By: Susan Parish-Walker, M.S., L.P.C.
Clinical Director at The Walker Wellness Clinic at Cooper Aerobics Center
Why are relationships so important in the world that we live in? First of all, having a healthy relationship with others helps prolong one’s lifespan and gives one support, encouragement, and hope for the future. When one has developed a formal eating disorder, it impacts their relationship with others and often social isolation sets in and that individual feels lonely and disconnected from their support system .The question that this individual often raises is whether or not they emotionally distanced from others or did their friends and loved ones move away. In my years of treating eating disorder patients, it was always interesting how often the patient viewed the social isolation as rejection and that their friends and loved ones had emotionally abandoned them. The Eating Disorder Inventory III is an assessment that we use in the clinic and one of the clinical scales measures intimacy. Patient are perhaps reluctant to build relationships since they may have been betrayed (i.e., date rape, termination or divorce of significant relationship). Hence, this makes it very challenging for them to learn to trust again and reach out to others. Patients often report that they are not cognizant of the fact that they no longer respond to emails, text messages, social invitations, and do not return or acknowledge phone calls. Moreover, they sometimes do not feel that they fit into their peer group because they are one of the “good girls or boys” and do not conform to some of the peer pressures such as using alcohol and drugs, engaging in premarital sex, or other behaviors such as acting out? Hence, this was not popular in certain social circles and they no longer felt that they belonged with the “in crowd!”
Regardless, of where the social isolation and emotional distance lies, it becomes very lonely and emotionally painful for the person who suffers from the eating disorder. Most social settings are centered around food such as pizza parties, happy hours, football games with snacks, dining out, etc. and this in itself can be very anxiety provoking for someone who struggles with a food addiction. Perhaps for them it is easier to avoid being in a social setting since you do not have to cope with eating in front of others.
Once the recovery process from an eating disorder begins, the social isolation dissipates and the patient begins to value the meaning of a support system and the anxiety of eating in front of others begins to be less stressful. If one has a dysfunctional relationship with food, it is challenging to learn to have a relationship with others and build a healthy support system. Therefore, the road to recovery is imperative to incorporate how to overcome the fear of rejection or intimacy and embrace the significance of building healthy relationships with others as well as a healthy relationship with food!