Insensitive Family Members and Eating Disorder Recovery

April 6, 2023 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Last week, I wrote about feeling embarrassed to talk about my eating disorder in face-to-face conversations. This week, I remembered why I experienced that level of embarrassment. I was raised in a climate of body shaming, forced to interact with relatives who see no issue with fatphobic comments and behaviors. I have family members who are insensitive to recovery from my eating disorder (ED).

To be clear: I am not talking about my parents, who are solid, reliable champions of the work I've done to heal. But with that said, not everyone I share a genetic link with has been compassionate to—or even mindful of—the impact their words or actions can have on a person's body image. Since I am far from the only one who deals with insensitive family members in eating disorder recovery, I want to talk about this complex, often harmful dynamic.   

My Experience with Insensitive Family Members in ED Recovery

I live more than 2,000 miles away from most of my relatives, and the physical distance makes it easy to reinforce emotional boundaries with them. However, this past week, I flew across the country to reunite with these family members in honor of my grandmother's 90th birthday celebration. Because I do not spend much time within that familial context anymore, it was jarring to hear some of my relatives spout off frequent body-shaming remarks in a casual, dismissive way.

This used to be the status quo for me, but as an adult healing my relationship with body image, I've become viscerally aware of how such behavioral patterns can influence someone's mental health. I know from firsthand experience that it only takes a few weight-centric conversations to internalize the message: It's unacceptable to be anything outside of mainstream Western society's "thin ideal." As such, it astounds me to hear my own relatives continue harping on this toxic (not to mention inaccurate) bias. I have been in eating disorder recovery for a long time, so fatphobic comments from insensitive family members don't trigger me anymore, but I find them irritating nonetheless. There's no reason to criticize another human body—full stop. 

I Tune Out Insensitive Family Members for My ED Recovery

Ultimately, I have no control over anyone else's words or actions. All I can dictate are my responses to those I interact with and whether or not I allow their behavior to influence my own. I am not liable for the body-shaming criticisms that might come out of a person's mouth, but I do have a responsibility to shut down this conversation topic or walk away altogether if necessary. I also must hold myself accountable not to use those remarks as justification to overexercise or restrict calories. Familial dynamics can be exasperating, but I won't remain complicit in the dysfunction. I choose to tune out insensitive family members for the sake of my eating disorder recovery.

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2023, April 6). Insensitive Family Members and Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

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