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How to Stay Strong in Recovery when Friends dabble in Diet Culture & Restriction

Leah Hantman

I remember being a recovery warrior and walking into the cafeteria at work. I unpacked my lunch and checked to make sure all items from my meal plan were present. With all exchanges present and the satisfaction of moving forward with recovery I start to eat and am feeling good.

My friends join me and then I look up. Where are their lunches? Why is everyone eating salads or nothing at all? The ED voice in my head starts to rumble and reminds me that everyone else is "doing the right thing." The ED voice is always trying to sabotage recovery. But it's confusing when the masses dabble in disordered eating.

What the actual F*CK!??

If it's so wrong, why are so many people blindly engaging in it?

Diet culture has become SO normalized that to embrace full recovery means that you will go on to find deep health when most people are simply chasing the diet culture definition of "health".

Diet Culture is a collective set of social expectations that emphasizes body shape and looks over actual deep health. Diet culture places being thin, female & white on a pedestal. Most diet culture recommendations aren't truly about health at all. They are about being better than...

Better than the old you.

Better than the other women around you.

Better than groups that look different or act different than you.

Diet Culture is divisive. It creates tension and competition between women.

The patriarchal framework of diet culture keeps us focused on fixing ourselves and chasing an impossible standard.

What if we are perfect as we are?

Can you imagine a world where all women were considered beautiful as they were? Where they were confident, unafraid and free to pursue their dreams?

Entire industry's would crumble. It would be a revolution.

But diet culture is so insidious that to dismantle it would take epic proportions, time, consistency and a movement of the masses. Sadly, it's not that easy.

So what do you do when everyone around you is immersed in diet culture? How do we show up daily in recovery and make it through without falling prey to going along with the crowd?

I've experimented with how to navigate this for a long time. I've learned a lot and you can learn from my mistakes. Before we start, please know I do not encourage any of the following:

  1. Diet Culture Police: " WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING? How could you not eat when you know I struggle with an eating disorder. Did you know what you're doing is wrong and shaming?" <---------- As soon as you start talking about it and read the table you are going to wish you had the magic ability to turn back time. People aren't receptive to criticism, judgement or in changing beliefs that are the very things that keep them feeling "Safe". NOPE I do not recommend this.

  2. Skip lunch and make up for it later: This might be tempting. Do it once and then you'll have an easier time doing it again. Then it becomes a habit which opens the door for the ED to come in. This form of approach is what we like to call "Bargaining." trying to find the best of both worlds. But guess what? You can't have both. You simply cannot dabble or mimic diet culture without it harming your recovery.

  3. Nerd out: This could work but it truly depends on who has a seat at your table. Like I said, most people don't want to hear that the rules that keep them safe are wrong. That being said, I love learning and education. I learned that I needed to be invited to share facts rather than drop them on unsuspecting people.

  4. Eat alone: Isolation never works. In fact your ED loves isolation. This opens another door for the ED to slither in. Isolation leads to lack of connection and community. This leads to low self-esteem and a division of you and them. It will only be a matter of time before you are back at that table or trying to fit in by following their lead.

  5. Try to find new friends: We shouldn't have to lose friends or relationships because people in our life engage in diet culture. There has to be a better way.

  6. Relapse: NOPE we aren't going there. NOT an option in recovery.

  7. Pretend to eat like them and eat more to make up for it later: Hiding yourself will only lead to secrets and your eating disorder thrives off of secrets.

Let me ask you, what are you afraid of happening if you are eating differently than your friends? Here are the top fears expressed by my clients in these situations:

  1. Being judged

  2. Gaining weight

  3. Standing out and being noticed

  4. Being Different

  5. Having everyone know about my ED

ALL OF THESE FEARS ARE VALID! Diet Culture makes it so that when we don't fit the mold, we stick out and it's not okay!

SO, we show up and we redefine fear.


If we can't beat fear, we have to do it scared.

Recovery is going to make you stronger and more resilient.

None of this is fair. We can come together as a community to work on initiatives to change the status quo BUT we have to take care of ourselves first before we can truly do good for society.

SO prioritize your recovery and know:

  1. You do not owe anyone an explanation

  2. Just because a lot of people are doing something doesn't mean its right

  3. Most people don't have the education surrounding nutrition and diet culture to even understand what they are engaging in

  4. You are going to be a role model for someone looking on who is also struggling

  5. Recovery makes everything better

IF you are struggling or have a question about how to handle some of these situations. Reach out! We are here to help!

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