Eating Disorder Recovery: What if Your Family or Friends Don't Get It?

My family is great. My friends are great. I love each and every one of them, and I know they all love me.

But my family and friends are not always helpful in my eating disorder recovery. 

Here are a couple of examples of actual things my family and friends have said to me, to illustrate. And to clarify, all of these people know I have suffered from an eating disorder.

  • "We really need to work out to burn off this pizza."

  • "This is such fattening food."

  • "I thought people who did yoga were skinny."

  • "We all have sturdy thighs in our family, it's just the way we're built." 

  • "Here, eat this, you'll hurt (so and so's) feelings if you don't."

  • "Why must you be so difficult about eating?"

  • "Wow, you ate so much!".

Yep. All things that people have said to me, all 100% not helpful to someone in recovery. I realize that 99 percent of the time, most people aren't saying these things to be contrary or insensitive. And yet...they are hard things to hear.

So how do I, the one in eating disorder recovery, respond?

Maybe you're thinking that I should put them in their place by saying something like "your comments are detrimental to my eating disorder recovery." This is sound logic, and it is something recovery books have suggested I do in order to help others see the light about what is going on inside of me. 

In theory, that is great. But in practice, I'd say that for every time someone says "oh my god, I didn't realize!", there are an equal number of times when the response to me getting on my high recovery horse has often been defensive.

Sometimes, family or friends respond along the lines of: "get the stick out of your ass", "you need to relax," or "oh come on, we're allowed to say these things". 

Now, I probably don't need to tell you that this too is a hurtful collection of things to hear, and even more unhelpful than the original triggering statements. As I see it, I have tried to tell someone that I needed them to help me by laying off on the triggering talk, and they in turn added another problem to my already long list:

In addition to having an annoying, pesky eating disorder, I am also too tightly wound. 

As much as I wish that my inner circle would coddle my recovery at all times, it is not always the case. So what do I do? I've thought about it, and have come up with this list to run through when confronted with this type of behavior. 


1. Can I change the situation?

Often, I don't see a way to change the situation. I can be hard-headed and stubborn, and the type of people who make these comments can be, too. It's possible that the more I want to change the situation and make others see the light about the proper way to treat someone in recovery, the more they will buck against it. 

2. Is it worth getting upset over?

Yes, it is.

And I can tell you that it's been a long journey for me to even feel confident in saying that. But truthfully, it is not kind of anyone to say these things, especially if they know they are upsetting to me. But I am not going to change them or what they say--I can only try my best to guide them in the right direction and hope that they'll make these decisions for themselves to act differently. 

So yes, these comments are worth getting upset over. Even very angry or deeply pissed-off. But is it worth having an eating binge over, or perpetuating my eating disorder? Absolutely not. 

3. Can I change my attitude toward the situation? 

Yes, I think I can. Usually, I can at the very least take a mental step back from the situation and find these conversations amusing, like scenes from a Judd Apatow movie. Maybe it's not flawless of me, but it makes me feel slightly imperious to be able to laugh at the situation rather than to be consumed by it. 

4. Do I need to engage? 

No, I do not. If someone says something triggering to me, chances are, for me, the situation is not going to improve by me crusading against this behavior. 

I probably wouldn't engage in a conversation about equal rights to someone with a Confederate flag hanging in front of their house, so why engage about eating disorder recovery with people who so clearly don't see the harm they are doing? 

5. Do I need to cut these people out of my life?

In extreme cases, perhaps, but in general, no. I love these people, even if they're not cool sometimes. The good times make up for the bad. It's when they don't that I have to look at if the person is really a good influence in my life. 

6. Can I walk away from this situation? 

Yes, I can extract myself from the situation. Either literally, by walking away to use the bathroom or go get something in the other room, or figuratively, by simply changing the subject. God, it might hurt to have to walk away when I really want to show them. But it's the high road.

7. Do they have a point? 

Sometimes, yes, I do act like I have have a stick up my ass. I am not good at relaxing, and it's hard for me to know how to have a good time. But I'm learning. I don't want to disrupt my "sobriety" from disordered eating by feeling bad about feeling taut. Recovery is taut, a lot of the time. So for now I think the best I can do is acknowledge that this is something that I need to continue working on, and hope that as I continue to get better, relaxation and ease will continue to come. 

Have you dealt with difficult family and friend dynamics in your eating disorder recovery?