Self-Isolation to Self-Love: Relationships & Eating Disorders 

Relationships & Eating Disorders 

Relationships make all the difference in eating disorder recovery. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia are lonely and isolating illnesses. Loved ones provide the support system necessary to deal with the trials and tribulations of recovery, and different types of relationships offer unique benefits and multiple sources of love and support. 


Negative Impact of an Eating Disorder on Relationships  

Meals and physical activity like sports are often group experiences, so it’s no surprise that when a psychiatric illness like an eating disorder affects one’s relationship with food and exercise, it also begins to deteriorate interpersonal relationships as well. Without a proper support system, individuals can fall into a cycle of self-isolation and worsening eating disorder symptoms.  


In the case of many individuals with an eating disorder, slowly over time as the eating disorder develops and disordered eating behaviors take hold, they will self-isolate themselves from family, friends and other loved ones. They might isolate themselves from others because they want to avoid people seeing their behavior, avoid being put into a situation where they might be pressured to eat or feel nervous appearing in public or around others because they have anxiety about their appearance. 

Guilt can also spark self-isolation. Those with eating disorders experience low self-worth, which can make it feel like they are unworthy of meaningful relationships, that they’re not worth people’s time or that they are a drain on those around them. As a result, they may pull themselves away from others, feeding a cycle of their low self-worth causing them to isolate, and their isolation lowering their self-worth. 

Unwillingness to Share Feelings & Struggles 

With shame and guilt comes withholding feelings and struggles. An individual’s urge to self-isolate may become stronger if their loved ones begin picking up on changes in behavior. They might think that if people found out they might be disappointed, angry or upset. They may also feel overwhelmed with what might happen if someone finds out. For example, they might be afraid to enter inpatient treatment, and then not tell anyone if they think they will push them to go. 

Risks of Self-Isolation 

Self-isolation doesn’t come without risk. Without support or intervention, eating disorders can worsen over time in private. 

Increase in Disordered Eating Behaviors 

Disordered eating behaviors thrive in private. Without anyone around, people with eating disorders can skip meals or eat very little, purge or compulsively exercise unnoticed. The absence of social pressures allow eating disorder symptoms to get worse without anyone around to notice. 

Decrease in Social Support 

Isolation leaves people with eating disorders without social support. Without a support system, an individual’s wellbeing and satisfaction may begin to decline and negative self-perception may increase. Combined, these can make it difficult to cope with life's challenges, exacerbating an eating disorder. 

Inability to Form Relationships 

When relationships start to degrade, it can feel very lonely. Rebuilding relationships and creating new ones can take a lot of time and effort, but with low-self worth and negative self-perception, they may feel like relationships are a lost cause. 

Delay of Eating Disorder Treatment 

Individuals with an eating disorder have difficulty seeing their behavior as unhealthy or disordered. They might justify their behavior and downplay its negative impact. When they are isolated, there is no one to challenge their thoughts, which can delay receiving treatment and worsen their disorder in the meantime. 

This is especially dangerous because eating disorders are the second deadliest psychiatric condition. Self-isolation can worsen thoughts of suicide, which is a major cause of death for those with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Approximately one-third of individuals with anorexia and bulimia attempt suicide.G  Eating disorders can also cause severe medical complications, which when left untreated can become deadly. 


Accepting Love During Eating Disorder Recovery 

Relationships are vital to the recovery process. Many people with eating disorders have said that acceptance of a relationship with a loved one was essential to their recovery process.  Relationships provide unconditional love, support, trust and hope that ease the burden of recovery and give people the strength to make a change.  

What is Love? 

Love can be a lot of things. But at its core, it’s the emotion felt and series of behaviors that express concern for the well-being of another. Love can be expressed through affection, compassion, care and self-sacrifice. Love is able to develop, change and vary in intensity over time. Love is central to the human experience, beginning from the moment you’re born. Love is the foundation for many of the most important relationships a person has during their life.  

