Living in a Diet Culture... Tips on Eating Disorder Recovery
Updated: Jun 4
By: Abby Emmert & Gabby Morreale
This topic seemed to repeat itself a lot this week. Many clients we work with struggle in their recovery as they find themselves surrounded by a culture obsessed with the thin ideal. They often find themselves trying to maintain their recovery in a world that is pushing them back into their eating disorder. We live in a world where disordered eating, diet culture, Beauty standards, and so many disordered thoughts are praised and encouraged. Honestly, its gross.
Imagine trying to recover from alcohol addiction but doing it in an alcohol store. You’re trying to recover from something that has completely altered your life, but you’re doing it within the environment that fueled those behaviors or thoughts in the first place.
Recovery is all about trying to heal from maladaptive patterns that once seemed to serve you but then began to deplete you. But that can be incredibly difficult especially when everywhere you look you’re reminded of what turned you toward your eating disorder in the first place. We want to offer some tips to remind yourself in these harder moments, if you are recovering or helping somebody recover, that may strengthen you when you are questioning your recovery or yourself.
One tip may seem obvious. We always give people the example of gardening when We are comparing their recovery and their environment. Imagine having a flower out in your garden in your backyard that has been struggling and dying for quite some time. Rather than just pulling it out and throwing it away you decide you’re going to plant it in a new pot and bring it inside to try and bring it back to life.
After giving it so much love and time and attention, it comes back to life, looks wonderful, healthy even, and so you decide to go put it back out in the spot that you pulled it from in the first place. But if nothing has changed about that environment that you took it from. What makes you think that it will remain healthy? I compare recovery to this example in a couple ways.
There are most likely environmental triggers and social factors that influenced your eating disorder and got you here in the first place. You’ve done all of this hard work to get yourself here and to do a lot of undoing in the process. But then to throw yourself back into the environment that triggered you in the first place and expect you to have different results is almost the definition of insanity. That’s why we have to make sure the environment has changed or that you’re prepared to recognize the triggers when they pop up again.
One example of doing this can be thinking about the people in your life that may have triggered you. Think about conversations you can have with them so that they understand what they may say or do that put you back into that mindset of dieting and disordered eating. Talk to them about it, assert your needs. Set boundaries! You are allowed! Also, take space from these people or these conversations if needed.
Another example is to go through things on social media or on your phone that you may consume without even realizing it. These can be accounts that feature diet‘s or diet tips, influencers that talk about their work out and their bodies, or just friends that you see posting things that make you feel incredibly triggered. This is a great time to mute or unfollow accounts. Remind yourself that recovery comes with learning to set boundaries, and boundaries are a good thing! Especially when they are enhancing your recovery.
Another tip that I remind a lot of clients about is to not think that other people know better than you. I think many of us feel the similar way that at some point we heard someone say something about diet or eating or our bodies that made us think that they knew better than we did. Whether it was, and whatever “tip” (eye roll) they shared, we probably internalized it as this person knows better than I do and I can’t take the risk that what they’re saying is wrong. So we subtly internalize the statements and start to change the way that we treat and think about ourselves and our food or exercise choices. This is often a fear or trauma response depending on the individual but I am here to tell you...YOU ARE THE EXPERT ON YOU!!! Now i'm not referring to your Ed voice here i am talking to your true self or health brain! You know you best! Also, the danger in this, which we can see on Tic Tok with 13-year-olds giving nutrition advice, is that anybody can come up with any statement that they feel is true regardless of whether it is backed by evidence or not and they can share it with other people in a very public or viral manner.
When you’re in recovery other people will not have done the same education work that you have. Everyone's recovery is unique and should be treated as such. So as you find yourself moving towards recovery and learning the truth about taking care of yourself and the myths of diet culture, remember other people have not done that work.
Throwing yourself back into environments where friends or friends' moms are making comments the same way they used to can be incredibly triggering because although you are trying to grow they have not. Remind yourself that they don’t know any better, and that they don’t know better than you. This is where setting boundaries and finding your voice is key! (I feel another article coming on this! ) You are in recovery and have done this work for a reason. You have all the tools And the knowledge you need to make the correct decisions for your body. Your decisions about yourself and your body do not need to reflect whatevers feelings they have about their body, especially if they are still on that diet culture nonsense. Also remember the only people who should be giving you eating disorder guidance is your treatment team and those whom you have deemed “safe” not those still drinking the DC Koolaid and the only person you answer to is yourself! This is called Autonomy! Getting it back first from you ED and next in your day to day life can feel overwhelming but also empowering and we promise it's worth it!