“You Look So Healthy!”: How To Handle Difficult Comments In Recovery

Image: @reston_resident

The longer I’m in recovery, the more I reflect back on the times that I struggled to live free. I remember the pain, the angst, and the struggle so vividly. Yet, it feels like a lifetime ago. When I got home from treatment, there were comments that would send me over the edge.

The dreaded comments…

However, I now sit here typing to you recovered. Where was the shift? How did I know?  What was the deciding factor? All questions that we could have hours of conversation about over a cup of coffee (I take mine with French vanilla creamer – yum). For now, I want to address the dreaded comments that many of us have heard during our time of healing.

Let’s face it; the only people who understand the pain and complexity of eating disorders are people who have experienced them first hand.

Although one in ten people suffer from this illness, not many people (excluding yours truly) are running around advertising their struggle for numerous reason.

Maybe it’s society’s perception of the disease, fear of judgment, or lack of knowledge on all ends. When a brave sufferer decides to openly share about their struggles, they are often hit with some unwelcome comments. Just one interaction can uppercut a blow that makes the fighter wants to retreat to the corner of comfort.

May it be a win for your wise mind

Let me start with, there is NO shame in not being ready to hear ANY of these comments. It took me months to take off my gloves and be able to let my guard down in public. I wish I had known that the day would come when I wouldn’t crumble hearing these comments. 

These comments may be hard to hear, but they mean can mean that you’re taking steps to freedom. The ED Mind and the wise mind hear things drastically different. I can only pray that if you hear these comments, that your wise mind will have a win.

“You look so healthy!”

Ouch. This phrase is an utter blow to someone who is recovering from an eating disorder, but why? Healthy is a GOOD thing! Our ED mind tells us that healthy means failure in setting ourselves apart from the rest of the world – but that is a lie.

Being healthy means the world will get to experience our uniqueness that is worth knowing! The least interesting thing about us (our eating disorder, in case that is not clear to you quite yet – it took me a while to believe this) can now get out of the way. We can shine our light and gifts to this world because we are finally living!

Healthy means able to connect with ourselves and those around us, being able to thrive, not just survive! Gosh, I remember the day that looking healthy terrified me… and now I look in the mirror and revel in the fact that I look well. It means I am strong, that I am a fighter. It means I am worth life!

And besides, healthy is relative! I don’t have to fit in a mold that society defines- healthy looks like me being joyful to be Brooke. That is an amazing complement to receive now; every time someone compliments how healthy I look, I simply smile and say thank you. Inside, I am saying, “HELL YES I am healthy. Hell yes I am.”

“You finished your meal, good job!”

“Hold up… What? Are you commenting on what I put in my mouth? Did you just analyze my plate?? Awww heeelllll no.”

Right after the smoke of my furry subsides, I begin to realize what this statement actually means; it means I finished a meal. For someone who has not struggled with an eating disorder, this is not a big deal. For me, it was a conquest that was as big as making it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro!

So when my loved ones/people in my life who knew this was a major feat for me congratulated me on the completion of a meal, it makes sense!

When you finish a race there are cameras there to take a photograph; when you walk across the stage at graduation your family stands up and claps and cheers… why? Because it’s a big deal!

So is finishing a healthy size portion, balanced meal according to his/her meal plan for someone who struggles with an eating disorder.

Allow yourself to be praised for your efforts to get to the point where that is possible. Throw a party, damnit! You deserve it! When someone tells you, “Good job!” get excited about the day you will be able to own the victory and say a simple, “Thanks” and move on.

“You don’t look like you have/had an eating disorder!”

Oooooh the southern spitfire wants to come out when I hear this said to me or anyone who I have known who suffers… but I have to take deep breaths and realize this comment comes from a place of ignorance, not judgment. People just don’t get it.

Think about it- as a high school health certified teacher, I know what they are teaching kids in school.

Someone who suffers from an eating disorder is deathly thin. They have a poor relationship with food and they need to get help. The End.

Anorexia is glorified as the end all be all of eating disorders in this world, but we know they are getting it all wrong. 

When I went to residential treatment I truly thought that I would be an outcast because I was not the weight society had told me was “sick enough”.

Yet when I entered the Carolina House, I was shocked… It was not until meeting all my fellow warriors of this disease that I realized that there is no one size, shape, or weight that defines the mental illnesses of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and all that lie within and between those labels.

When someone tells me now that “I didn’t look sick” to them, I just kindly remind myself of all the beautiful women and men whom I have met on my journey who also didn’t fit the mold. I then say to them,

You can’t see the wind, but it can sure knock you off your feet, huh.

But guess what? I got back up. And you can, too.

“You have gained/lost weight!”

Listen- I am a woman of my word. I still believe that it is completely inappropriate to comment on someone’s weight, but let’s be honest… it is bound to happen to us all at some point.

The world is overly connected to the physical. Although I can work like hell to change that in my own family unit, I cannot single handedly heal the whole planet in this concentration. How can I help myself is by understanding this: my worth is not in that number. Regardless if I fluctuate during my period, indulge during the holidays or vacation with my family, or gain/lose due to life in general, who I am is not defined by my weight. It is defined by my character.

What I stand for is way more important than how much volume I take up while in water or what my body’s relative mass is giving it a downward force due to the earth’s gravitational pull. I am more than science. I am more than that number. So when someone points out that my weight has changed in any direction, my reaction is, “You may be correct sir, but my character has not.” How about them apples?

Here’s the deal…

There are many other phrases that can take your breath, make you want to crawl out of your skin, or run back into the deadly arms of your old, comforting behaviors.

However, the promise of the truth that freedom lies outside of your comfort zone can be incentive enough to push forward toward that liberty. No matter how impossible it may seem. Take each ill-informed comment as a chance to test your wise mind’s ability to combat and win against the eating disorder mind.

As soon as we learn to bask in light we can stop living in the dark ✨

1 Comment

  • Lisette Lisette says:

    As always- your writing speaks so clearly to me and is so helpful! So when can we have that cup of coffee and catch up?? I’ll treat if I get to see you:)

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