Eating disorders thrive in isolation. One of the most common pieces of feedback I get from new clients is that they felt so isolated and trapped prior to opening up about their eating disorder. This makes a lot of sense. If your thoughts are consumed with food, body image, exercise, etc. That doesn’t leave much space to invest in relationships. Read on to learn how to tell someone that you’re struggling with an eating disorder.
Taking the step of voicing concerns about food requires an initial step. We must first acknowledge to ourselves that there may be a problem. This can feel scary, painful, or uncomfortable. That’s ok! Some of our favorite work here at Courage to Nourish is holding space for clients as they process what it means to have a strained relationship with food.
Maybe you don’t know if your relationship with food is ‘bad enough’ to voice concern. However, there is no point you have to reach in order to need or deserve help. If you are thinking about food often enough to be concerned, then it is worth voicing this. When you tell someone that you’re struggling with an eating disorder, they can help you explore your support options.
Relationships with Eating
I like to think of our relationships with food along a spectrum. There is a range from normal eating to an eating disorder. With many states in between. Normal eating is eating enough food consistently. With minimal anxiety or intrusive food thoughts. If you feel your experience is not in line with normal, consistent eating. Then it’s worth reaching out to talk this through. Maybe you don’t have all the symptoms of an eating disorder. Perhaps you are experiencing disordered eating. If you are worried your relationship with food is strained. That’s reason enough to reach out!
Normal eating: Eating enough food consistently. With minimal anxiety or intrusive food thoughts.
Disordered eating: Preoccupation or anxiety with food, weight, or body image. Feeling the need to compensate for eating. Behaviors of any eating disorder that don’t occur frequently enough to meet diagnostic criteria.
Eating disorder: A mental and physical disorder involving abnormal eating habits. Such as restriction, purging, and laxative abuse. As well as binging, compulsive exercise, and food aversion. Among other symptoms.
Keep reading for ideas on how to begin the conversation about your relationship with food!
Reflect and prepare what you want to say.
Consider journaling. Or writing down a script if that helps collect your thoughts. It can be helpful to educate yourself about what eating disorders are. As well as how they can manifest. Refer back to the definitions of normal eating, disordered eating, and eating disorders discussed above. This will help you understand where your food relationship falls. Remember – your personal experience is valid. So use it as a guide. Consider using ‘I feel’ statements to communicate how your relationship with food is impacting you. For example, if you feel crippled by food anxiety. You could say, “I feel trapped and anxious when trying to decide what to eat.” This will help others understand what you are experiencing.
Find a safe space and person to share your concerns with.
Think about what you want to communicate. In addition to what you hope to hear in response. Do you just want someone to listen? Are you looking for feedback or advice? Do you want validation? Try prefacing your conversation with what you’re looking for in a response. Where would this conversation take place? Your home, a facetime call, a park, etc? Choosing or creating an environment where you feel more comfortable will likely soothe some of your anxieties about the conversation.
Seek professional help.
Don’t stop with just talking to a friend about it! Finding specialized clinicians who can support you in building a healthier relationship with food is an important next step. The role of a treatment team is to help you understand what recovery looks like. And hold you accountable to moving towards this goal. Eating disorder treatment starts with forming an outpatient team. Which can be a daunting process. A treatment team consists of a therapist, dietitian, primary care provider (PCP), and potentially a psychiatrist if medication is involved. A therapist can help you process the function of the eating disorder and support you with tools for overcoming it. An eating disorder dietitian will support you in renourishing your body. A PCP or psychiatrist can officially diagnose an ED. As well as manage any medications necessary.
How to form your treatment team
Finding a team who is eating disorder informed is crucial. If you can start by finding one ED specialized provider. They can likely help you with referrals to other specialists in your areas. As you build a team, consider if you prefer in person vs virtual care. COVID has opened the door to virtual health care options. Most health care providers have to be licensed in the state the client lives in. However, there are also flexible licenses. Such as PSYPACT for therapists or state reciprocity for dietitians. This may mean you can see a provider in another state. For example, here at Courage to Nourish we see clients in the following states: MD, CO, VA, DC, PA, and DC.
Consider a higher level of care.
If you are concerned that your symptoms are unmanageable at home. Even with an outpatient team, you may need more support. That’s perfectly ok. It makes a lot of sense. We have to interact with food all day every day. Therefore, managing intrusive thoughts and behaviors around food is incredibly challenging. Consider calling a treatment center and asking for a clinical assessment. These assessments are typically free, 60 to 90 minute phone calls with clinicians who specialize in assessing your symptoms. In turn, they determine what kind of support is right for you. If you aren’t sure treatment is the right fit, you can always get an assessment to see what support and recommendations treatment professionals have for you. Remember: reaching out for support is a sign of courage!
Know that recovery is possible.
Pause and take a deep breath! Maybe you’re terrified just considering sharing about your eating disorder. Maybe you’ve already told someone what’s going on. And you don’t know where to go from here. The first step towards separating from your disorder is when you tell someone that you’re struggling with an eating disorder. Remember: This is scary, and that’s ok!
Here are a few closing thoughts to hold onto as you reflect on how to talk about your relationship with food.
- Eating disorders exist along a spectrum. They are not all or nothing, black or white.
- You don’t have to fit neatly into a diagnostic criteria checkbox in order to access support.
- Reaching out for help requires vulnerability and courage. It’s ok to feel scared!
How Courage to Nourish Can Help
At Courage to Nourish our team of eating disorder dietitians are trained to help people from all backgrounds. Develop a more positive relationship with food. In addition to providing one-on-one counseling with clients, we offer family counseling and have several support groups. To help guide those with loved ones suffering from an eating disorder. We offer consults to help develop treatment plans. We also have numerous handouts and blog posts posted on our website. These serve as valuable resources for learning more about eating disorders and treatment options.
Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Maryland. Virginia, Washington DC. Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.
Georgia has experience in providing therapeutic meal support, challenging weight bias, normalizing eating, and embracing Health at Every Size in her work with both adolescents and adults. She is passionate about reducing weight stigma in the eating disorder field and developing guidelines for safely incorporating physical activity into eating disorder recovery. She works alongside clients to challenge diet culture together. View Georgia’s full bio here.