Monday, January 11, 2010

Language and Eating Disorders

This Saturday at our Moving Mountains 4 Health Continuing Education Course we'll be talking about moving the weight paradigm from dread and failure to balance and health.

I have found it quite amazing in all the listening I've done with people impacted by eating disorders to hear the little statements that pushed them over the edge into an eating disorder. Now, these people may already be predisposed to an eating disorder so it isn't the statement that gave them the illness. I want to be clear about that. Many in the field call these things, "triggering" language. As the statements or questions can "trigger" both the person already suffering from an eating disorder or those who are predisposed and headed that way.

One of the stories I wrote for my book is about a young woman named Heather, her real name is used in the book, who was preparing for prom. When she tried on her dress a week before prom for her boyfriend, she remembers him saying, "Yeah, you'll look good, but you'd look great if you lost ten pounds." Now, that is an extreme example, I think - what are some of your stories that you have heard?

Sometimes the comments are made by health care providers, how about this example: A woman who is 5'4" and 170 pounds says to her MD, "I have to lose weight!" And the MD says, "I'm glad to hear you say that. Your BMI is 29 and weight loss is recommended for people with a BMI over 25" Now, what would you be thinking/feeling if your doctor said that? Many of us would go right into shame and despair. Not to mention the stress in thinking about what to do. How would it be if your doctor said this instead, "Let's talk about how you are taking care of yourself before we assume what is next. Why don't you tell me about your eating and fitness habits?" I think I would feel like my doc wanted to help me and was really listening to what I might need to be healthy.

I'm so excited to get to share some practice of using language to open up clients/students/patients on Saturday with health care providers and health educators. I hope to help people avoid situations like this one: A mom brought her daughter who had an eating disorder to the emergency room for something completely unrelated. When the social worker walked into the little room looking at the girl's chart that stated that this girl had an eating disorder, she looked the girl up and down and promptly said, "You don't look like you have an eating disorder." This mother shared with me that the simple statement made by the social worker set her daughter's eating disorder recovery back by about a year.

We'll talk more about language, I'd love to hear your stories of how language has impacted your eating disorder.

Until next time, remember - You can't tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them. These deadly illnesses affect people of all shapes, sizes, colors, sexes and religions - frighteningly equal opportunity.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

As a wellness chiropractor and educator, this was an impactful reminder to be mindful and conscious of the language I use with my clients.

Most people come to me because some aspect of themselves is in a rhythm of suffering. It's a fine line I have to walk in order for them to be aware and conscious of their disconnection and helplessness without perpetuating the rhythm. In the sensitive cases of eating disorders, the last thing I want to do is set back their journey to wholeness.

Thank you for the reminder Becky!