Your disordered eating or disordered exercise is like an abusive relationship you keep going back to.

When stopping dieting or starting eating disorder recovery, you are entering into a new relationship with yourself.  

Before it was you and your disordered eating.  But now, you finally decided to break up with your disordered eating self, who was basically an abusive ex-boyfriend who you kept going back to for years even though he was ruining your life.  I mean, think about it.  You should be in relationships that help you live a better life and feel vibrant + alive.  This abusive relationship likely:

  • forces you to manipulate your body size
  • makes you do 30-day sugar cleanses
  • tells you that you can’t trust your hunger
  • terrifies you with bits of sensational nutrition information that forces you (out of fear) to eliminate gluten and eat plant-based everything
  • fills your head with lies like: “if you eat non-organic food and/or dairy and/or carbs you will get every chronic disease ever”
  • leads you to believe that this relationship that you’re in and what you’re having to put up with is normal and isn’t really that bad
  • limits your only carb sources to sweet potatoes and quinoa
  • tells you the food at restaurants is made differently and you should be careful around it
  • leads you to binge on “bad” foods
  • forces you to weigh and measure food
  • tells you your worth comes from your weight
  • pushes you to compulsively exercise 

Like seriously.  Why are you staying in a relationship with a person who does all those things to you? Time to break up with him.

Now you’re breaking up with that person and venturing into a relationship with your internal cues.  Dieting and your eating disorder are external authorities that teach you to disregard your internal authority.  In this new relationship you’re about to start, you want to turn the volume down on external influences (aka your dieting friends, pinterest meal plans, clean food instagram accounts, etc.) and start to attune to internal cues/values.  You want your interior cues to inform your exterior behavior…you don’t want your exterior influences to inform your interior soul.  If you can’t separate you internal cues/values from your disordered eating ways, I’d love to support you in helping you find your healthy self again.  

Some things that may be different in your new relationship:

  1. In your relationship with your disordered eating/exercise, you were taught the mirror should be a tool of change.  Umm, the mirror should actually be a tool of acceptance.
  2. To be in a healthful relationship you have to nurture your CURRENT relationship…not past, unhealthy relationships.  This means you probably shouldn’t visit places you know your ex-boyfriend (aka your diet/ED self) would hang out.
  3. Your old relationship was a firework.  Now you are moving to a new relationship that feels like a warm glowing fire where everyone is making s’mores and it’s fab.  Dieting and your ED may have felt sensational and exciting for a minute, but moving away from you disordered ways is a step towards a warm and comforting fulfillment that will fill up your soul.  Umm, yes please.  I want relationships that fill up my soul.

This post is really about encouraging you to allow yourself to be in a process of growing closer to who you’re meant to be, by leaving behind the parts of you that are keeping you from being YOU!  In my Food Psych episode I mentioned my latest favorite metaphor for the recovery process, which is…

When Michelangelo spoke about carving The David he said, “David was always there.  I just chipped away at what wasn’t David.” I think it’s the same for the eating disorder recovery process.  The true YOU is always there.  You just have to start chipping away at the parts that are currently attached to you that are actually your disordered eating and not truly you.

Isn’t that beautiful? I’m so in love with that metaphor.

Some thoughts & questions to encourage pondering + comments below:

  • How are you nurturing yourself and not your disordered eating behaviors?
  • Are you carrying around your own torture (aka your disordered eating behaviors)? Maybe you’re not meant to carry around what’s dragging you down so much.  {thanks to C.S. Lewis for this one:)}
  • Is your current mentality with food and exercise helping to create a better life for yourself?
  • What is currently keeping you stuck in your disordered eating habits?
  • Courage to change is not the absence of fear, but the awareness that something else is more important.  Gotta know what ya value, people.
  • You are not here to perform in a certain way for others.  You are supposed to contribute, create, and participate in your life.  Is your disordered eating or exercise habits a way to perform for others?
  • You can’t achieve optimal health (aka an optimal relationship with yourself) if you’re 1) eating for reasons other than hunger in an effort to numb away from emotions OR 2) under eating, which robs you of concentration and endurance.

Love to you<3


  1. hi kylie..i love how you’re working so hard at creating and spreading awareness on ED among other things. but having seen both ED and physical abuse very closely, can I please request you to take down the main banner as it is highly insensitive for victims of both as both issues cannot be thus compared and judged. if this offends you, i apologise but i do feel that it is important to refrain from making any generalised quotes and statements as we have no idea how each victim of either will perceive them. therir mindframe while being here is of utmost importance and care should be exercised to not do anything that might drive them down a rabbit hole

    • I have to agree with this statement… I think it’s insensitive to be comparing ED to an abusive relationship that
      “you just keep going back to.” As someone who was once in abusive relationship I find this offensive… love your blog Kylie, but “moving to a new relationship that feels like a warm glowing fire where everyone is making s’mores and it’s fab” is harder than it looks. Would appreciate it if you take the title down… Thanks

      • I’ve been going back and forth on posting this post for awhile now. I use this metaphor frequently with clients and over the past 2 years I’ve seen it be one of the things that help clients realize how destructive their eating habits truly are to their health. Because I’ve seen it help people, that’s why I decided to share it here.

