This morning, I participated in a Twitter discussion hosted by Jenni Schaefer and Dr. Jennifer Thomas along with AED. The topic centered around appropriate language for individuals who are diagnosed with eating disorders. This topic is so important to me that I decided to continue the conversation here!
What’s wrong with saying an individual “suffers” from an eating disorder, or “struggles with” an eating disorder? In using this language, we reduce the individual’s experience to one of passiveness and helplessness. If you have ever met someone fighting an eating disorder, you know that he or she is anything but passive and helpless– these people are some of the strongest you will ever meet. Many in the eating disorder community prefer the term “battle” or “fight” when referencing their EDs, as in “She is fighting anorexia” or “He is battling bulimia”. After all, those seeking recovery are warriors.
How about referring to someone battling anorexia as “an anorexic”? Technically, this is grammatically correct, but in reality, this can be degrading. Labeling someone by his or her diagnosis takes away their personhood, reducing their humanity to a walking disorder. People fighting their illnesses– the very things that try to kill them and ruin every aspect of their lives– are not simply “a bulimic” or “an anorexic” or a “binge eater”, etc. Like I said, these people are warriors. If you want to refer to them as something, I’d go with superwoman, or rockstar, or really anything else that accurately reflects just how bad-ass they are!
Long story short, language is the first block upon which all our conversations about eating disorders are built. This dialogue is far too important to simply ignore words and phrases that undermine the intense fight and strength that comes with battling an eating disorder. Thank you, Jenni and Dr. Thomas for a stimulating conversation this morning. I look forward to more conversations with family and friends and a deeper societal understanding of eating disorder recovery!