Exercise and healthy eating is something I normally encourage for patients of any age. However, sometimes both can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Many of my patients struggle mightily to rein in such behaviors.
My patient Susannah is a college student whose family is very health conscious. Susannah is battling a strong drive to restrict her eating and overexercise. She feels that her parents don’t understand her struggle and that their attitudes toward food
and exercise (no desserts, daily exercise without fail) are holding back her
recovery. This recent conversation we had deals with how to help her parents understand that healthy behaviors can be carried to an unhealthy extreme.
Susannah: I’ve realized that I grew up in an environment where NOT exercising every day was bizarre and dessert was a rarity. How do I explain to my parents that these behaviors actually aren’t normal? My family has at least a loose awareness of my eating/excercise habits, but doesn’t see them as disordered. I don’t want to criticize my family for the way they live, but at the same time, I know they would want to provide the best environment they can to support my eating disorder recovery. My parents do and always have meant well, and they will want to help me, I am just not sure what is the best way to talk to them about this.
Marcia: One way to explain to your parents that a lifestyle that is extremely rigid about eating and exercise isn’t normal and isn’t healthy for you is to direct them to look at cultures worldwide. Explain to them that this rigorous of a lifestyle is not widespread, and that many countries have just as high a level of health as ours, or higher, but don’t subscribe to fanatic dieting and extreme exercise. You might also say that people’s constitution varies: What works for your parents might not work for you.
You can also point out that though your parents’ eating and exercise habits haven’t caused them any harm, these habits are getting in the way of you regaining your health. Your doctor has found lab abnormalities that more generous eating and less exercise should fix.
I hope that some of you will find this conversation helpful in your own struggles.