At least 30 million individuals in the United States struggle with some form of disordered eating habit . Yet, many of them feel alone. It doesn’t seem to add up that so many people are challenged by how they view themselves, their bodies, exercise, food, and self-worth, yet many suffer in isolation.
A big part of this is that talking about your eating disorder is scary. Finding the words to describe the turmoil in your mind, heart, and body to someone who may or may not understand is a frightening thing.
This barrier often gets in the way of reaching out, receiving treatment, and, ultimately, achieving recovery. In fact, isolation can even increase disordered eating symptoms, as studies show that “social-emotional isolation is positively related to body image dissatisfaction and binge eating .”
If you are one of those individuals silently suffering from eating disordered thoughts or behaviors regarding your body, food, and exercise, consider these tips to help you open up.
Play the Long Game
We have all had to engage in behaviors that felt scary, or we didn’t want to do knowing that, in the long-run, they were the best decision. The same is true of opening up to someone about your eating disorder.
Yes, it is scary. No, you may not want to do it. Will it be the thing most likely to help you in the long-run? Absolutely. As you prepare to share your struggle, don’t allow feelings of fear, anger, or shame lead you to shrink back into isolation.
Silently struggling with an eating disorder is like existing in a room with no doors or windows. Taking the leap into openness and vulnerability about what you are going through is the beginning of setting yourself free.
Remind yourself of this mantra before you open up. “I am setting myself free.” “I am setting myself free.” Let this embolden you.
Pick Your Person and Place
Letting someone else into your experience may make you feel out-of-control, but don’t forget that you get to decide who you tell and where you tell them. Choose a place that is comforting to you and where you feel you can safely open up for as long as you need .
A restaurant or coffee shop may not be ideal for you if other’s hearing your conversation will make it harder, to be honest. Additionally, you may feel pressure to leave sooner than you want to give someone else the table or because they are closing.
Avoid these barriers by choosing a place you can sit and let it all out for as long as it takes. Additionally, remember that you don’t have to tell any specific person, and you certainly don’t need to tell everyone.
You may feel comfortable telling a friend, therapist, guidance counselor, family member or coach of your struggle with food, weight and eating. Know that you are very brave and courageous to take this step in reaching out and seeking support!
Give them Grace
No one perfectly reacts when faced with shocking news. It is possible the person you share this information with may say the wrong thing, make the wrong facial expression, or have little-to-no knowledge at all of what you are going through.
If they behave in a way that is not helpful to your mental health, such as telling you to “just eat again” or making remarks on your appearance as a misguided way to make you feel better, then take the opportunity to educate them.
Let them know how their statements or responses are more harmful than helpful and give them the opportunity to grow. If they continue to behave that way, you may need to set a boundary or end a relationship, but, at this moment, understand that they are navigating in the same messed up, diet culture world that you are.
Give them grace and understand that they are learning. Perhaps enter into the conversation with some resources or websites ready so that they know where they can go to further educate themselves.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Maybe this first conversation is just you making someone aware that you are struggling. Maybe, you’re feeling afraid and don’t know which direction to move in.
No matter what your goal is with this conversation, don’t be afraid to exactly let your loved one, friend or colleague know what you need and expect from them after this conversation.
It is okay for you to request support, love, check-ins, help, resources, information, etc. Telling your loved one what you are going through is not placing a burden on them. You deserve unconditional love, support, and help.
Resources Unknown (2020). Eating Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from https://anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.  Zaitsoff, S. L., Fehon, D. C., Grilo, C. M. (2009). Social competence and social-emotional isolation and eating disorder psychopathology in female and male adolescent psychiatric inpatients. International Journal of Clinical Health Psychology.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published June 23, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 23, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC