Why Healthy Communication Skills Are Essential to Eating Disorder Recovery

Why Healthy Communication Skills Are Essential to Eating Disorder Recovery by Timberline Knolls Staff

Living with an eating disorder can affect a person’s health and life in so many ways. And because these illnesses are so complex, they also often influence the way an individual communicates with others. That’s why developing healthy communication skills is such a critical component of successful recovery from an eating disorder.

How Eating Disorders Can Affect Communication

When someone is struggling with an eating disorder, it is crucial for them to maintain healthy communication with their main support system, whether that’s family members, a significant other, friends, or even members of their care team. However, many factors in a person’s life can influence how they perceive a message and whether they feel heard and supported throughout their recovery journey.

Some people who are grappling with the symptoms of an eating disorder may interpret a communication differently than intended because of the way the illness is affecting them and because of various factors in their life. For example, in response to a statement like, “you look healthy,” an individual who has an eating disorder may hear, “you got fat,” says Martha Peaslee Levine in Eating Disorders: A Paradigm of the Biopsychosocial Model of Illness.

Lack of communication can also sometimes convey unintended messages. Sometimes, loved ones stop asking an individual about their healing progress if they seem to be doing well or are at a good point in their healing journey, says Levine, and they may interpret that to mean that their family members don’t care about the illness they are struggling with anymore.

“We need to understand that eating disorders are not only isolating for the individual, but also often for the family as well as they try to cope with the rules and expectations that the eating disorder demands,” Levine said.

Learning how to communicate effectively, especially with members of your support system, can increase the likelihood of having better, longer-lasting recovery outcomes.

A Pathway to Healthier Communication

Starting to communicate with loved ones in a healthier way can help you heal past wounds and build a stronger foundation for the future as you embark on your recovery journey. Some ways you can get on the path to healthier communication include:

  • Communicate more often – Sometimes, what is left unsaid can lead to miscommunication. Checking in with one another more regularly and intentionally can build a better emotional connection with those closest to you.
  • Use active listening – Be present when your loved ones are talking, and show an active interest in what they are saying. If you feel concerned about anything, ask questions to get clarification so that there are no misunderstandings.
  • Have recovery-focused conversations – It’s crucial to understand how discussing weight gain or loss, physical appearance, or the foods you eat can affect a person who is in recovery from an eating disorder. Avoiding those topics or talking about how to set healthy boundaries around those topics can help keep communication open.
  • Practice compassion – The recovery process can be challenging, and it’s likely that someone will unintentionally hurt or disappoint another despite their best efforts to be a better communicator. Having compassion for one another will help you and your loved ones overcome conflicts as you progress on your path to healing.

Healthy communication can be difficult for anyone but is particularly challenging for those who are battling the compulsion to engage in disordered eating behaviors. Working closely with your loved ones to open lines of communication can strengthen your bonds and build stronger relationships that help support you through the eating disorder recovery process.