For those recovering from eating disorders or disordered eating, it can be tough being around other people who are actively on diets, have an unhealthy relationship with food, or people who regularly body shame others. I’ve been recovering from disordered eating for over a year, and over the past year, I’ve learned the recovery process has been much different than recovering from OCD, Panic Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Part of the reason it has been a bit more challenging is that I’ve been open about my disordered eating recovery, whereas in the past I hid my anxiety disorder for years. Being open about disordered eating recovery opens it up to people having opinions and getting offended when you talk about your recovery. In my experience, those with unhealthy relationships with food and body image can become defensive and start talking about “health” when it comes to body size and food choices which is problematic and triggering for those in recovery.
As part of my recovery, I needed to be open about my disordered eating with my partner, family, and friends and talk to them about triggers, in the hope they will be a little more conscious about what they say about food around me. While most of the people in my life have been supportive of my recovery, I’ve had to deal with my fair share of triggers.
These are just a few ways I’ve learned to cope with food and body shaming:
1. Fight shame with humor.
I was chatting with one of my friends recently about being triggered when people around me say something about restricting their food intake, gaining weight as a negative, and labeling food as good vs. bad. While we were talking, they brought up a good point and suggested to fight back with humor.
For example, I have a family member that will comment when I order something they don’t consider “healthy” and will note how fried or unhealthy it is- you can fight back by saying “Yes it is, and I am going to enjoy all the chewy, fried, goodness of it!” Saying something to note you are not fazed by what they say and doing it with humor may make them think twice before saying something in the future.
2. Take body out of it.
Women and feminine identified individuals are often socialized to be valued for their physical appearance (this is increasingly impacting men and masculine defined individuals as well with our super media-focused society). You don’t have to look far to realize women are valued for physical appearance more so than their accomplishments; magazines such as Cosmo, Self, and Glamour reinforce this ideology.
When a woman says something about disliking their appearance around me, I say ”You are a hard-worker, intelligent, compassionate, or creative individual.” It redirects a negative comment about physical appearance to a positive remark that does not have to do with appearance. I know when I focus more on my work accomplishments, writing, and my other hobbies, I think about my physical appearance less which helps diminish negative body talk.
3. Get real with them.
This may be hard to do at the beginning of your recovery journey when you are working on stripping the internal, negative shame around food and body image. When you get to a place that you are okay to talk about body and food shaming, you can talk about the impact shaming has on you. It is entirely healthy for you to express how you feel and an essential step in the recovery process. After all, the triggering people in your life have had no problem expressing their opinions!
For example, I had a conversation with a family member about how I was working on improving my relationship with food and my body after having issues with disordered eating and a deflated self-image, and they have been respectful about not participating in negative body talk around me. In a recent conversation, they caught themselves starting to talk about body image in a negative way that was triggering and changed the subject. One conversation can improve your relationship for the better, and hopefully navigate away from triggering waters.
We will never live in a trigger-free society, but it is nice when you can enjoy spending time with loved ones, holidays, and other celebrations away from food and body shaming. If you are at a point in your recovery where one meal can throw you off course, please take care of yourself and avoid those people and triggers. At the beginning of recovery, it is so important to be around supportive people who want to help, and not hurt your recovery.