Eating Disorder Recovery: Dealing with Friends & Family & Food
I remember the #1 contributing factor to me and my eating disorder: the fear of other opinions. The fear of what other people would think about my body, my looks, my acne, my plate, the fear of how others would view me in the world. The fear of never being enough. The fear of people rejecting me.
I remember feeling on edge and at the end of my wits at every social gathering, I ever went to including even my own family dinners in the evenings. I just always felt watched, meticulously questioned or criticized by those around me and what I was or was not eating that day. And I think this hyper-awareness to other people’s opinions of ourselves not only creates a huge problem during our food struggles but the insecurity explodes when we throw our recovery into the mix. We fear to let people see our bodies change. We fear to let people see us eating more or eating sweets or going up for second helpings. We fear what they think of our new identity as the girl that isn’t always restrictive or regimented or disciplined *all trigger words used for us to buy into diet culture* when it comes to our meals and our workouts.
And what is fear?
Fear is the lack of certainty and love in ourselves. Fear is what we attach our egos to when we aren’t sure what or who or how we have to be loved, all we know is that how we truly are isn’t good enough. And where does this deception come from? The greatest deception of all time is this: That you aren’t good enough as you are. That something is wrong with your true, authentic self. And this comes from… money. There’s no money in you loving yourself unconditionally. There’s no money made if you don’t buy into diet culture, the fast-fashion industry, the million-dollar makeup market.
There’s no money if you like yourself for being yourself.
If you love makeup or fashion, I’m not knocking it at all! What I’m saying is that if we were all born and raised to be in love with our natural faces, bodies, beings then there wouldn’t be insecurities to profit off of. So, now that we understand a bit around that it’s not your fault for struggling with food or your body, you were brought up and programmed to do so! We can start to see how/where this takes us especially in terms of being around other people and other people with food.
I think the biggest thing to be aware of is that we live in a world where food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and thanks to social media, diet brands, marketing tactics, and buzzwords, there’s actually a pretty universal definition ingrained in each of our brains on what is ‘good’ food and what is ‘bad’ food. Food is not bad, seeing food this way is.
We then grow up and learn that ‘being bad’ is bad. That if we steal or cheat or break something then we are bad and deserve to be punished for doing so. We also grow up with the knowledge that being ‘good’ makes us lovable. That getting good grades, achieving a high goal, maybe even cleaning our rooms is ‘good’ which our brains adapt as ‘this makes us good.’
What if our definitions of good and bad then relate to our food? What if especially as women we see that food is tied to our self-worth. You hear women say all the time, “I was so good yesterday on my diet,” or, “Last night, I was naughty and had ice cream.”
What’s naughty about eating ice cream?
What we believe to be naughty about eating ice cream is the societal story that comes with it. Ice cream has sugar and carbs and could make us gain weight *fun fact, any food COULD make you gain weight* but let’s go deeper: Ice cream is processed and ‘junky,’ which makes it bad and women who eat ice cream are undesirable and don’t have self-discipline, etc.
DO YOU SEE HOW WARPED THIS ATTACK ON FOOD IS!?
We attach the story of food to the story of ourselves and we then reinforce this belief by telling ourselves that ‘people will only love me if and when I am good,’ so we have to make sure our diets are ‘good’ all the time.
We can’t run the risk of having criticism or judgment passed on ourselves or our bodies by other people for ANYTHING bad. Think about how scared we feel if we didn’t get the grade we wanted on an exam, but then think about the same fear we feel if we eat a cookie. They are most likely the same! And the fear portion comes from, ‘What will others think about me?’ Instead of, ‘What do I think about myself in this situation?’
One of the biggest misconceptions of eating disorders is that the women suffering through them love to be in control and therefore must control their diet. The truth is, yes, we are hard-wired to love control if you have a similar personality profile to mine, but you are way, way out of control, my girl, if you give all that you are and all that you think about yourself to your plate or to other people.
I want you to start asking yourself, “What do I think about the meal in front of me?” With no judgment and no thoughts around, “What will others think of me?”
I’ll give you an example. I’ve always LOVED chips. Like anything salty or that comes with dip, I’M THERE!! When I went on one of my first dates during my recovery, we went to a Mexican restaurant. This super sweet boy took me to dinner, yay, and we had a great time! The chips and dip came out and my first thought was, “What will he think of me for eating these? >> “How many should I eat so he doesn’t think poorly of me?” >> “How much is too much?” etc. All of these questions were based on HIM. Of what he would think, how he would see me, how he would criticize me.
