Boundaries in Eating Disorder Recovery: What, Why, and How

We live in a society immersed in diet culture. You likely won’t have to work very hard to recall the last time a friend or family member made a weight-based comment (about themselves or someone else), described the latest diet they are on, or the need to hit the gym after how “bad” they have been. Though often unintentional, these types of comments can be triggering to someone suffering from an eating disorder. Learning to set and maintain boundaries in eating disorder recovery is a way to honor and express your values by treating yourself and others with kindness, respect, and love.

WHAT are boundaries and WHY are they important in eating disorder recovery?

In eating disorder recovery, boundaries are an important part of expressing one’s authentic self and are vital to long-term recovery success. They teach others how you want to be treated and reinforce how we should treat ourselves. Boundaries will help you focus on your priorities and keep you moving forward in recovery.

Setting boundaries can be anything from shutting down diet talk, “I’d prefer we talk about something else”, or sitting down with a close friend and explaining how their actions are hurtful and triggering, even if they didn’t mean for them to be. In some cases, it may even mean making the difficult decision to remove a negative influence from your life and recovery. While it can be hard to have these types of conversations, you will ultimately show yourself and others just how much you value your recovery. Fortunately, these conversations aren’t always difficult; friends and loved ones who want the best for you will encourage boundaries and set them for themselves.

Establishing boundaries may be hardest with friends who have experienced treatment. Everyone’s journey is different, and your friends in their own recovery may be at different places. Depending on how loud their personal ‘ED’ voice is, they may be more or less triggering for you. However, if you set boundaries, you also show them how they can benefit both of your recovery journeys. For example, maybe they didn’t realize how they were speaking about themselves or others; now they can be more mindful.

Unfortunately, society has also taught us that setting boundaries and saying “no” is a selfish act. In reality, not setting boundaries and always saying “yes” can be far more devastating to the recovery process and your mental health. The individuals in your life that truly support you and your recovery goals will strive to respect the boundaries you set. Sometimes, however, they may not realize they are part of the problem.

At EDCare, we encourage Connection, a pillar of our CAMSA® empowerment-based treatment philosophy, through the group, family, and individual therapy sessions that take place in an environment of openness and support. Each day, we give patients opportunities to build connections to themselves, to those who support them, to their body, their mind, and their spirit. The importance of involving family in the recovery process cannot be overstated; support from family – whether it be actual blood family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, or community members – encourages individuals and helps them cope with their disorder.

HOW to set boundaries that work in eating disorder recovery

Setting boundaries is hard, but it is possible. To help, we’ve come up with some tips and tricks!

  1. Go through the people in your life and see if they support recovery behaviors or eating disorder behaviors. You likely will need to set clear boundaries with those who are supporting your eating disorder behaviors.
  2. Figure out who will most support your recovery goals and how they will do that. Then, decide if boundaries still need to be set, reestablished, or if they are already a positive influence.
  3. Boundaries are fluid and can change over time. You may need to take a step back from certain relationships while you focus on your recovery. As you progress and become more comfortable setting and maintaining boundaries, you can reintegrate these relationships back into your life. This is something to consider when thinking about the people in your life.
  4. Healing relationships can take time. Give yourself grace as you navigate this tough terrain.
  5. Boundaries on social media are also important! Unfollow accounts that encourage body checking and eating disorder behaviors. Instead, follow accounts that encourage your recovery!

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please know our compassionate team of specialists is just a call/click away. Contact EDCare at (866) 771-0861 to schedule a free, confidential assessment or fill out an inquiry form.