How to recover in a household where disordered Eating and Exercise is the norm
Today I wanted to talk a bit about how to manage Eating Disorder Recovery when you’re living with people who engage in dieting or disordered exercise behaviours. These can be hard to ignore and incredibly triggering, however I hope I can share with you some tips to help you stay on your own path and minimise the impact that others have on your own habits.
Recovering in a disordered society is something I’ve discussed previously on the blog (I’ll pop the post at the bottom of the page if you fancy giving it a read), but when the diet talk is in your own home, it can be harder to escape. The ways in which you can deal with it will depend on your relationship with the people you live with, be it your family, partner, friends or flatmates, as this will determine your ability to talk to them about your concerns. If you do feel comfortable raising the conversation with them, then there are several things you could discuss to help reduce their behaviours both for your benefit and theirs.
Explain why diet culture is toxic - Education can be a great way to reduce engagement with diet culture amongst the people you live with. This is because they may not previously have considered the route of their views or the potential implications of acting on and sharing them. Therefore, discussing diet culture’s fat-phobic messages, impossible beauty standards, and potentially harmful impacts on individual's health could be really beneficial. You could also discuss why diets themselves are ineffective and harmful, and share the science behind this in order to back it up. Furthermore, depending on the values of the people you’re talking to, you could also speak about diet culture as an industry and its methods of profiting through making us feel bad about ourselves.
Discuss how their behaviours are affecting you - If you are close to the people you live with and feel able to discuss your personal struggles, then doing so could be a really effective way to reduce their triggering behaviours. This is because the chances are they won’t even have realised that what they’re doing is damaging your mental health. Consequently, letting them know how you feel and initiating open communication may be the best solution. Here you could highlight certain things they do that are especially hard for you to witness, as well as offering potential solutions that would make your cohabitation easier.
Both these conversations could go either way depending on how understanding and open to change the people you live with are. They may be incredibly supportive and alter their attitudes in response to your discussion, however there is also a chance they may not be so accommodating. Of course as human beings, they are never going to be perfect and will slip up from time to time, but thankfully the further you progress in your recovery the more tolerant you will become to this. That said, if they choose to disagree with you or disregard your concerns, you will need to have a plan in place to prevent this from affecting your recovery and well-being. Remember you are not to blame if this is the case, by expressing how you feel you are not being “difficult” or “too sensitive” - your feelings are real and valid.
The following pieces of advice will therefore be relevant to this situation as well as being useful if initiating a conversation in the first place wasn’t possible.
Don’t take it personally - It is likely that the people you’re living with will have been exposed to diet culture for the majority of their lives, and so it is only natural that it will have influenced their outlook on food, weight and exercise. Therefore, despite the fact you may feel angry at them for acting in ways that trigger your Eating Disorder, remember that it is very unlikely they set out to do this. Engaging in diet talk and behaviours is second nature to many, and those who have never experienced mental illness or more specifically an Eating Disorder may not understand the implications their attitudes can have. Therefore, whilst it doesn’t change the fact that their continued failure to alter their behaviours may be hurtful, know that what they do or how they act doesn’t have to hold any power over you. This is easier said than done, as especially if you have explained your feelings to them it can feel like a personal attack, however this belief will not be the one to serve you best. Instead, focus on yourself and the variables you can control which in this case is your response to their behaviours.
Use Recovery mantras when feeling triggered - If the people you live with are engaging in behaviours that trigger you, you need to put something in place to ensure you don’t act on the Eating Disorder thoughts they provoke. Personally, I have found Recovery mantras to be most useful here, as reminding yourself of “different bodies, different paths”, for example, can help to reduce comparison. This is because it reinforces the idea that your body is not affected by what anyone else does, and so regardless of whether they are exercising more or eating less you do not have to change. Your body doesn’t care about anything other than keeping you safe and healthy, and so you can trust in it to identify your personal needs and consequently ignore what others are doing.
Engage with people who hold more healthy attitudes - Obviously, writing this in 2021 the current lockdown restrictions prevent us from going out and meeting other people, but that doesn’t stop you from interacting with others online. If the people you live with are unable to match your recovery attitudes towards food, weight and exercise, then connect with people who share your values and beliefs be it via social media or other friends and family on the phone. This is important in order to reduce the potential isolation you are experiencing as a result of living with people immersed in diet culture. It can also help prevent you from falling into their mindset as it reminds you of the diversity of our population and the fact you are not alone.
I hope this post can help any of you who are living in this situation.
More from me soon,
Mais// The Recovery Bean <3