard for some people, because they have had people all of their lives telling them what they should or shouldn’t eat and they have had people making comments about their weight or their figure or whatever.
It is my personal opinion that you shouldn’t judge people based on their looks. This also means that you shouldn’t be telling other people what they should or shouldn’t eat or basically anything about what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. Probably the people who can understand what I’m talking about the best are anorexic people and people who are fat. How many times has someone said to you “you need to eat <fill in the blank with whatever they say>.” You need to eat more. You need to eat less. You need to eat healthier. You need to eat more meat. You need to eat no meat. You need to eat more vegetables. You need to eat more grains and rice. You need to eat more carbs. You need to eat no carbs. ETC.
What people DON’T need is someone telling them what they need to eat. We make choices everyday about what we are or aren’t going to eat, and none of us need running commentary about the choices we do or don’t make. Anorexic people don’t need or want you to be telling them to “just eat a little more.” Fat people don’t need or want you to be saying “you really shouldn’t eat that. Do you know how bad that is for you? Do you know how many calories that is?” The worst thing you can do for someone who has or has had an eating disorder of any kind is to a) comment on what they are or aren’t eating and b) to comment on the size or shape of their body.
People just don’t need others in their life who are going to say “gee, your ass really does look bigger,” or “gosh you are just skin and bones why don’t you eat something?” Even if you *think* you are helping, you aren’t. People with eating disorders are probably hypersensitive about their own appearance, and for the most part people with eating disorders hate their bodies—across the board I think you will find this to be true whether someone is of normal weight, underweight or overweight. It doesn’t matter. I haven’t done any scientific studies, but my guess would be that almost all of the people who have eating disorders hate their bodies to some extent.
It is kind of cruelly ironic then that people who have eating disorders tend to have more people focused on their bodies than regular people. Even when you tell someone that they look like they’ve lost weight or that they are thinner, to a person with an eating disorder this causes nothing but trouble AND it also reinforces just how shallow other people are that they are only concerned with how someone looks. You know, I think it is fine to say “you look great, you look beautiful, you look smart in that outfit, that color blouse is great on you” etc. But you shouldn’t go around telling people that they look like they’ve lost or gained weight. It just adds fuel to the fire of the eating disordered person’s disease. Just trust me on this one. There is just no reason to go around commenting on other peoples’ bodies and if you know someone with an eating disorder, you aren’t going to help her or him by refocusing attention onto their body no matter what shape or size it is or isn’t.
So, for all of you out there with eating issues, you might need to speak up and just say to the people in your life “I need you to stop commenting on my weight and body and the foods that I do or don’t eat.” Period. It might be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do to say those few words to someone in your life. I know it is really scary. Maybe “normal” people don’t understand just how difficult it is to say something like that to someone in your life, but trust me, it is HARD. I don’t know why it is so hard, but it is hard to stand up to your loved ones like that. For some people this would mean a minor adjustment in behavior, but for other people and their loved ones, this means a major mindset shift. I realize that some people and their immediate families are overrun with comments to each other about these sorts of things, but you have to ask yourself: does this kind of commenting really do anything to help someone? The answer is no. Seriously, when was the last time an anorexic was helped by constant criticism and constant refocusing of attention on their body/weight/food intake. When was a fat person EVER helped by someone criticizing them for their weight? Okay, NEVER.
If you are the one criticizing or commenting on someone else’s eating or body, I invite you to take a step back for a moment and think about whether or not your are really helping AT ALL. You may even be trying to help someone. In your mind you are thinking that you are going to save the other person from a “bad or wrong choice” but the truth is you aren’t. You are going to make the other person feel horrible, you are going to disempower them regarding their own food choices and again, you are going to bring the focus back to their body or their food, something they are most likely already obsessing about or hating.
Think about how simple it is just to STOP. Stop making comments that are ultimately hurtful. Stop telling others what to eat, when to eat, what not to eat, etc. Stop judging others based on their weight or lack of weight and what they look like. For me, this one is a no-brainer. There is no down side to having people stop the running commentary about food/weight/body appearance. It can only improve your life and the lives of those around you. AND, it just might improve the lives of those you love. I’m not advocating not talking about problems or issues in your life. Again, I am simply talking about stopping the comments about what you should or shouldn’t eat and any value judgments and comments about another person’s body.
So, just try this one on for size. I really dare you to do it. You might be really surprised by how helpful this small thing can be.