*Fun fact: People only criticize you when you allow them to do so* Because 95% of criticism comes from our own stories of what’s going on in the other person’s head about us. But in their head, they are doing the exact same thing we are! Meaning there’s a 5% gap of brain space where someone may ACTUALLY be thinking about you at all and even that 5% gap is probably cut in half with compliments about you and half with criticisms, so to allow 2.5% of their thoughts to ruin 100% of your life, well the math doesn’t add up to me, my girl*
So, I panicked. Of course, I did! Because I cannot control NOR DO I ACTUALLY KNOW how he will respond or feel about me. And as control freaks...this causes me to SPIRAL and reach for some sort of comfort >> controlling my food to mirror the ‘perfect’ diet I believe he will approve upon; the universal ‘accepted diet!’ I feel out of control. I cannot know for certain what he thinks about me eating chips. Even if he told me, what if that wasn’t the truth!? I cannot control that he will like me or approve upon me…. I cannot control other people and neither can you, but I try by living with the ‘good’ food diet of society.
What can I actually control then? What I think about myself and the situation. And this part may shock you, but when I TRULY asked myself, “What do you think about you eating chips, Em?” I instantly went, “He will think…” Nope. What do I think? “I think chips are delicious and I want to eat them.”
You’ll find that your brain automatically defaults to “they, them, him, her, my family, my friends, that stranger” and tries to control your environment through controlling the emotions of other people. This stems from pain. This stems from somewhere along the lines you felt rejection by someone you cared deeply for and cared deeply about the opinion they carried about you, and you felt rejection from them towards your true, authentic self and your soul.
Your soul split into two versions of you. The true you >> the one that is hidden away, fearful, scared, picture a small child because it’s a smaller version of yourself. The you that experienced true pain before she knew how to handle it or cope with it or ‘brush it off’ so to speak. The young you who couldn’t tell the difference between opinion and truth and so when she was rejected for being herself, she adopted the belief that she would always be rejected for being herself.
Then the bigger you. Your mask. Your shape-shifting shell, so to speak. The part of you that is a people-pleaser, protector, filled with hyper-awareness of yourself, others, your space, how others are thinking of you and your space, etc.
The masked you was created to keep you safe. Your smaller self-thought, “I can never feel that sort of pain again or rejection again. I cannot ever be ‘bad’ again because being bad makes me bad.” You created what was ‘bad.’ This happens when you see carbs are bad, the fruit is bad, sugar is bad. Well if the world thinks that sugar is bad and I’m eating sugar… the world must think I ‘m bad.
So, we adopt this hyper-awareness towards people we love and people we don’t even know. We become consumed by what this person thinks of me, that person, what are they saying about my food, body, my life. Your smaller self is always on the lookout for pain because she doesn’t realize… you are no longer small.
You can handle pain.
You can handle criticism.
You can handle the weight gain.
You can handle food.
You can handle comments.
You can handle social gatherings.
You can handle yourself.
You have to tell your smaller self that and show her by taking the actions, slowly, that terrifies her. Eat out once a week with a friend, something that used to SCARE the living heck out of baby Em. I take baby Em out to eat with me, I breathe deeply the whole night, I constantly remind myself that I am giving this person, this food, their opinion all the power in my life. I choose to take the power back. Ask yourself, “Where has giving your power away gotten you before?”
I face fear for my small self. I hold her hand. I do not get angry or upset or judgmental to her. That doesn’t help if she is terrified of anger, upset, and judgment. What if I approached her with love and compassion? She was just protecting herself. She was trying her best. She was innocent and she got mixed up in the world that is not innocent one bit. I forgive her and I guide her with me.
I go to dinner with my friend. Order what I truly want and every single time she cries out at me, I calm her down. I tell her I am here. I can handle this pain. She won’t be attacked or criticized or hurt. I am in control. I promise her. I repeat this constantly to myself. I love her constantly. I care for her unconditionally.
I end the dinner and go home and I show my small self... I survived.
I survived. I didn’t get hurt. I didn’t experience any pain from anyone or anything else. I didn’t get shunned or sent to my room or let down. I didn’t feel rejected or upset. Because I was there with her.
When you turn your own back on your own smaller self… I think that’s when shit hits the fan. That’s when she throws a tantrum, that’s when you backslide, that’s when your struggles become nearly impossible to control because that’s her biggest fear is being rejected and being left alone.
Bring her to dinner with you.
Bring her to Thanksgiving.
Bring her to the movies.
Show her that there’s nothing left to fear. And trust me, she will begin to trust you again. Trust the world again. Trust that you have an opinion of her and you no longer place your opinion in the hands of other people. You think she is great and doing great and doing good. You believe she is good. So, she no longer has to search for who or what or how she is in other people.
You are safe and there’s no need to run.
“The greatest deception I have ever been told was that there was ever something wrong with me in the first place.”