        I also very intentionally did not use the word “just.” As in it’s a relationship “you JUST keep going back to.” I know ending these unhealthful relationships (with parts of yourself or others) are extremely difficult and I would not have minimized that with the word “just.”

        I got a similar reaction to the reaction that the two of you are expressing when I shared this post ( on instagram, so I figured this wouldn’t sit well with some. I never mean to be hurtful, insensitive, or lack empathy.

    • Just to offer another perspective…I experienced with emotional/verbal abuse from my father in my childhood and while it wasn’t a romantic relationship that I was in so I can’t comment on that aspect, I thought abuse was a really helpful analogy. I think those who have EDs and abuse victims both need to really learn how to love and care for themselves, the importance of which seemed to be a big theme of this post. 

  2. ED are truly abusive relationships. What’s scary about leaving any kind of relationship is not knowing if what else is out there is any good. It takes time and a whole lotta faith. I pray that voices that tell of the beauty of life after recovery can be heard and understood by all those suffering. 

    • Agreed, Kate<3 I tell clients frequently that ED recovery can seem like a lot of blind leaps of faith. It makes it important to have a treatment team you trust for this.

  3. I love this, it really puts healing and moving away from old behaviors in a good perspective! I feel like when someone is is in an unhealthy relationship, their loved ones always say that the person doesn’t act like themself. I was listening to a Geneen Roth interview recently, she said something along the lines of trying to control your weight is essentially a relentless attempt to be someone else. In both situations, the unhealthy relationship is forcing you to move away from your true self. Like you say, healing alows the true you to be reborn :)

    • Hi Annie, Thanks for sharing that Geneen Roth quote –>trying to control your weigh is essentially a relentless attempt to be someone else. I love that!

  4. As always, love your post. Always just what I need to read to get me through another day on my journey out of my ED. 

    I think for me personally, I deal with an inner sense of guilt that makes it challenging to drop some of my old ED behaviors. For example, I was a member at a local gym and I simply joined over a year ago because I thought it was going to transform my body and be what I “needed”. I have probably only gone to that gym 3-4 times in the past 6 months and while I know deep down that is okay, it’s hard when people from the gym are always asking where I am and why I’m not still coming, etc. It’s not that I don’t love the people there, because there are so many great members, but it’s just not a healthy place for me to be all the time like I used to. Instead, I’m making it another option of movement when it’s what I’m craving. For me, it’s a lot more refreshing and freeing to do that than force myself to wake up before 5AM to go there when I don’t want to. 

    Also – I just thought of this concept this morning. Instead of constantly trying to change ourselves or “better” ourselves, can’t we just be happy with where we are at right now? I mean, I’m all for self improvement, especially for ED behaviors, but we still need to find contentment with where we are today versus always making goals and lists to what we need to be better at. Just a thought! :) 

  5. Love this. Just love it. Thank you for being bold and writing such a candid post! So, so true that it is essentially an abusive relationship with ourselves. xx

  6. To the note about carrying around your own torture-what about if we don’t know if we are carrying it around? I know I am struggling right now figuring out if something I don’t like (donuts for example) is a result of the fact that I haven’t had one in so long or because I have told myself for so long that I don’t like donuts due to my disordered eating habits that they are bad for me. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes, especially when you have deprived yourself of a food for so long (years) that you have convinced yourself you don’t like it. Every time I try to eat a donut (I have tried) I just don’t want to, I don’t like them unless they are piping hot, plain, non-cake donuts, which are rare.

  7. I love this post. I think realizing how much of my life I was GIVING UP for my disordered food relationship was ultimately what made me want to change it. This coupled with the idea that I was “performing for others.” I phrased it to myself like this: If I were on an island, all by myself with no one to influence me, no one I had to worry about pleasing or appeasing, who would I be? How much of my body would I be focused on? The answer was very clear. I would want to be healthy, but I definitely wouldn’t worry about having the “perfect” body because…WHY?? And that is the question now… why am I so focused on it and giving up parts of my life for OTHER people?

  8. Add to the list of things your abusive boyfriend likely does…
    – isolates you from relationships (family, friend, romantic) that do nurture your soul. Nothing is as important as your abusive boyfriend.

    How sad!

  9. I want to thank you for sharing what you eat – I’m falling down this rabbit hole of my Instagram feed being flooded with #IIFYM and it’s not a good headspace for me, and makes me feel like I’m doing it all wrong with what I’m eating and how much I am (or aren’t) working out. It’s been harder to keep my head in a positive place since having my son that left me with a decent c section shelf I’m having to make peace with. Thank you for your affirming posts!

