I find I have a relatively easy time rejecting pundits and even so-called “experts” who promote dieting. Harder, much, much harder, is thinking critically about what friends and family do and say.
As my blog is growing, I’m interacting with more people who are much earlier in their recovery than I am. And I wanted to address something I’ve noticed a lot of folks struggling with: being triggered by close friends and family.
It makes complete sense that interactions with those we’re closest to can be among the most upsetting in recovery. So much of who I am is influenced by the people I love the most: my immediate and extended family, my closest friends, and my boyfriend. These people influence everything from my political and religious views to the way I clean my house. And of course, they influence what I believe about food, exercise, health and body.I’m very fortunate that my parents have been very supportive of my recovery efforts and are excellent models of what it means to have a normal relationship with food. I’m also very fortunate that they empathize with what it feels like to struggle with a mental illness and take seriously its importance in my life.
I know that some people in recovery, however, face the challenge of having close family members who are themselves disordered eaters or don’t acknowledge just how dangerous and devastating eating disorders can be.
What’s more, even the most supportive friends and family members can innocently do things that may be very upsetting to someone early in recovery, like saying ‘no’ to dessert or mentioning their clothing size.
Try not to compare
Comparison is the bane of recovery. One of the most important things to remind yourself, at every single meal and snack if you have to, is that you are different than everyone around you. You are different because you are in recovery.
- People recovering from restrictive eating (aka starving) have higher calorie needs than healthy people.
- What’s more, in the early stages of recovery, you aren’t yet ready for intuitive eating. You need to follow a meal plan to restore your body’s hunger cues, whereas if your friends and family are listening to their bodies’ hunger cues, then what they eat probably varies considerably from day to day.
- Finally, lots and lots of people are restrictive eaters. Just because someone hasn’t been diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia does not mean they’re modeling a normal, healthy relationship with food.
You are also different simply because every person is different and no two people–even healthy, intuitive eaters–are going to eat the same thing or exercise the same amount.
So try try try not to compare. It’s really hard, but try. In the early stages, I think it’s even okay to eat by yourself to avoid that comparison temptation as long as you make it a goal to become comfortable eating around others later in the process.
Speak up for yourself
If someone close to you is saying or doing something that’s really unhelpful for your recovery, it’s 100% in your rights to be your own advocate and talk to that person. This may simply mean explaining, if you haven’t already done so, that you are working to overcome anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, etc. But if your loved one knows you are recovering and doesn’t see their actions as problematic, you might try something like this:
“I think you know that I’m currently recovering from an eating disorder. It’s probably hard for you to imagine, but I’m very sensitive at the moment to discussions of dieting, exercise, and weight. I know you’d never say something hurtful on purpose, but when you _____________, it’s actually very upsetting to me. Would you be willing to avoid this topic to support me in my recovery?”
I think it’s important to mention here that you don’t have to deliver a lecture. You don’t have to explain the details of your emotional turmoil. Nor do you have to lead them to the non-diet light and tell them twenty reasons why their plan to get “bikini body ready” is BS. You just have to say, “This is what I’m going through; please help support me.”
I’ve had a couple of the above-described conversations that totally flopped. I went in trying to politely ask someone at work to please not describe herself (and several of our colleagues!) as “fat.” I left with an earfull about how most people in the world needed to lose weight and how it was unreasonable of me to ask to be “protected” from that “reality.”
I’m fortunate, again, that this conversation did not take place between me and someone really close to me. That would have broken my heart! But it was still very upsetting.
If someone close to you isn’t supportive, have a back-up person to talk to. If your dad is being really insensitive, go to your sister. If your aunt is spewing triggering diet BS, go to your best friend. And remember that your treatment team is always there to help talk these things through, too.
The exit strategy
The final option? Get out.
Usually, when people are saying something upsetting in my vicinity, I keep my mouth shut. If it’s really upsetting, I just walk away. I don’t even give an excuse–just leave.
Is it really pervasive and nothing else is working? In extreme cases, ending relationships is an option. If your girlfriend or boyfriend, for example, isn’t supportive, doesn’t seem receptive to your needs, and doesn’t change their behavior, that is totally legitimate grounds for a breakup. Remember that eating disorders can be deadly and that no guy or gal is worth your life–nor are they are a good choice of partner if they won’t support your recovery efforts!
And of course of course of course I don’t promote shunning family members, but if for instance your mom is really insensitive to your needs and saying really upsetting things, I frankly think it’s a-okay to spend less time together or arrange it so that you don’t have to be alone with her until you’re in a more stable place.
Linking up with Amanda to share these thoughts for Thinking Out Loud Thursday.
What do you do if friends or family say or do things that aren’t helpful?