„Come on, you didn’t eat that burger!“ – on how to deal with comments on food and eating habits

It’s no secret that people with an eating disorder are often extremely sensitive when it comes to topics like food and eating habits.

I found it extremely hard when people commented on the quantity of what I ate, especially during recovery when I temporarily had to eat twice the amount of an average grown-up woman. “Wow, you ate this whole plate all by yourself?” or „Haven’t you eaten so far today or why are you so hungry right now?“ or “I’m sooo full, do you seriously still have room for dessert?”  I suppose most people aren’t aware of what the recovery of an eating disorder looks like. They don’t know how huge the guilt can be. That you have to eat a lot without necessarily being hungry. They never had Anas voice in their heads. Many of them are rather trying to lose weight and have no idea how hard it can be to gain some. However, after comments like this I would usually freak out. I would break down and, not only once, I would be really close to relapse.

Another sensitive topic is the food itself. „What exactly are you eating there? Is it delicious?“ For most people, these may seem like totally normal questions, but for somebody with an ED they can be really irritating. Especially in early recovery, the pressure was very high and being interrupted while eating would be a big challenge. I would also suddenly panic if somebody called my food “disgusting” or “weird looking” even if it was meant in a funny way. I mean, I was really unsure with my food choices anyway. I had lost any feeling for normal portion sizes (are two bananas for breakfast okay?), a normal way of preparing food (cooking without oil, heating up my oatmeal until I burned my tongue) as well as food combinations (is it weird to eat a brezel bun with jam?).

And, finally and probably worst, there are the comments that make you feel controlled. I went to a burger restaurant with friends and showed my mother a picture of my meal. Comment: “Come on, you didn’t really eat that burger!” I had dinner with my family in an Italian restaurant and ordered a Caesar salad. Comment: „Are you sure you shouldn’t rather take something that’s a bit higher in calories?“ Right before dinner I grabbed an apple. Comment: “But that’s not everything you’ll eat tonight, is it?” I got angry and I felt controlled. I thought it was just so unfair that everybody else could eat whatever they wanted without being labeled for their eating habits or food choices. But, honestly, my family and friends had every reason to be distrustful. There were multiple times when I lied to them, when I pretended stomach pain, when I just invented every possible excuse to avoid food. Mostly, they just worry about you. So try to be appreciative and grateful that they are people around who love you and who want your very best!

But in conclusion: what is the right way to react on triggering comments? I can’t give you a general answer, but I can tell you what worked best for me. It still happens sometimes that people say things that provoke guilt or make me feel controlled. But I have learned to keep calm and not to compare myself too much to others. Somebody else is “totally stuffed” after eating a salad and can survive on 200 calories a day? Okay, he or she can make different food choices, but I am still hungry! It’s your body that defines its needs and it’s you who decides whether to care for yourself or not.

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