Some situations are more likely to lead to having friends who also have eating disorders: the dance and gymnastics world, having a job that “entitles” people to criticize your body all of the time (modeling, anyone?), being in treatment with others for the eating disorder, just being young and impressionable, and many other factors.
It’s not a bad thing to be friends with someone who also has an eating disorder. However, it means you have to be careful about your boundaries with that friend and keep it a supportive relationship rather than a competitive one.
I remember being in high school and without realizing it, (until years later) that I may have contributed to my friend into developing an eating disorder.
It wasn’t like I even talked about the eating disorder. Yet my behaviors gave me away and left my friend in self-doubt. And it’s not like it was my fault, there are always other factors in developing an eating disorder that make people more susceptible. However, I just helped it along without knowing.
In intensive treatment for my ED, I met others who were all at similar stages of recovery as me. This was perfect at the time being because we bonded easily over our issues in group therapy.
The tricky thing about leaving treatment is when you continue to be friends with these people and they slide down back into the ED while you are staying healthy. Or vice versa.
How do you not get triggered by your friend’s descent into disordered eating? It’s not nice (or socially acceptable) to say, “You’re not recovered- nor do you want to be- so I don’t want to be friends anymore”.
Plus, you love this friend and just want to see them healthy and happy. I think it’s important to remind yourself every time you hang out with this friend that you are choosing what’s right for you. Remember that recovery is worth it, and that you don’t have to fall into the abyss just because your friend is on her way there.
Your friend may not want help- and that’s unfortunate, but you need to tell them that they can’t talk negatively about food with you because you’re still dedicated to recovery.
Setting these boundaries can be difficult to do, and it’s so crucial to keep from backsliding yourself
For example, I have a close friend from treatment that keeps in contact with me via email. From her emails I know that she is struggling with the eating disorder but doesn’t want to burden me with the details because she knows I am doing well. (Okay, this might be a little bit of mind-reading but we really do have similar thinking styles!) I just want her to be honest with me (and to be healthy and happy, of course) and feel like she can confide in me should she want to.
It’s a fine line between being there for your friend and slipping up in your own recovery. But if you keep open communication about what is not helpful then you’re more likely to keep your friendship. And remember that you have more in common than just the ED, and if not, find something.
Here are some tips for keeping your recovery strong when your friend is struggling.
1. Set boundaries
Your friend can share her struggles with you but if you are eating together then nobody is allowed to comment on the portion size of the meal, how full or bloated you are, and how you have to restrict tomorrow. Make that a rule from the get-go.
2. Stay focused
Remind yourself of all the reasons why recovery is working for you and why you don’t want to go down that path again.
It might help to even keep a cue card tucked in your purse so you can go the restroom and remind yourself of this mid-meal.
3. Go deeper
Usually an eating disorder is about bigger things than food.
Ask your friend what is going on in their lives that might be contributing to their struggles. Be supportive if your friend tells you about a situation that is stressful or scary.
4. Practice self-care
Make a list of all the things that make you feel better about yourself in the moment and use them when you’re feeling triggered. It might be watching funny videos, journaling, talking to a different friend, getting a pedicure- whatever.
So often we ignore our self-care and focus primarily on productivity.
I have fallen victim to that! Take some time out, even if you’re just absentmindedly scrolling through cat pictures on Pinterest.
5. Communicate your expectations
Have conversations with your friends ASAP about your own ‘protocol’ for staying un-triggered before it gets to be a problem.
Having a preventative plan in place is key to staying the course of recovery. Be honest when they break the rules and let them know you love them but they have to fat talk with someone else.