A version of this post originally appeared on verilymag.com.
September is National Recovery Month, and it's given me pause to reflect on my own recovery. Praise God for the way His hand was on me and for calling me into a relationship with Him. The more open and honest I’ve been in my journey, the more freedom I’ve experienced. Satan doesn't have a hold over my past anymore, and Christ has given me a unique way to talk about Him. He's brought great healing and recovery into my life.
As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve noticed that our country is obsessed with what we eat and how we look. Think of how many times you’ve seen a blog post about eating clean. How many times you’ve seen the hashtags #fitspo and #goals on Facebook and Instagram. How many times you’ve seen a headline about some celebrity’s pregnancy weight. We are bombarded with this information from multiple platforms on a daily basis, and the prevalence of eating disorders has continued to rise.
Many of you have asked me what you should say to someone with an eating disorder, and rightfully so. Learning how to speak around a friend who you know struggles or has struggled with an eating disorder, disordered eating, or poor body image is a process. Every person is different; their stories are unique. What I write below has been helpful and encouraging to me in my recovery, but please remember that your friend’s individual needs may differ.
Talking to a friend whom you suspect has an eating disorder—but has not admitted that to you—is incredibly difficult. Regardless of what she—or he, as one in four individuals with eating disorders is male—is experiencing, approach them with love and care. If your friend is struggling, and you want to talk to her, I would suggest keeping a few things in mind; these guidelines apply for any kind of recovery:
Set aside time for a private, distraction-free discussion. Frame the conversation by stating that you are concerned and are bringing this up to your friend because you truly care. Assure them that you love them no matter what.
Start by asking if they are struggling rather than placing blame or judgment. They will feel better knowing that you gave them a chance to speak and didn’t automatically assume there's a problem.
It is best to share specific examples of why you are concerned, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Gently let them know of behaviors you’ve witnessed that raise a red flag. Start your sentences with “I” rather than “you.” For example, “I’m concerned about you because [fill-in-the-blank]."
Talk to God before talking to your friend. Ask Him for guidance and to speak through you. When you do speak to your friend, whether they are a Christian or not, ask if you can pray over them. You'll be surprised how many people will accept prayer when they're hurting. It's the most powerful tool we have.
Addictions and dysfunctional behaviors are about so much more than what they manifest as on the surface. An eating disorder, at the core, isn't about food. Saying that your friend should simply eat more, quit binging and purging, or stop overexercising is oversimplifying recovery and will make her feel more isolated. The root of an eating disorder varies but often stems from obsessive desires for control, approval, and perfectionism. Keep that in mind when talking to your friend.
If your friend has already told you that they have an eating disorder or addiction (a huge step in any recovery), you will be able to have conversations that look a bit different than those with a friend whose is still secretly struggling. Here are a few of the things that have been helpful to me in my own recovery:
“I love you, and I don’t think of you any differently. Do you know that God also loves you?”
This is perhaps the most important statement you can make. Assure them they are worthy and loved, and nothing they say or does will change that. God loves the least among us—the sinners, the broken, the hurting, the messes. He didn't come to save perfect people but the broken ones, like you and me.
“How are you doing?”
Give your friend a call to catch up. Ask how they have been doing not just with food but with all aspects of life. Our friends need commitment and consistency to keep a friendship alive.
“We all have our struggles. In fact, I struggle with X.”
We all struggle. Even if you don’t wrestle with a full-blown addiction or disorder, you currently face or have faced some sort of struggle of your own. Opening up to your friend fosters trust, reminds her no one is perfect, and will help her be fully honest with you in her recovery.
“You are more than your weight/fitness routine/the food on your plate.”
Talk about her character, not her physical appearance. We so often resort to looks—from body shape to hairstyles to clothing—when starting a conversation with someone. Compliment your friend on her intelligence, her kindness, and her courage. She is already hyper-focused on her body, so even if you think telling her “You look healthy!” or “You are beautiful!” is helpful, keep the focus on her internal values instead. Remind her how brave she is for choosing recovery and healing.
We know as believers that our identity is in Christ alone. Reassure your friend of this. Being a Christian doesn't mean you'll no longer struggle, but it does mean you're no longer a slave to sin. We were created in His image, bought at a price. He is making us new.
“Would you like to come over for dinner on Friday?”
Friends who cook for me and invite me to dinner are such a gift. Someone who is in recovery will need lots of support around her, particularly during mealtime. Satan works in isolation; Don't give him that chance.
"How can I best be a friend to you during this time?”
This gives her the opportunity to tell you how you can best serve her. If your friend is in recovery, they can tell you what they need from you, and they will so appreciate that you asked.
Please know, if your friend is harming herself, it is absolutely appropriate to suggest they seek professional help. ANAD offers a free guide on how to talk to someone and intervene if necessary. Psychology Today is also an excellent resource for finding specialized therapists, psychiatrists, support groups, and treatment centers in your area. You can tell her you read this blog and want to help however you can. Every day counts in recovery—the sooner one can address the problem, the greater the likelihood of full recovery.
If your friend rejects help, then I would continue to let them that you’re there for them. Ultimately, they have to be ready to recover on their own.
Most importantly, keep praying for them. Pray for God to move and for them to be ready to surrender to Him fully. True recovery is possible through Christ, so don't lose hope.
If you want to talk more about Jesus Christ and faith and what-the-heck-is-all-this-stuff, shoot me a message. I love meeting new people, whether virtually or in person, and gabbing about life.
And if you'd like to know more of my story, you can read my testimony here.
Truly, He makes beautiful things.