What I Wish I Knew When I Watched The Person I Love Go Through An Eating Disorder
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What I Wish I Knew When I Watched The Person I Love Go Through An Eating Disorder

People start to heal the moment they are heard.

What I Wish I Knew When I Watched The Person I Love Go Through An Eating Disorder
Olivia DeLucia

What I thought started as my younger sister’s “summer body” diet, led to me watch one of the most beautiful people I know, inside and out, have to overcome a serious mental illness.

I remember coming home from a study abroad in Spain and hugging my little sister tight. Only this time she felt different to me.

“Have you lost weight?” I asked.

She smiled and told me how hard she had been working out and how she was eating healthy. At dinner that night with my family, she showed me a calorie counting app she downloaded and told me proudly how she was getting back in shape.

“You look great!” I complimented her, as I proceeded to download the app, thinking I needed to get in shape after all the tapas and sangria I had been consuming in Spain.

What started as a “getting my body back” diet for my sister; however, turned into an obsession. I watched her alienate herself to avoid eating out with friends, watched her struggle to even eat a bite of ice cream with me at her favorite parlor, and ultimately seen her overcome and transform into a stronger version of herself.

It wasn’t easy though.

How often did I ask her, “why don’t you just eat with me?” or compliment her weight gain by saying “you look so much healthier.”

In my mind, I thought I was saying or doing the right things to help her. I thought I was encouraging positive body image by saying her legs looked stronger or her arms looked toned. However, I wasn’t. There is no way to possibly know exactly how to help someone get over an eating disorder.

No one is perfect.

We all make mistakes, whether we have good intentions in mind. However, there are a few things I wish I knew – what not to say and what to say – when my sister was going through this horrible time.

There are things I could have done differently, or better.

Because the fact is someone you know may have an eating disorder. Whether you are aware or not, they are sadly becoming more of a commonality. NEDA’s website states that “Full-blown eating disorders typically being between 18 and 21 years of age.” However, from experience, I know they can start much earlier.

I think back to 5thgrade when my best friend told me she was going on a “diet” because she weighed over 60 pounds and “didn’t want to weigh any more.”

I remember when I was in high school, and my friend told me she “started to make herself throw up when her boyfriend first cheated on her.”

I watched my own sister go through her own insecurities that came from not feeling perfect enough — even though she was nothing less than the definition of perfection.

I never knew this was something she struggled with since 8th grade. Educating ourselves on mental illnesses and how to help can save lives. According to NEDA, eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. So when body image disorder can start as early as 5thgrade, I think it is our responsibility to learn how to help.

Here is a list of things that I have learned NOT to say with someone with an eating disorder.

1. "Just eat"

I have said this before to my sister, as reluctantly as I want to admit it. I have been so upset, so concerned, and so discouraged after finding meals I made her, or some of her favorite food I would buy her dumped in the trash can, I would plead with her “just to eat.”However, it isn’t going to magically cure the mental illness. It will make the person feel anxious and attached. It is best to make eating enjoyable. Take them to their favorite place and don’t food police them. Take a nature walk after. Talk to them about things other than eating like TV shows, school or life in general. Make them laugh. Don’t make eating a chore or an anxious task.

2. “You look like you’ve lost a lot of weight!”

Like I said at the beginning, I made this assumption when I first saw my sister. Even if you don’t mean it as a compliment, but a concern, this could hurt or trigger someone. They could take this in a positive way and start thinking “losing weight” is something they are good at and will allow them to succeed. Instead, don’t comment on their body at all. Talk about their kindness, their humor, how they light up the room, and their passions that steam from their positive energy.

3. “You look better!”

Don’t compliment them on their weight gain either. I remember going to family gatherings and seeing my relatives survey my sister like she was a caged zoo animal and then state things like “You look so much better. It’s great not to see you sick looking anymore.” This can lead to the person with an ED feeling like they are gaining weight. Looking better = gaining weight. These thoughts can be really scary for someone that is trying to recover.

4. Talking about weight, saying “I need to lose weight,” “I look fat here,” “I didn’t eat at all today,” “I ate a lot today, so I’m starving myself tomorrow” or anything of that nature

I am always shocked by the audacity of my close friends who will say in front of my sister these things. Don’t talk about calories, eating too much, not eating or whatever else has to do with gaining weight or becoming fit. I know these are normal girl things to complain about, trust me, I have made the mistake of slipping up at saying “I am such a fatty” after grabbing two more cookies from the Christmas cookie plate around the holidays, in front of my sister. However, try to be mindful of who you’re around and what you are saying. If you want people to start thinking highly of themselves and their body, you need to love yours too.

And the most important one...

5. Practice positive body image on yourself, and help it reflect on others.

Although seeing my sister go through this was something I never thought would happen, I have to say it has made not just her a stronger person, but myself as well. I have become much more mindful of realizing it is what on the inside that counts, not to compare myself and others, and more educated on mental illness.

“The scale only tells you the numerical value of your gravitational pull.” It will not tell you how beautiful you are, how much your friends and family love you, or how amazing you are.”

Thank you to my radiant sister, Grace DeLucia, for all her help on this article.

You make me a better person daily because of how beautiful on the inside you are.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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