The Spectrum of Love 

There are many different types of love, each serving a different purpose. While love is typically associated with romance, there isn’t a hierarchy of what type of love is most or least important. Every person has different priorities and may prioritize different types of love over others. Some people find certain forms of love are not a priority at all or that over time the types of love they prioritize change.  


Familial Love 

Familial love is the first type of love you experience. You can relate to your family in a way you can’t relate to others. Your family has known you the longest and likely knows the most about you, and still love you despite everything. Your family has a shared history, culture and quirks that are unlike any other. Those features are what inspire people to cultivate relationships with their existing family or even start their own family. Familial love typically provides unconditional love, loyalty and support. 

Cultivating Family Relationships 

Cultivating healthy family relationships is very important. Studies show that people live longer, experience better emotional regulation and have better coping mechanisms when they have close family bonds. You can cultivate family bonds by: 

  • Spending quality time together: Quality time together, or even a phone call or texting back and forth regularly, keeps family members in the loop about what’s happening in your life 

  • Maintaining good and open communication: It’s important to be able to approach family members and allow yourself to be approached with difficult subjects. Open lines of communication build trust, which allows family members to comfort eachother and solve problems together. 

  • Acknowledge and celebrate differences and strength: You don’t pick your family, which means your family members aren’t necessarily people you would have chosen on your own. Instead of harping on differences, it’s important to acknowledge the value of each family member and appreciate everyone's differences and strengths. 

Abusive, Estranged or Deceased Families 

Not everyone has a supportive family and might not connect with positive familial experiences. Others may have had a supportive family but have experienced great loss and no longer have close family members. Being unable to rely on the people who raised you or were present for a big portion of your life can feel very isolating.  

It can take a long time to heal if your family is abusive, estranged or deceased. Reaching out to a therapist or counselor is a positive first step to addressing these feelings and navigate grief, reunion, boundary setting or moving on from your family.  

Chosen Family  

For those with abusive or estranged families, chosen family can serve the same purpose. A chosen family is a non-biological bond of kinship. Unlike biological family, which you cannot choose, chosen families are defined by choice.  

Chosen families are particularly prevalent within the LGBTQ+ community, when misunderstanding and rejection of their identity leads individuals to seek love and support elsewhere. 


Platonic Love  

Platonic love is one in which there are no romantic feelings. Platonic love is more than being “just friends” and is associated with the highest level of friendship. Platonic relationships are characterized by: 

  • Trust 

  • Confidence 

  • Loyalty 

  • Acceptance 

  • Understanding 

Platonic love also involves high levels of intimacy. Don’t let the word intimacy fool you — in a communicative sense intimacy is built through sharing information and being vulnerable — it has nothing to do with sexual intimacy. 

Platonic love has unique benefits from familial love. Friends are equals in a relationship, unlike in familial relationships where the dynamics between children and other family members are greatly impacted by generational gaps. Friends also have the utility of shared interest and offer unique bonding experiences. 

Cultivating & Maintaining Friendships 

Most people put energy into maintaining their health, exercise, work and family, often forgetting about the importance of cultivating and maintaining friendships. Healthy friendships are important and help decrease stress, anxiety and loneliness while boosting physical health, mental well-being and life satisfaction.  

Being a Good Friend 

If you want good friends, you also need to strive to be a good friend. Good friends are vulnerable, consistent and a positive force in life: 

  • Be vulnerable: Being open and honest with your friends and the ability to admit your mistakes are crucial and allow you and your friends to overcome disagreements and rough patches. 

  • Be consistent: You don’t need to always be there or be there at the drop of a hat, but you should always try to be there when you can and when it’s most important. 

  • Be positive: Uplift your friends, don’t drag them down. Friendships should encourage growth, engagement in life and joy. While feelings like sadness and anger appear in all relationships, friendships should lean on the positive side.  

How Many Friends Do You Need? 

