‘You look well’. Three words I struggled with during Eating Disorder recovery. You see, someone saying, ‘You look well’ means it with the greatest of intentions. It’s like saying, ‘You look good; You look nice’ – why should that be insulting?
For me, this was another way Anorexia fooled me. The thoughts twisted this phrase completely – this is how it went in my head… ‘They just said you look well…They haven’t seen you since before you regained weight…That means they’re saying you look healthier…That means you’re looking bigger…Really they’re just saying you’re fat.’ What?!? Looking back, I’m thinking, ‘What a sneaky thing my ED was to turn a simple compliment into an insult’. But at the time, someone telling me I looked ‘well’ could get me really upset, depending on what sort of day I was having in my head.
The thing is, Anorexia Nervosa (and any Eating Disorder) is a mental illness with physical symptoms -ie. losing weight is a symptom of Anorexia Nervosa. Therefore, I think when people told me I looked ‘well’ during my first few months of recovery (and Eating Disorder recovery can be a very lengthy process), apart from the fact that my ED turned this phrase into an insult, it upset me because I did not feel well at all mentally.
Once I was in the ED clinic system, I regained weight fast – my parents followed the dieticians meal plan for me to the letter. I by no means was wanting to eat and put on this weight, but the fear of a long term hospital admission kept me going. Within a relatively short time period of ‘re-feeding’ I was almost at my ‘healthy range’ – and believe me, that was scary. After losing weight for 6 months, leading to being severely underweight, and then regaining almost all of this quite quickly – it was terrifying. (That was when things physically went downhill again, but I’ll talk about that another time.) I know now that I needed to gain this weight at that point to save my body from long term damage after what I’d been putting it through, so I am thankful for the help I received. However, at the time, the fact that I looked physically healthy, but mentally was only just coming to terms with the fact that there was a problem, never mind an Eating Disorder, and then being told I looked ‘well’ when mentally I was deteriorating to my worst…it was hard.
Ever heard of the phrase ‘Never judge a book by its cover’? Well, that’s what Eating Disorder recovery can be like. Yes, there can be phases where a sufferer is severely underweight and looks unwell – you may think ‘that person has an eating problem’ and you may be right! However, there can also be stages where the sufferer has regained sufficient weight to be classified as ‘physically healthy’ and doesn’t look unwell – but that person could be in absolute mental torture because of their Eating Disorder. To you they may look ‘still slim, but healthy slim’, while their ED tells them they are ‘far too big and absolutely disgusting’. They could be struggling with the fact they are ‘healthy’ because Anorexia Nervosa almost always wants her prisoners to be significantly underweight – that is ‘doing well’ in her book.
An A.N. sufferer who is ‘physically healthy’ can be severely unwell mentally. ‘Miss A.N.’ likes to torture ED sufferers in recovery by saying, ‘You’re massive! Look how big you’ve become… Don’t eat that, or you’ll put on weight!…Go exercise right now, or you’ll get even bigger’. Let me tell you, none of these things are true, because A.N. is a lier – but, to the sufferer it is real and scary. Therefore, being told they look ‘well’ can be rather distressing, because a) they feel like everyone thinks they are ‘better’ now they’ve put on weight, while inside they are screaming because of the ED’s torment, and b) because of ‘its’ sneaky ways to change ‘You look well’ into ‘You look big’.
It’s hard to get your head around, I know – and really, Eating Disorder thoughts do not generally make sense, because they are so twisted and devious. I thought this was something I should write about however, and raise awareness, because honestly, if I hadn’t lived through an ED, I probably wouldn’t see any harm at all with saying the 3 words You.Look.Well. Also, let me highlight that this is from my experience – different ED sufferers have their ED torment them in different ways, so not all sufferers may struggle/have struggled with this…however, I do know some people who have been through ED recovery who have struggled with this.
So what is the point of this post? Basically, when talking to someone who has/may have an ED, try not to say to them ‘You look well’, just to be on the safe side. There are compliments you can give which the ED shouldn’t twist so much – ‘I love your hair…Your dress is so lovely…I’m liking your eye makeup!’ These are lovely things to say, without mentioning how well/unwell someone looks – a compliment that can’t really be twisted by ‘Miss A.N.’
Also, for people going through ED recovery who are struggling with the phrase ‘You look well’, try to remember that your ED is just twisting people’s words. The person means it as a good thing. Saying ‘You look well’ doesn’t mean ‘You look big’. Also, the aim of recovery is to be healthy – physically and mentally. Healthy is good. Healthy is living a happy life where you have energy to have fun, eat meals and enjoy them with family/friends, being content in life and not tortured by the ED thoughts. Healthy is good. Healthy is not an insult.