Boundaries in Eating Disorder Recovery

Thursday, Feb 17  •  


In eating disorder recovery, the concept of setting boundaries with negative individuals is often brought up as a form of self-care. While this idea is great, it is not often discussed how to set those boundaries or what they may look like.

Determining your boundaries is like creating a manual of behavioral dynamics, communication habits, and interpersonal treatment that you will or will not tolerate throughout your journey. This manual helps protect your emotional and mental health while enabling you to create healthy relationships with those who will assist you through your recovery.

Importance of Boundaries

Setting boundaries brings personal needs, values, and priorities to the forefront. When you are clear on what is important to you, it creates a sense of self-awareness which can then illuminate what needs you need met or respected to continue your recovery.

Setting boundaries with others helps shelter your mind from actions or words that may be triggering. They form a layer of protection from unwelcome objectification or scrutiny that can lead to dangerous patterns of behavior. Simply put, setting boundaries is putting yourself first. It’s cutting out anything that could be detrimental to your recovery.

How to Set Boundaries

  1. Think about what you will tolerate and whether a boundary is necessary.  No relationship is perfect and your daily relationships with the people around you will never exist in perfect harmony. There is, however, a difference between being annoyed and being hurt. Recognizing the difference, what you can handle, and what you cannot is important. If someone in your life is constantly too close to you or makes comments that hurt your feelings, it may be appropriate to set a boundary. Setting boundaries can revolve around the following activities when it comes to eating disorder recovery:
  • Diet talk
  • Negative body talk
  • Attending fitness classes
  • Going clothes shopping
  • Going out to eat

If you’re not in the place to do or talk about something without being triggered, set a boundary.

It is okay to ask your best friend to stop talking about their diet or commenting on people’s bodies — both in recovery and in general. Spreading and participating in diet culture is not good for anyone.

  1. Plan out your conversation using the ‘DEAR MAN’ skill. A good boundary is easy to understand. The DEAR MAN skill was designed to help you effectively assert your needs, ask for change, and remain firm throughout the conversation. 

D: Describe the situation in a simple way

E: Express how you’re feeling using “I” statements

A: Assert your needs by asking for what you need in a clear way

R: Reinforce by making sure this person understands your request

M: Stay mindful of the conversation and try to keep it on course

A: Appear confident

N: Negotiate if the other person does not feel they can give you what you are asking for

  1. Specifically set aside time to talk to this person.
  1. Practice the conversation in your head.
  1. Discuss your boundary issue/request with someone you trust. Sometimes it helps for you to just get out of your thoughts and nerves by talking through an upcoming confrontation.
  1. Plan some coping skills for the emotional fallout of the conversation. Although setting boundaries is a good thing, it can be emotionally draining. Plan to participate in some activities that help you release emotions and make you happy.

After this conversation, if this individual cannot respect the boundary, it may be time to reflect on how much the relationship means to you. Think about how often you see them, how you feel before and after seeing them, and whether they are contributing as much to the relationship as you are.

If they are not helping your recovery, it may be time to step away for a bit of time. This does not have to mean completely cutting them out of your life. Use the skills mentioned above to discuss why you need to take a break and do what is best for your health!

5 Things to Remember When Going Through Recovery

For an individual dealing with an eating disorder, their thoughts, actions, and beliefs, are often tied up in their relationship with food. As they go through the recovery process, they are forced to remold their processes as they mend their relationship with food.

Moving through the hills and valleys that accompany recovery, feelings of guilt and anxiety are common. For example, after practicing restrictive eating for some time, feelings of guilt may arise as one indulges in a full meal.

Making a mindful effort to practice self-compassion is extremely important during recovery. Recovery is not a linear process and giving yourself grace during the process is the only way to be successful. Below we are sharing 5 self-compassion tips for eating disorder recovery.

Eating Disorder Recovery Isn’t Linear

The recovery process is less like a straight line and more like a zig-zag with high points, low points, and moments in-between. While reverting to disordered eating can be discouraging, it is often normal in the recovery process.

Going through a relapse period is normal and often reveals vulnerability factors, what areas someone may need more coping skills, and how to better prepare for the next triggering moment. Relapsing or experiencing a setback can be hard, but it’s also a moment for growth.

Recovery Looks Different For Everyone

What recovery looks like for one person can be completely different than what it may look like for another. Eating disorder recovery is self-defined and self-led meaning each individual will make the process their own.

As you heal from an eating disorder, learn to embrace your recovery journey as a unique experience that only you can have.  Your self-worth is not tied to your recovery process, so don’t feel like you have to compare yourself with others.

Focus on the Small Victories

You may be tempted to focus on the big moments in the recovery process: hitting a goal weight or eating a full meal. However, focusing on smaller victories can be more beneficial in the long run.

When you’re struggling, focus on what progress you have made and give yourself credit for it. Celebrate your accomplishments even if they seem small to others. This will help keep you motivated throughout the recovery process.

Let Yourself Receive Support 

As you journey through recovery, accepting help from others can be hard, however, it can be really helpful to have extra support. This can come in many forms such as talking with a therapist, attending a self-help group, or reaching out to friends and family members.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder or are going through recovery and need help, give Avalon Hills a call. Together, we will take a multidimensional approach to make, work towards, and reach your health goals.