How To Deal With People On Diets When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

When it comes to treating an eating disorder, there are about a million ways out there that people go about it. It is like the overall goal of recovery is the Triwizard cup from the Triwizard tournament played out during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and all people with eating disorders are standing inside this perilous maze running down various paths to try and find their way to victory in recovery (and hopefully not a surprise encounter with Voldemort as happened to Harry. By God that was unfortunate). Some people take the path of medication, others attend groups, try various different kinds of therapies, visit hypnotists, but of all eating disorder recovery journeys you can guarantee they will all, at some point, share something in common: a meal plan. Sometimes people construct these meal plans themselves, others are prescribed them by therapists or dieticians, and some have their meal plans dictated by doctors and nurses in a hospital setting.
Obviously eating the meal plan is hard enough in terms of having an eating disorder and the thoughts that go alongside that, but one thing that can make following your meal plan a hell of a lot harder than just carrying out the basic set of instructions, is the almighty trigger of people on diets.

Picture the scene. You are sitting there at home, ready to eat your healthy balanced lunch prescribed by your dietician. All your basic food groups are present (protein was a little late to the table as he got held up by a tractor on the motorway but everyone is there now). You are anxious but determined to soldier through the meal in your journey to recovery. Then a member of your family comes to join you. You smile and wave, grateful for the company, anticipating a nice bit of conversation to distract you from the eating disorder screaming at you not to pick up the fork, but then the family member sits down. Glancing at their plate, your face falls. All they have is lettuce. THE NERVE OF IT.
If you are anything like me it is around this point that you will start to feel very angry and indignant, and your already difficult task of eating lunch becomes a hell of a lot harder. Suddenly your recovery meal plan lunch looks like it has doubled in size like some unwelcome food multiplication miracle in the style of Jesus and all those loaves and fishes. The already intimidating quantity feels even more excessive and unnecessary than it felt before and the thoughts are churning. “If I eat this when they are just sitting there with a salad I will be greedy”, “clearly I don’t need this much for lunch if that is all they are having for the equivalent meal”, “why should I eat this food when they are allowed to eat lettuce” etc etc. Then things escalate, and before you know it you have hit your lunch time companion over the head with the left over half lettuce in the kitchen, torn up their copy of Slimming World magazine and crumbled any diet pills they were taking to dust, dust which you then sculpt into a giant sand castle prison to lock them in until they agree to eat normally again (not that I have ever thought this through in detail prior to writing this post you understand). Basically, it sucks, but for all you people out there who struggle with this trigger, never fear, for I have words of potential wisdom that I hope will help, as there is a key thing to remember in all of this.

The most important thing to remind yourself when you are at that table, eating your recovery meal plan around potentially salad chomping dieters, is that you are in a completely different situation to that person, so different and far apart in fact that you are actually not even on the same table.
If you are in recovery for an eating disorder and have been prescribed a meal plan to follow, that meal plan is your medicine, and the nonsense in your head trying to tell you not to eat it because someone else is eating less than you, is a voice that makes as much sense as someone with an ear infection refusing to take antibiotics because nobody else in their household is.
Who knows? Maybe that person on a diet has been prescribed their low calorie meal plan by a doctor because their previous diet was giving them health problems, or maybe they are just doing one of those silly fad diets for a few days after an advert they saw in a magazine. Either way, that does not mean that automatically you should not follow the meal plan that is prescribed/necessary for your body, and following it does not make you greedy simply because you are eating “more” than someone else.

When you are at the table trying to eat your meal plan and you are with someone who you know is having less than you, the most helpful thing to focus on for me is imagining the distance in your situations (aka a person with an eating disorder and a body damaged by the effects of starvation and malnutrition vs a person without an eating disorder who is not malnourished), as a genuine distance in physical location.