Even though platonic love is more than being “just friends,” many people become insecure over the number of friends they have. The truth is that you don’t need to have many close friends and most people don’t. Most people have three or fewer close friends,A and time and time again it’s been shown that quality of friendships is much more important than quantity.B 

Toxic Friendships 

Some friendships can become toxic, and you may realize that friendships you’ve had for a long time may have been toxic this entire time. Friendships should trend upward. While it’s normal to be angry or upset at each other from time to time, if you find that feelings of anxiety, anger, jealousy, resentment or judgment are common features of your friendship, it could be toxic. 

While you may feel the need to stand by friends who have an eating disorder, if they have no interest in recovery, your mental well-being and physical health are of the utmost importance. If you think being around a friend with an active eating disorder will be overwhelming or trigger disordered eating, you may need to step away to maintain your recovery.  



Self-love is the regard for one’s own well-being and happiness, built through appreciation for one’s value, worth and qualities. Self-love allows you to love others for the right reason and in a better way. Self-love is also the foundation for participating and building healthy relationships, built on mutual respect and understanding. Self-love can decrease anxiety and stress and increase satisfaction, motivation, health and personal growth. 

Practicing Self-Love 

Self-love doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months or years – and for some even decades – to cultivate enduring self-love. However long it takes, there are ways to practice self-love in your day-to-day life: 

  • Using affirmations: Learning how to talk positively to and about yourself can alter the way you think. Even if you don’t mean what you say in the moment, slowly over time affirmations can change your perspective from one of self-deprecation to one of self-love. 

  • Learning to say no: Part of self-love is building healthy boundaries and keeping to them. Saying no when you think someone doesn’t acknowledge your time, possessions, personal space, value etc. is and expression of self-love. 

  • Don’t compare yourself to others: It is said that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and it rings true. You are you, not them. Do not compare yourself to others to make yourself feel bad, instead use it as inspiration. Practicing a little self-compassion can go a long way. 

  • Spend time with yourself: You need to know yourself to love yourself. Get to know yourself by engaging in the hobbies you love, taking time to introspect or setting time aside for meditation. 

  • Ask for help: Self-love means understanding your limitations, and sometimes that means asking for help when you need it. There is no shame in needing help. 


Romantic Love 

Romantic love refers to a specific form of affection, attraction and idealization that can result in a bonded relationship. Romantic love can change over time, starting at infatuation and turning into a form of mature love as time passes. Romantic love is associate with: 

  • Exclusivity 

  • Dependency 

  • Commitment 

  • Acceptance 

  • Physical Affection 

Building a Healthy Romantic Relationship 
  • Know yourself and your wants: You want to start the relationship off right, which means thinking hard about your wants and non-starters. Staying with someone with the hope they will drastically change, especially when it comes to important life decisions like having children, is setting your relationship up for failure. 

  • Communication is key: Open communication is necessary for any long-term relationship. Calm, open and constructive communication is essential for conflict resolution. Make sure your partner feels safe and comfortable approaching you about difficult topics. 

  • Have quality couple time: No matter how busy life gets, remember to have some time to yourselves. Maybe this is one date night a couple times a month, or watching TV for an hour each night. Whatever it is, have some sort of time set aside that is devoted to the two of you. 

  • Have your own time: They might be your “other half,” but you’re not the same person. You need to have time away from your partner to explore your individual interests. Without time away, relationships can feel suffocating. To its extreme, relationships with no time apart can isolate you or your partner. 

  • Show gratitude and appreciation: Each of you brings something unique to the relationship and without both of you the relationship would fall apart. You are both equals in this relationship. Don’t forget to remind your partner how loved and appreciated they are.  

Abusive Romantic Relationships 

Not all romantic relationships are healthy. For individuals with an eating disorder, you may begin to revert to disordered eating behaviors as way to cope with abusive relationships. Abusive partners may encourage you to return to disordered eating behavior to control you. Abusive relationships can be physical, mental and emotional, sexual or financial in nature.  

Here are some signs of an abusive relationship: 

  • Blaming you for everything bad that happens 

  • Unpredictable or erratic behavior 

  • Extreme jealousy, possessiveness and controlling behavior 

  • Forcing you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable or feel wrong 

  • Other abusive behaviors 



ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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