When our loved ones disappear into an eating disorder it can leave us lost for words. When our intelligent and bright child can suddenly no longer hear logic or be persuaded to see their illness for what it is. When nothing we do inspires them to make the changes that are needed to heal, it can leave us speechless. Either that or it has us tied in knots, exhausting ourselves with ‘Ted worthy’ speeches that can be neither heard nor felt. So what do we do? What do we say?
I want to give you a miniature phrase book. Something to guide you in finding the right supportive words. Words that may not fix things, at least not in the moment, but words that send a consistent message to our loved ones. Words that project ‘don’t worry. I’ve got you’. These phrases often have to be repeated over and over like a broken record and that’s okay. Choose the ones that work for you. Some will come naturally. Some may feel strange and not be your style. Some may just take some getting used to. Hearing these repeated messages tells their eating disorder ‘I will not back down. I will not compromise and I will love you throughout this journey.’
And ultimately this is what they need to hear repeatedly. Every day. Sometimes they need empathy before they begin to eat. It’s okay to empathise with those feelings.
* I’m sorry, you’re dealing with some difficult emotions today. I can see that
* It won’t always be this hard
*I hear how hard this is for you. You can do hard things. I’m here
* I know you’re terrified. I’m not. Pick up your fork
* You haven’t had (insert food item) for a long while. This must be really hard for you today
* I’m sorry this is happening to you
* I’m sorry because you didn’t ask for this
* I’m sorry because you feel like this is never going to end
* I’m sorry that you are scared
* I can see how hard this is. It sucks. How are we going to move forward today?
Our loved ones are so afraid when they eat. With awful feelings of guilt and hatred running through their minds. Reassure them they are safe and you know what you’re doing. They need you to be the lighthouse in the storm.
* I love you and I will keep you safe
* Food is your medicine and I know what you need
* I love you and I know what you need. Now take another bite
* Right now you need to trust me, I know you hear that voice that’s telling you not to eat. You need to fight that voice and listen to mine.
* Let’s just get through this moment (this day, this meal) the rest can wait. It’s not going anywhere and we’ll handle it one step at a time.
* I won’t let anything hurt you. Now take another bite.
* Anorexia has screwed up your body signals. You’ll have to rely on me for now. Please continue
* This illness makes you not want to eat and you need what’s on your plate
* We are not discussing ingredients. This is what you need to eat to be well
* Your eating disorder is having a go at you, right? I’m by your side. Just start eating. One step at a time
* Trust me. I’m your mum and I’m caring for you. Everything on your plate is what you need
* Leave it to us. We are doing all the right things
* We don’t discuss calories. The eating disorder discusses calories. Now continue eating
* We know it is not helpful to discuss calories or quantities. Now finish your drink
* I understand the change in the meal plan worries you. That’s what you’re having right now. Please get started
* Yes. We are in charge. We’re going to keep giving you the foods you need. Please start
* It’s normal for your tummy to hurt at this stage. It’s horrible but it is not dangerous. It will pass and it will get easier
For some, our loved ones are stuck in a loop. Asking the same question searching for an answer that will make them feel better or perhaps looking to engage in an argument to deflect from actually eating. Sometimes these paths need to be simply cut off with a firm * This is not a helpful conversation*. That is eating disorder talk. I’m not talking to the eating disorder. It’s tempting at times to try to present logic but when sufferers are consumed by an eating disorder they will be unlikely to hear or accept logic. Ultimately it exhausts and frustrates us as carers and provides little peace of mind for the sufferer. Our aim is to empathise, reassure and to lead. I hope these phrases will help empower you to achieve that.