For example, imagine an explorer standing in the Arctic as representing a person with an eating disorder (for the purpose of this example we will call him Eggbert because I would imagine that people called Eggbert are rather adventurous/like the cold). Eggbert is surrounded by a blizzard, a glacier is rapidly approaching from the North and a polar bear to his left is giving him very funny looks (even the polar bear looks a little on the chilly side despite being designed as fluffy enough for these conditions).
Now picture a holiday maker on a beach in Barbados as representative of people without eating disorders. Doreen, for that is the name of our sand loving pal (actually that’s a lie…her real name is Doris but she had to change her name because she is on the run from the law…SHHHH!), is on a beach in Barbados with temperatures so hot that the local chicken eggs are laid hard boiled.
Now imagine the food aspect of things as a giant pile of coats and blankets.
Eating disorders aside, I think we can all agree that in these circumstances, Eggbert who is shivering with the polar bear in the Arctic, is definitely in need of all the coats and blankets and hot water bottles available to him. Indeed it is vital for Eggbert’s survival for him to take those things on board and snuggle up regardless of what Doreen is wearing on her beach in Barbados. By keeping all of the blankets to himself and not sharing some with Doreen somehow, Eggbert is not greedy, he just is at a place in life where he has different needs to Doreen to keep him alive. It is a situation in which Eggbert is using necessary resources to keep himself safe, and he still needs all those blankets and hot water bottles even if Doreen is lying elsewhere on a beach towel fully nude (AVERT YOUR EYES CHILDREN).

That may sound a bit of a drastic difference in situation to illustrate the point, but it is vital to acknowledge the difference in situation between you and the person you are eating lunch with if they are eating less than you. You are not on a weight loss diet because you do not need to lose weight, their diet magazines do not apply to you, and if you tried to attend their weekly weight loss sessions for more weight loss tips you would be turned away. As hard as it is, you really do just have to cut that person’s weight loss mission, diet and exercise out of your life and not allow the voice to trigger you to use someone else’s behaviour as a reason to avoid doing what you need to do. As with needing jackets in the Arctic, you need the food, even if the person sitting next to you is as naked as the day they were born and munching on lettuce. What a lovely image to end a post on. I really hope you enjoy it.

Take care everyone x

newyeardiets

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15 thoughts on “How To Deal With People On Diets When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

  1. The important part is this: NEVER COMPARE. I no longer pay much attention to what someone with me is eating. And I don’t know how I was able to stop paying attention/comparing/caring — wish I could share my “magical cure” regarding that!

    I actually had a similar yet opposite issue when I was in treatment. I felt like they gave me less food (usually related to snacks, or in the case of one center — no snacks) than other people. And what did I automatically assume? ” They are giving me less food because I am TOO FAT AND BAD and UNDESERVING OF FOOD.” It really messed me up!! So just as you’re thinking what you are, try to flip it around and see that the poor lettuce-eating person is probably thinking something else like, “Dammit, I can only eat lettuce and Katie gets to eat all that yummy food!” But then stop comparing. 🙂

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    • Hehe I like that plan! Thank you so much! (Also just a helpful reminder that your assumptions of what people think are probably also wrong because ED voices are idiots so I would like to kindly invite yours to fuck off please…LEAVE MY ERIN ALONE YE BASTARDS!) XX

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  2. Another fabulously written post! Something else I would add about people who are on diets – just because you see them eating lettuce, you can’t compare you don’t know what else they have eaten that day. I have two examples of this from my own experience:

    – at school, a girl who was on a diet brought in a salad for lunch, ate it and then proceeded to buy 3 sausage rolls from the canteen

    – a colleague last week blended up a spectacularly disgusting looking mixture of kale, celery, apple and lettuce on her new ‘detox’ diet, and that same afternoon helped herself to some stollen slices that were left in the kitchen.

    I am at the stage now where I am glad I am able to eat enjoyable foods and nutritionally balanced meals and pity those who are miserably picking at their lettuce on their latest diet. If you find yourself feeling triggered when you see family members or friends who are on diets eating their ‘healthy’ food, it may just be best to avoid them at those times so you can’t see what they are/aren’t eating and therefore can’t compare – that’s what I used to do when I was having a tough time with it.

    Sending love and strength xxx

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    • Oh my goodness that is such a good point about the not knowing what people eat in the day thing…HOW DID I NOT REALISE THIS BEFORE? It actually makes a lot of sense because a few weeks ago my Dad only had a mince pie for supper rather than his usual cooked meal so I was really triggered but then later I found out he had been on a three course business meal only an hour before! SWEET LORD YOU ARE A GENIUS. Seriously I think that is the most helpful realisation/comment I have ever received. Gah! Thank you so much for that, I am definitely going to be using that thought as a comfort to get through this January. You are the best, seriously thank you for a genuinely brilliant piece of advice. Lots of love xxxxx

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      • I’m so glad it helped! Something else I just thought of is that we may be envious of people who are on diets because we perceive them as being controlled and disciplined around food, but if we manage to stick to our meal plans in the face of this and do what we know is right, then we are also being controlled and disciplined, just in a different way, if that makes sense?

