Getting into recovery for an eating disorder is incredibly difficult.
In my case, I had been restricting since I was 14. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I’d even realized I had a problem. When I started working with registered dietician Sam Tryon, I realized how deeply entrenched I was in diet culture and internalized fatphobia — and how much it also affected those around me. I found myself very resistant to what she was teaching me, which was a result of having to unlearn what diet culture had been teaching me my whole life.
After a lot of hard work, successes, and failures — all of which are ongoing — I’ve ultimately stopped weighing myself, stopped dieting, and can say that I am in recovery. I have to work daily to maintain recovery and some days are harder than others. But as we start a new year, the diet industry goes into overdrive. This is the hardest time of the year for me and others in eating disorder recovery — especially when friends and family are not on the same page.
This is the hardest time of the year for me and others in eating disorder recovery — especially when friends and family are not on the same page.
Sam Tryon agrees that a big concern going into the new year is “diet talk,” which “typically starts with criticisms about how much the person ate over the holiday season or how they have gained weight or are too fat.”
Those of us in recovery from an eating disorder are often fighting against ourselves not to start a diet in the new year, so hearing this can be especially hard around this time. Tryon says, “Being constantly surrounded by that kind of talk can trigger guilt about [our] own eating and body and urges to return to eating disorder behaviors.” As such, she suggests surrounding yourself with allies or folks who don’t subscribe to diet culture.
This can be difficult if we don’t know anyone in the recovery community in real life. Social media can be hard to navigate while in recovery but there are tons of accounts and hashtags you can follow if you want to flood your feed with anti-diet content. A good one to start with is #HealthAtEverySize. I’ve found a lot of good accounts through that hashtag.
I also like to follow accounts that post a lot of body diversity and fat influencers who aren’t selling those God-forsaken diet teas. If you scroll through Instagram and all you see are thin people, it can be hard to let go of long-held fatphobic ideas. This is what the diet industry wants, so it can be really powerful to break up those posts by intentionally unfollowing certain accounts and following others instead.
If you’re being faced with an onslaught of diet and exercise talk in the office, Tryon suggests excusing yourself or changing the subject when possible. I like to find what I call “snack friends.” These are the coworkers who always run to the kitchen with you when someone brings in free food. They are the most likely to enjoy food with you without shame. If no one has brought any food into the office in a while because everyone is dieting, your snack friend will go with you to get chips from CVS or cookies from Panera.
In the office, I like to find what I call “snack friends.” These are the coworkers who always run to the kitchen with you when someone brings in free food.
If you are around family, coworkers, or friends who are especially caught up in diet talk, Tryon says her biggest lesson is to practice radical acceptance. She explains that, “We have to work to radically accept that these people in our lives (and the vast majority of society) subscribe to diet culture and fatphobia. They are going to obsess about weight, restrict certain foods, and over-exercise.” We do not need to — and I think should not — condone these beliefs or behaviors but, according to Tryon, it can be transformative to “accept where [people are] for today.”
I spend time confronting folks about fatphobia and dieting through my writing and online engagement. I want to abolish the systems in which diet culture is able to thrive. This is sometimes very triggering.
If you don’t have the energy to always correct people’s misconceptions about dieting, fatness, and health, it is okay to just communicate what you need from the people in your life. In Tryon’s view, “direct and measurable asks are typically most successful.” She says we can worry less about controlling what others eat or say, but “we can ask that they refrain from commenting on our own food and body.”
If you have the time, energy, or desire to educate others on the ills of diet culture, I invite you to join me in that. But remember that your recovery and safety is most important. You’re not required to do anything that puts your health in jeopardy.
Above all, it is so important to learn to give ourselves grace when recovery gets hard.
Tryon says we should “let go of the expectation to be perfect” and take time to “acknowledge and celebrate the wins.” Recovering from an eating disorder in a world that is still so fatphobic is not an easy task. Hopefully, these tips can make managing the difficulties a little bit easier.