Food for Thought: Eating Disorders and Relationship Patterns

I've heard it said that "how you do one thing is how you do everything." Patterns we build permeate our lives. In my work with people with eating disorders, I have seen that people's relationships with food are often similar to their relationships with people. If "how you do one thing is how you do everything", then it follows that it would be helpful to notice relational patterns, put them in line with values, and capitalize on the potential for that change to influence other aspects in your life. Sometimes when you move social relationships towards values your relationship with food shifts as a byproduct.

Anorexia Nervosa

Relationship with food characterized as: avoidant, fearful, rigid, insufficient, shame around size and hunger.

How do those patterns show up in relationships? Maybe you isolate or avoid people or avoid situations (likely ones involving food, but probably others as well). Maybe you have social anxiety. Maybe you are rigid with socializing and keep a tight schedule or get nervous as plans change or interactions aren’t neat and tidy. Maybe your social interactions happen infrequently or are surface level and don’t sustain the human need for true connection. Maybe you are scared that being in relationships will feel suffocating or heavy or cause discomfort so you avoid them. Maybe you have a fear that you will be too much or need too much and end up people pleasing or keeping a distance in an attempt to stay small.

Bulimia Nervosa

Relationship with food characterized as: conflicted, chaotic, secretive, shame based.

How do those patterns show up in relationships? Maybe you seem to have a lot of conflict in relationships. Maybe you struggle with boundaries and when to say "yes" or "no" or "I've had enough". Maybe you experience extremes in relationships of being very close then very distant. Maybe you have guilt and shame over what you want or need or have done in relationships. Relationships may scare you and you struggle with keeping them in balance and tolerating the discomfort they can sometimes bring.

Binge Eating

Relationship with food characterized as: lacking boundaries, lacking sense of control, soothing or escapist.

How do those patterns show up in relationships? Maybe you struggle with knowing how much to give in relationships and end up people pleasing or going past your limits with relationships. Maybe in relationships you feel like you don’t have a voice or that voice isn’t respected when you set boundaries or express needs. Maybe you have a difficult time being alone and find people to fill your time, even when you know those people aren’t "good" for you. Maybe you have codependency traits and regulate your mood through focusing on others.

These lists aren’t exhaustive by any means and don’t account for individual differences. My intention is simply too spark curiosity. It’s not helpful to judge or justify patterns. Better to simply observe and then do what you can to align food and relationship patterns with long term goals and values.

If you notice that you resonate with any of these food or relational patterns, we are here to help. Please reach out by phone or online and we will be happy to talk with you.