  10. Speaking of relationships . . . My disordered eating started before my now spouse, but he definitely strongly influenced me into full-blown eating disorder, which lasted until about a year ago. The hardest part of overcoming my eating disorder has been overcoming his desire for me to be thin and fit and dainty. My husband is an incredible guy. We’ve been married for 6 years and have a baby girl. So though our relationship isn’t perfect (who’s is?) I plan to stick with him for the long-haul. I guess I want to leave disordered eating behind, but take him with me :) I’ve spent the last couple years working on my codependency, which has been huge, but any thought on how to let go of trying to alter myself to be more attractive to him?

    • Hi Helen, sounds like a tough situation. I’m glad you’ve been working through your codependency, something I too had to go to therapy for. I’d recommend finding an ED therapist and dietitian who would offer couples counseling for you and your husband. Love to you<3

  11. Really good honest post Kylie. For me it was really helpful in the initial stages of recovery to use the analogy of an ED as a abusive relationship that I continued to choose. It is always a touchy subject that someone may take the wrong way, but I think everyone can agree your heart is always in the right place :)

    Hope you are well! Have a great Easter x

  12. Way to share a post that you know that not everyone will agree with…but shared it anyway out of the hope that I could help even one person. I think it’s a very useful analogy and frightening accurate in some ways.

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  14. I love the comparison to sunsets! I always think about how I view my friends and think they’re just perfect and whole the way they are, yet knowing some of them see themselves and think of how they need to change. 

  15. I love what you said about nurturing the current relationship you are in. Having gone through an emotionally abusive relationship and being in recovery from anorexia I totally relate to this analogy. It’s hard because the ED or bad boyfriend is familiar, but once you get a taste of freedom you start to realize all that you have been missing and all that your life could be. It helps me to remember that when those eating disorder thoughts get loud. 

  16. Having experienced both, I think this is a very powerful and accurate analogy. They both leave you stuck, helpless, and miserable. They’re both incredibly and indescribably hard to get out of and drain your energy and resources to think about anything else. Thank you, Kylie. I understand why this didn’t go over well with some, but I love that you speak your truth even when it’s risky.

  17. Thank you for sharing this, Kylie! The analogy of returning to an abusive relationship really helped me to understand what I am feeling as I struggle to learn how to be a normal eater after 25 years of not (I’m 35). I’m glad you posted it!!

  18. Where did you find the C.S. Lewis quote?

  19. I appreciate that you compare disordered eating and exercise to an abusive relationship because it is one. When I saw that title I was like yes it is! I also love what you said about nurturing the self you want to be rather than the bad habit you’ve been nurturing for so long. So true!

  20. It’s really interesting, because I experienced a severely abusive relationship in college and it was during that time that I developed my ED. I compared the two a lot throughout my recovery, because I realized that I was saying and doing things to myself that he did when we dated that hurt me so much and I was trying to HEAL and treat myself well. It’s a touchy subject I know, but this analogy can be really helpful and I’m glad you shared it.

    Thanks Kylie!

  21. I really love this post. Ive been a reader for a little while now, but never really comment. But This post spoke to me so much. In fact I sent it to my husband to read as I’m just starting to open up to him about my unhealthy relationship with food. I recently started therapy and reading Intuitive Eating so it’s still easier to explain myself by giving him things to read that really resonate with me, rather than to try to articulate in my own words how I’m feeling in the moment. I can’t often find the words to really describe the depth of my unhealthy relationship with food, but this post went there. Before I even read it I described my food relationship to him saying that I’ve used food as my best friend, yet I’ve also looked at it as my worst enemy. I’ve also been in an abusive relationship I can say the similarities are on point. For me personally, this comparison gives me hope for my own recovery. Thank you!

  22. I wonder about your perspective on the BBG instagram internet craze. I considered the program and started receiving marketing emails regarding it a few months ago, but more recently came across your blog and Robyn’s and have been immersing myself in the logic and mantras the two of you write about instead. Now that I’ve been thinking differently, the advertising alone of that BBG program seems incredibly destructive to me.

  23. Thank you so much for posting this! I agree wholeheartedly that my relationship with my ED was like an abusive one. It is beautiful today that I can participate in my own life, rather than watching it from the sidelines, because I am choosing to be free. That is what I gain from breaking up with my ED. Freedom to do the things that appeal to me, rather than thinking about what my body looks like, what kinds of foods I can or cannot eat, or how soon can I return to an unhealthy relationship with food to numb out everything I do not want to feel. I can feel emotions today that I was barely in touch with in my ED, good and bad. I can do my writing that I love so much and keep grounded in the values that are a part of. And, it is all beautiful. Most of all, I can experience meaningful relationships; one that fulfill me spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I have a new way of relating to the world around me, without ED lenses clouding my vision and repeatedly telling me that I must keep it around if I want to be valuable.

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