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    • Oooh so true! A lot of people with BED will actually eat normal or diet portions in front of other people. So there’s always more to the story. Great comments Catherine James!

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      • Thank you so much! You make great points too and I completely agree with everything you have said. Come February all this ‘new year’ rubbish will be over and we can get back to normal!

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  3. Also, can I just say that as someone who has tried to eat a lot of lettuce/salads for weight loss/health (like, non-ED)… it fucking sucks. Like, it sucks. I promise you the person sitting there with their lettuce is not beaming with pride or feeling good. They’re fucking angry! Full of rage! Goddammit why am I eating this rabbit food bullshit?!

    Hang in there. New Years is always so hard because of all the people making resolutions to go to the gym for a zillion hours a day, eat only lettuce and carrots (but not too many carrots, ’cause you know, sugar’s the DEVIL), and lose half their body weight in 2 weeks.

    It’s kind of comical to me this year, in a way it never was in the past. Which is actually nice.

    Katie, I know you’re struggling now and every person is different, BUT I promise you that it won’t always be the same. You’re trying to change. Just keep trying! Also I’m learning the importance of SLEEP and well-being (because of health issues I’m having) and holy crap. I know you have trouble falling asleep for OCD-related things. Curious how much sleep you’re actually getting per night. Although… you’re quite a bit younger than me. But now, for me, I don’t function after not sleeping enough. I just don’t. But back in college I could. Stupid aging bodies! I’m rambling… forgive me, I’ve had some wine. Haha.

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    • Lol, the beginning of this message had me laughing out loud about angry lettuce eaters and then the end bit brought a tear to my eye…HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! Thank you so much for the support and reassurance, I promise you I will keep trying (and giving sleep a go! That’s actually the massive thing I want to sort out at the moment because I am getting about 2-4 hours a night because of rituals and it is totally exhausting!). Maybe more sleep will help! Thanks again so much for this comment and I hope you are enjoying your wine! 😘❤😊 xx p.s going to get USA stamps tomorrow and hopefully get your letter in the post ✉️📬

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      • Yay!! I can’t wait to get this letter!

        Eat. Sleep. Very basic, sounds stupid. You don’t do these do 2 things, and your body will revolt. It might take time for it to really break down, but it WILL. I could send you a whole page-long list of things I’m going through right now as a result of a very long-term and un-diagnosed sleep disorder (airway-related). I’m finally, after 17 years of relying on sleep meds to help me sleep, being told, “Hey, this is not normal and WHY do you need these meds?? Why can’t you sleep?? Here’s what I think.” OMG… it’s a crazy relief. 40 year old me can’t function on the sleep of a few hours I could get at your age. We might have different reasons for not sleeping but please try to get your sleep sorted ASAP. It’s amazing how much sleep affects everything. I’m reading a book called Sleep Interrupted by Steven Park, but that’s because my new doctor believes I have UARS (Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome). I love solving problems!

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  4. AMAZING post Katie! This is exactly what I’m going through. My mother is on a crazy diet and I simply can’t stand eating with her. I feel so fat and ashamed… But I can’t compare myself with my mother or with anyone else. Food is my medicine.

    I hope you are doing fine. 🙂
    Kisses from Portugal ❤

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    • Thank you so much lovely one! My mum is on a diet too, I know it is a massive pain but we can do it together I promise! No comparisons! We must take our medicines! Much love and kisses from England xxxx😘😘😘😘❤❤❤❤

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  5. Oh this is brilliant! I struggle SO much with the diet thing, competitive competitive all the way (or maybe it’s the ED guilt, but whatever it is, it feels horrible). The humour in your writing is fab 🙂

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    • Thank you so much! The diet thing is indeed a massive trigger that is not helped by things like new year diets, giving up food for Lent or the “summer body” craze! Whenever you see any diet things and feel competitive from now on please imagine me slapping the diets away and then carrying any urges or guilt off in a massive wheel barrow. Remember I will be fighting the urges with you! Thanks for such a lovely comment, hope you are well and have a FABULOUS DAY 😊 xx

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