If I Recover, Will People Still Care About Me?
Updated: Nov 22
An eating disorder can be so many things - a coping mechanism, a friend (albeit a destructive one), a distraction, a false identiy, and a cry for help. Giving up eating disorder behaviors often brings with it a sense of loss. While recovery will open the door to a better and more fulfilling life, it can be challenging to have to face your feelings, find healthier ways to cope, and learn who you really are without the guise of the disorder. At some point in your recovery, you may wonder how people will relate to you once you're no longer using eating disorder behaviors. Because recovery often involves a high level of support (from family and friends as well as professionals), you may be concerned about how you'll feel once that support starts to diminish. If you don't have an eating problem anymore, does that mean you're expected to be "cured"? What if your eating is fine, but you don't feel fine yet?
Please make a note of this: in recovery, your actions need to go ahead of your mind. This means that you will be doing things you don't feel ready to do. If you wait until you're ready, you might spend your entire life waiting! In recovery, you will have to push yourself to do things that make you anxious. You will have to ride through an urge without acting on it when every fiber of your being wants to use a behavior. You will have to follow your meal plan even on particularly bad body image days. Most likely, you will not feel fine. On the days when you are doing amazingly well, you might feel pretty horrible. You will need support on those days as much as you did when you were knee-deep in behaviors. Your team will know that, but your family and friends may not. Because humans aren't mind-readers, we can't expect people to know that you're having a hard time unless we communicate it to them. So, Thing #1:
It sounds obvious, but there's a catch. Individuals with eating disorders can sometimes have a particularly hard time expressing their needs and wishes. Does this resonate? :)
It can feel awkward to even HAVE a need, never mind express it. You may find it easier to create a little instructional manual for whomever is in your support system. There's a lovely book in my office called Finding Your Voice Through Creativity: The Art and Journaling Workbook for Disordered Eating which includes a sample "instruction manual" that you can fill out and give to a supportive person in your life. It looks something like this:
Thank you so much for all your support. Sometimes it's hard for me to tell you what's most helpful to me, so I'm putting it down here instead.
When you see that I'm upset about something, here's what would be best: _______________________________________________________________________________
On a day-to-day basis, here's what you can do to help:
Also, when you say _________________ to me, I feel ____________________. This is because ______________________________________. What would work better is _____________________________________.
I really appreciate you being there for me!
You can modify and add to this in whatever way is most helpful to you.
Another way you can use written communication is to do a "Stop, Continue, Start" page. When I was a teacher, I used to do this to elicit feedback from my students. You simply write down what you'd like your support person (or people) to stop doing, continue doing, and start doing in order to be most helpful to your recovery. Remember, they can't read minds. They might have the best of intentions while doing something that really triggers you, but if you don't tell them, they won't know! It's safe to assume they are thinking that you're doing just great when your eating looks normal on the outside. They won't know that you feel awful if you don't tell them.
Now, Thing #2:
Even if you do explain what you need, you might not get it. By all means, try! But know in advance it's not a guarantee. If you aren't clearly struggling on the outside, people might treat you differently than when you were at your worst. But know this: they don't necessarily care any less. The people who are on your side, whether it's your family, friends or clinical team, will be there for you as long as you need them. You will go through stages where you are doing well on the outside but not in the inside, and they'll be there for you. You will get to a place where you are no longer using behaviors and feel pretty good on the inside, and they'll be there for you too. And YOU will always be there for you. Trust in your own ability to reach out for help when you need it, no matter how your struggle manifests. You don't need to have a disorder to be cared for and loved. Actually, when you no longer have an eating disorder, people can stop caring for the disorder and start caring for the real you! And trust in your inner strength and your ability to be a friend to yourself. Life is one big circle; sometimes we are the ones helping others, and sometimes we're the ones who need help. But remember, none of this needs an eating disorder to happen. So while your eating disorder might tell you no one will care about you if you let it go, now you know better. We are all worthy of friendship and care, with or without a diagnosis. You can ask for it, you can give it to yourself, and with recovery, you'll be in a better position to give it to others.