Staying Connected: The Importance of Friends in Eating Disorder Recovery
Eating disorders can be extremely isolating and lonely. Counting calories or throwing up your food after you eat makes it hard to be around other people. There is the fear that you might eat too much, or that someone will notice that you are just pretending to eat. It takes a lot of energy to hide your eating disorder symptoms, and that makes it easier to stay home and disconnect from your friends.
I have been very lucky. My friends know about my struggles with anorexia, and we have stayed close in spite of my attempts to isolate and hide at times. This week I was again reminded how important friends are to me, and how they play a role in helping me stay in recovery.
In the past, I loved to spend time with friends. We would go somewhere to eat or hit the local coffee shop, and spend hours talking about anything and everything. These were lovely, relaxing times that sustained me and often allowed me to keep my sanity.
Then I developed anorexia.
I did not consciously set out to isolate myself. It happened gradually. A friend would invite me out to dinner, and I would be too afraid to go because I knew I would not be able to know how many calories I had eaten. Sometimes I still would go and order water and what amounted to a plateful of lettuce and other greens. But I was so tense. I couldn't just relax and order cappuccino and biscotti, or a salad that actually had chicken or shrimp on top of it.
Soon it became easier to stay home. My friends did sometimes become aggravated with me, and I remember one friend saying she did not invite me to the annual wine and cheese event because it involved food. I still would go out with my friends, but something was lost. I found it harder to engage with people because I was starving myself and I was obsessed with calories and weight. I was afraid of losing control of my tight grip on my weight, not realizing at that time that I actually had lost control and anorexia had taken over.
Then my husband and I separated for the first time because he could not deal with my eating disorder anymore. This only made me want to further isolate. I thought if my own husband could not tolerate being with me, why would my friends want anything to do with me?
I have some very persistent friends.
They would call, and I would cry about my failing marriage and my failing recovery efforts. I would go to one friend's house and we would sit for hours talking. I had another friend who lives in another city and has two children, but she would call each day and make sure I was okay. Then there was my friend, Michelle. She drove more than a half hour to my house to listen to me cry and talk, in spite of being allergic to my cat, sneezing and sniffling through the whole visit.
After my husband left the second time two days after Christmas and while I was still quite ill, I tried to hide as much as possible. I was so embarrassed that I had again failed at my marriage because I relapsed. But my friends would not allow me to isolate, and they encouraged me to work on recovery for myself and my own future. They encouraged me to believe in the future and a life without anorexia; a full and happy life.
My husband and I attempted reconciling this spring and summer, and it was a time of both hope and anxiety because I continuously heard what was wrong with me and how I needed to change in order to make the marriage work. It was never about him. It was always about me and my failures in recovery and the anxiety and depression that come with an eating disorder. I had what I think of as a mild relapse — although to my eating disorders psychiatrist, there is no such thing as a mild relapse — and I lost a few pounds.
My friends were there to give me a reality check. It was not just about me, and they told me that I was a beautiful, intelligent, and kind person whom they love. Each one encouraged me to eat and work on recovery in his or her own way, and I was able to in spite of the eating disorder voice saying I did not need to eat.
Then this week, one of my friends needed to stay with me for two nights while she trained for a new job. The training was where I live, and at least an hour drive from her home. It was wonderful to have her here for two nights. She has a fondness for Asian food, and she would bring containers filled with all kinds of different foods; foods that I would never order because I am still afraid of calories and gaining weight. However, she would insist that I shared the food with her and I did. I was able to stop counting calories and simply eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full for two whole days.
Last night, we relaxed and talked as we ate a Korean dish made of rice, red bean paste, and some other, mysterious ingredients. I ate until I was full, even though I felt a twinge of guilt that I quickly got over. I felt free again, able to eat without fear. I told her she helped me by helping me break the cycle at least for two days of counting calories and worrying about every bite I put in my mouth.
I was reminded that as much as my eating disorder tries to force me to isolate and disconnect from people, the power of love and friendship is much stronger. I have friends I see in person, and friends scattered across this country that I talk to on the phone or through messaging. And each one of these friends help me as I still struggle to eat and deal with the anxiety that is part of having anorexia and other stresses in my life.
I am glad that my friends are persistent, and did not give up on me when it would have been easier to. My friends continue to sustain and nourish me, perhaps in ways that they do not even know. I just know that I feel fortunate and blessed to have such wonderful people in my life who believe in me and my recovery.
Gambrel, A. (2011, October 15). Staying Connected: The Importance of Friends in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2011/10/staying-connected-the-importance-of-friends-in-eating-disorder-recovery
Author: Angela E. Gambrel
Love you, Angela. I want to visit again soon.
Thank you so much for your kind words. I meant to thank you earlier, but I have been somewhat under the weather and not online very much. I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and comment.
I am happy to hear that you have freed yourself from counting calories, and that you are now healthy and not struggling. That is very inspiring!
Wonderful post. You're a gifted writer, and I love your description of how your friend helped you spend two days trying new foods and eating until you felt full, instead of counting calories. I'm happy you're at a place now where you can do that. I spent a couple of years counting calories and remember how doing so sapped me of energy; tracking my food intake became a constant preoccupation and distanced me from my own bodily sensations of hunger or satiety. Thanks again for sharing.