Friends and family are an essential part of recovery. When you have a strong support system, it makes the process more bearable. But only if they provide the right kind of support.
We gravitate toward people who share our likes and dislikes. And that means that if you’ve been nursing an eating disorder for 15 years, your friends are likely doing something similar.
The problem is, it’s hard to pinpoint the supportive friends. In today’s diet-obsessed culture, it seems like everyone is unhappy with their body.
But getting the negative self-talk out of your life needs to be your top priority during recovery. And you’ll never rid if from your own mind when it’s seeping out of the people you hang around with.
Here are 4 key behaviors to look for in the people around you. If you see these behaviors, it’s time to let go of your friends. Not in a rude way, but in a healthy way.
1. They diet obsessively
Everyone’s on some sort of diet, right?
Wrong! No, not everyone diets. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. And your job is to surround yourself with people who don’t diet.
The single biggest piece of advice I can give you here is to pay attention to words. Sticks and stones will break your bones… and words will definitely hurt your recovery. Here are a few phrases to tip you off that you’re hanging out with a “diet obsessor”.
“One second, I need to journal this meal.”
Food journaling is a big red flag. Note, I’m not saying food journaling is bad all the time. When I first started my recovery, I did journal everything I ate. But that was more of an emotional exercise. I didn’t write down calorie counts, I journaled how I felt when I ate.
But healthy food journaling is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the gals that won’t eat a bite without logging it in or writing it down. And they’re vocal about the fact that they write everything down. Counting calories like a crazy woman is not a healthy behavior, no matter what diet books or weight loss doctors say.
“I started ______ diet. And I love it!”
This one might be more obvious, but it’s still something you might overlook if you’ve immersed yourself in diet culture. Anyone who’s reading diet books, starting new diets, and talking about it is not a good influence on your recovery.
“Want to do this 30-day challenge with me?”
Run away when you hear this! This person is dieting and you can’t be around it. Period.
2. They hate their body
Let me clarify, this is people who hate their bodies and are open about it.
They voice their displeasure with their thighs, hips, stomachs, and arms all the time. Those that label themselves “fat cows” and refer to their thighs as “drumsticks.” You get the idea.
Lots of us hate parts of our body. But your #1 goal in recovery is to cultivate a love for your body.
It’s hard to do and it takes time. So you need all the help you can get from those around you. And people who openly bash their bodies are only going to promote your own negative self-talk.
3. They’re vocal on social media
When I say this, I mean those people who diet on social media. Or hate on their bodies on social media. This isn’t a friend who posts an occasional “I’m fat and I know it” meme, this is someone who does it regularly.
Posting self-degrading social media posts is not okay! Especially when you’re in recovery from an eating disorder. And seeing that stuff in your newsfeed doesn’t help you.
4. They don’t eat
Sometimes friends are influencing us negatively in a more subtle way. These are the people who suffer from their own disordered eating habits. (Yes, they are much more common than diet culture wants you to believe.)
Pay attention to how people eat around you. And an important note to remember is that you aren’t paying attention to their eating habits with the intention to compare yourself to them. You’re simply paying attention to look for unhealthy influences.
For example, bout two months after I started recovery, I went to lunch with a friend. I ordered a sub sandwich and a bag of chips. She ordered a cup (not a whole bowl) of potato soup and a diet coke.
As we sat at that lunch, I realized that she simply wasn’t eating. She would take a cracker, break it into small bits. Then she dipped those bits into her soup and ate one tiny cracker piece at a time. At the end of that meal, she brought half of her tiny cup of soup back to work with her… as an afternoon snack, she said.
This was mind-blowing to me. The old, ED part of me envied her restraint. And I verbally abused myself for how I ate in comparison to her.
“How dare you eat a whole sandwich! Can’t you be more like her?” screamed my ED mind.
I also understood her. She was proud that she ate only a half a cup of soup. She didn’t admit it, but part of her loved it that I ate a whole sandwich and she ate nothing. It made her feel justified in starving herself.
And part of me longed to jump back in and join her. Or run to the bathroom and puke up the contents of my stomach.
But the new, recovering part of me knew how unhealthy her behavior was. I knew that it was trick my mind was playing on me. And I knew that I would never eat a meal with her again.
How to break ties with these friends
Letting go of friends isn’t as cutthroat as it sounds. I’m not saying you need to be rude. Be smart about it and limit contact as much as possible. Surround yourself only with people who eat and act in healthy ways.
If you work with these people, don’t hang out with them in the breakroom. And especially not when you (or they) are eating. Take your lunch outside the office. Politely decline when they ask you to lunch. Skip the after-work get-togethers. You may have to work with them, but you don’t have to spend extra time with them.
On social media, it’s a little easier. One word: unfollow.
You don’t have to unfriend people, just unfollow them. Problem solved. You don’t need your newsfeed clogged up with negative self-talk and body shame.
If the unhealthy people happen to be related to you, limit contact as much as possible. You have every right to decline invitations to hang out. And if they ask you what’s up, you can tell them the truth.
“I’m trying to focus on my eating disorder recovery right now.”
They may fight back and try to give you advice. Don’t allow it! Tell them you are in a good program and you don’t need advice. Stay firm and stand your ground. It is worth it in the long run.
Commit to finding supportive community
My final piece of advice: get help and surround yourself with the right people. Visit your doctor or call a local ED recovery center or help hotline. That fact is, you’ll never recover if you try to do it yourself.
As hard as it sounds, you can find new people to support you. They are out there. Join ED recovery groups on social media. Download the Recovery Warriors app for positive motivation (this app helped me more than anything when I first started) or sign up for the School of Recovery. Finding local recovery groups can also be a good way to meet new friends.
Warrior, stick to hanging out with the people and friends who have a healthy love for life and for their bodies. It’s okay to put yourself and your needs first! After all, you deserve to live a full, happy, recovered life.