Proud2Bme | 5 Ways to Establish Boundaries with Loved Ones with Body Image Issues

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5 Ways to Establish Boundaries with Loved Ones with Body Image Issues

By Emily Benko, Kaitlin Irwin, Michelle Zaydlin and Danielle Lowe--In eating disorder recovery, there is a real power in saying no.  We learn to shout “NO!” to toxic relationships—and to scream “YES!” to boundaries.

Boundaries establish autonomy, empowering you to connect with your true identity—not the one shaped by those nearest and dearest in your life. Although recovery requires a support system, it’s imperative to recognize that it’s not guaranteed that all of your loved ones will provide the kind of reinforcement and cheerful applause you not only need, but undeniably deserve.

Eating disorder recovery is a challenge in itself—without taking on the metaphorical baggage of others—so why tote around someone else’s toxic luggage and compromise your well-being? Here are five ways to create boundaries with loved ones who are struggling with their own body image concerns:

1. Remember that each person has their own specific boundaries.

Your idea of “going too far” is going to be different from someone else’s, even if you have the same disorder. Loved ones should try to establish what constitutes “stepping over the line” in terms of body image. For example, you could be at the point now where it’s totally fine if someone tells you that you look great/healthy/filled out—but at a different stage in your recovery, that could have triggered a relapse. Set clear guidelines, and don’t be afraid to change them—recovery is not a straight line, and it’s perfectly okay to change your limits if they’re not working for you anymore.

2. Keep a notebook in which everyone can write down their thoughts.

You can keep this notebook on the coffee table, on a shelf, wherever. Make it accessible to everyone in your household. Not only can the person struggling write down their thoughts or feelings, but their support(s) can, too. Even something as simple as, “I feel really discouraged right now and would prefer to not talk about it until I’m ready” can be delivered—and received—much more calmly in writing.

3. Be honest with yourself and with others.

Often, other people don’t understand eating disorders, or they may not know that someone has been struggling. Be honest with yourself about what topics you find triggering—that will help you to be more honest with those around you. You can educate others and set boundaries for yourself by sharing which topics you prefer to discuss and which topics are more difficult.

4. Speak to them as you want to be spoken to about body image, food, clothes, etc.

Model the behavior you would like to see from them. If the conversation turns to the number of calories in the dessert your family is eating, change the subject respectfully but decisively.

5. Set a good example.

In our society it has become acceptable to have conversations around body image, calories, weight, etc. In fact, these conversations have become the norm. Set an example by having conversations on topics other than food, calories and body image. By modeling that you prefer to discuss other topics, you can set a good example for others and set boundaries for yourself.

What else would you add to our list? Tell us in the comments below! 

For more on body image, check out:

Yes, We Still Need Body Positivity

5 Reasons Why Self-Love Matters

Your Ultimate Body-Shaming Survival Guide

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.