Most frequently, eating disorder behaviors occur behind the scenes. While some signs might be more apparent, such as an obvious weight gain/loss or a preoccupation with one’s physical appearance, much of an eating disorder’s growth happens behind closed doors.
For this reason, eating disorders are incredibly isolating. They are unfortunately riddled with shame and guilt as misconceptions might lead individuals to believe that the disorder was a choice or an obsession. While certain behaviors, such as dieting, might’ve been a choice initially, the forming of a full-fledged disease was never intentional.
Eating disorders play nasty tricks on the mind and lead the one suffering from it to become withdrawn and isolated. Understandably, this can lead to severe strain on personal relationships.
The effect of eating disorders on relationships
Healthy relationships are characterized by vulnerable, open and honest communication and intimacy. Eating disorders are not. Eating disorders are like Rapunzel’s vicious mother, seeking to keep the best, most beautiful and wholesome parts of who you truly are locked up in a tower for no one to see. Because others want to experience relationships and authenticity with you and not the disease, it can feel impossible to let them in when the disorder keeps you feeling so trapped.
Many begin to withdraw entirely from the possibility of relationships with others. This might manifest in refusing to go to social gatherings, especially if food will be present. It might be seen in romantic relationships, where the one suffering from an ED has little to no energy to give their partner. Even in family relationships, the sufferer might withdraw from interaction with family members out of fear of being judged or misunderstood.
Eating disorders take over the mind in an almost incomprehensible way – you become so focused on food, yes, but also on the false sense of control which manipulating your food intake offers. However, this is what your brain hones in on and becomes completely absorbed with. The time spent at the gym, selecting clothes in the morning, how you’ll spend the hours of the day begin to revolve around the disorder, and little time and energy is left for anything that’s not part of it, relationships included.
Choosing relationships over eating disorder tendencies
While eating disorders do appear to be the antithesis of healthy relationships, they are also an important part of properly recovering from an ED. Eating disorders thrive in separation, loneliness and isolation, so engaging in relationships helps to battle this aspect.
First and foremost, it’s important to bring the disorder to light and talk about it. For those who have a loved one battling an ED, don’t spend every waking moment talking about the disorder, and don’t tell them to “Just eat something.” However, have a conversation with them about it, asking questions that would offer help, not accusations or unsolicited opinions. Ask them what you can do to help them, and, if they want to talk about it, ask about their experience with it and brainstorm ways in which they can begin getting back on their feet.
If you’re the one struggling and are approached by a friend or family member who wants to genuinely help, odds are you can trust them. While each situation is different, most people who notice and come offering help do love and care for you deeply and are struggling to see you struggle. It might take a whole lot of humility and discomfort for a period of time, but allowing them to talk with you and hear your side of the story might offer you more freedom than you’ve experienced in a while.
It will also help to engage in activities together which do not circle around the disorder. Going out for a meal isn’t likely to do much for the situation, but spending time reading and sunbathing on the beach can. Activities like this, that don’t require much energy and are focused on something completely different, offer relief and rest and provide a gentle space in which a relationship can begin to rekindle. Anything from watching a movie to building a puzzle to painting small canvases to designing and planting a garden can provide a healthy outlet for healing.
Additional help for relationships
While there are absolutely small things you can do to help foster a relationship with your struggling loved one, there are some things that require the assistance of a professional counselor. Eating disorders, because of their complicated mental aspect and their potential to become life-threatening, frequently require professional intervention. However, entering into treatment can provide the springboard off which healthy relationships can grow.
As an individual begins to heal through talk therapy and other recovery techniques, the hold of the eating disorder begins to diminish and a return in energy and authenticity happens for the client, making room for important relationships.
No matter how difficult it might be, maintaining friendships and familial relationships is a vital aspect of battling an eating disorder.
For additional eating disorder assistance, treatment options and professional counseling, reach out to Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464.