For many, an important part of the eating disorder recovery journey is the chance to speak, write and share about their experience. When done with care, it can inspire others to continue on their path toward healing. It can also feel empowering to the individual sharing — it may even provide a sense of “closure,” and the chance to move onward and upward.
But speaking about an eating disorder is tricky to do when there is risk of triggering others. Often, we don’t realize that the words we use or details we share can harm those in recovery, or even those who are actively recovered.
Follow these simple guidelines to ensure that your conversations are productive and healing — for everyone involved.
Avoid details. All details. Every detail. We want to avoid discussing numbers or quantities of any sort. This goes for body weight, body size, calories consumed or restricted, foods favored or avoided, and basically any other defining detail. We also want to be cautious not to share explicit detail about the disordered behaviors we may have used. This is the most important rule in speaking about recovery. When we overshare details of our own journey, we set others up to compare themselves with us, and potentially give them a “how to” for disordered eating. ED recovery is so personal that comparing and contrasting levels of sickness and health is only and always harmful. So what can you talk about, if not the deets? Your heart. Your mind. Your strength. Your courage. Your support system. Your upward movement.
Think about the lesson before sharing. It’s important to avoid a “confessional” style telling of your recovery. If you choose to discuss it in a public forum, it’s helpful to understand the WHY you want to share. What’s the heart of the story? Is there an actionable lesson people can take away with them? Is there a nugget of knowledge or inspiration your unique voice can offer? These are the concepts we want to share. Stories that center around the struggle without the light, hope and growth are important — but best discussed with your treatment team or a mental health professional.
Avoid making generalizations. This one is tricky. We get it: Your story is about YOU. But when we make claims that generalize and make assumptions about everyone’s experience, we set our readers and audience up for feeling confused, unheard, or inadequate. Here are some helpful language distinctions and swaps. See the diff?
“for some of us,” instead of “we can all agree,” or “everyone feels”
“I felt,” versus “everyone knows”
“[X event/idea/concept] may be triggering or hard” versus “[X event/idea/concept is always hard”]
When in doubt, follow these guidelines. NEDA has published a list of safe sharing guidelines — it outlines what’s helpful and what’s potentially harmful. Our team regularly brushes up on the list before writing or speaking. It’s just a good reminder.