Are you a people-pleaser? Do you have a hard time saying no? Do you avoid confrontation in order to avoid conflict? If so, you may struggle with setting boundaries. And you are not alone.
For some people, learning to set boundaries can be one of the hardest parts of eating disorder recovery. It can also be one of the most important.
Unfortunately, no matter how much insight and knowledge you gain during your recovery journey, we still live in a diet culture. We are constantly surrounded by messages that thinner is better, and that the latest diet or “cleanse” is going to make all of our dreams come true. The deeper you get into your recovery, the easier it will be for you to recognize how ridiculous and false so many of these messages are.
Unfortunately, this may not be quite so easily recognized by some of the other people in your life.
Living in diet culture, we are also constantly going to be surrounded by people in our lives engaging in diet-talk. We are going to come across people commenting on calories in the foods they eat, giving unsolicited nutrition advice, or shaming their bodies for that “extra” 10 pounds they can’t seem to lose. As you become stronger in your recovery, these types of conversations may become easier to ignore. In the beginning, however, they can be extremely harmful and triggering.
But what can you do about it?
While we obviously can’t stop everyone from engaging in diet talk, we CAN voice our thoughts to the people closest to us. Setting boundaries around what types of conversation you are comfortable being a part of could be a crucial part of your recovery. You have a right to voice how these comments affect you, and you have a right to remove yourself from conversations that may be detrimental to your recovery.
How do I know if I really need to set a boundary?
Ask yourself, “How often am I around this person, and how often are they engaging in harmful diet-talk?” If it’s someone who you occasionally pass in the hall at work, or if the diet-talk doesn’t seem to happen that frequently, setting clear boundaries might not be as necessary. You may find that it’s easier to just avoid talking to that person during mealtimes, or to remove yourself from the conversation if it becomes triggering. If it’s someone who isn’t a significant person in your life, you may find that their own diet-talk isn’t really even that triggering.
But what if it’s one of your close friends or a member of your family? This is where it may get tricky. These individuals are people who we spend more time around, and their comments are likely to weigh heavier on us than the comments of a co-worker or acquaintance. These are the relationships where it will be important to recognize how diet-talk is impacting you, and to set boundaries if necessary.
Ask yourself, “How do I feel after I hear this person engaging in diet-talk?” Does it make you question your recovery? Does it make you second-guess your food choices? Does it make you feel guilty for how much you are eating or exercising? Does it make you feel anxious? When you hear others engaging in diet talk, stop for a minute and ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now, and how is this conversation impacting me?”
You may find that you get frustrated with diet talk, but that you are easily able to brush it off and move on with your day. If this is the case, setting boundaries may not be as crucial for you.
But, if you notice that diet talk is leading to anxiety and potentially triggering an increase in unhealthy behaviors, setting boundaries is going to be crucial to your continued progress in recovery.
What do I say? The truth is, most people in our society really don’t understand eating disorders or the impact that diet-talk may have on someone in recovery. Most likely, the “culprit” has no idea that they are saying/doing anything harmful at all.
If you are comfortable, educate them! If the person knows that you are in recovery, let them know that diet-talk is triggering and politely ask that they not engage in that kind of talk with you around. In my experience, most people are pretty receptive.
But what if they aren’t? Then you have a decision to make. You may need to ask yourself, ‘What is going to be the best course of action for my recovery?’ It may mean taking a break from that relationship/friendship for awhile until you feel more secure in your recovery. It may mean having a serious conversation with that person about WHY they won’t respect your request to avoid diet-talk. It may mean asking yourself if this particular relationship is still serving you in a positive way. Whatever decision you make, the most important thing is that you are honoring your own needs and what is going to be best for you in the long-run.
The bottom line is that you deserve recovery, and you deserve to be surrounded by people who are going to support you on this long and difficult journey. If someone is engaging in talk/behavior that you find triggering, you have a right to let them know how their actions make you feel. You have a right to feel safe in your relationships and surroundings. You have a right to say no and confront people if their behavior is offensive.
You have a right to recover in a safe, supportive environment. And your rights are just as important as anyone else’s.
Take care of YOU first.