When Emotional Eating Leads to Social Isolation

A strained relationship with food can have a cascade effect on the rest of our lives. Not only does it create anxiety around food and guilt about our choices, but it can cause us to self-isolate, too. This loneliness brings us even more feelings that can be hard to deal with, further moving along the cycle of emotional eating.

The Emotional Eating Cycle

The cycle goes like this: experiencing uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anger, loneliness, stress, etc. –> soothing with food, which can lead to guilt –> punishing ourselves by skipping meals or restricting intake –> deprivation leads to binge eating or eating more than feels good –> more guilt, more soothing, more punishment, and so on.

Bingeing is a protective measure for your body. It’s a survival mechanism that your body uses to get its needs met when it’s deprived, so essentially everything is working the way it should in that situation. But we get stuck in this cycle, and it can be frustrating and overwhelming, so much so that it seems easier to just be alone to deal with it on our own.

We say no to going out to eat with friends or going to birthday or holiday parties where we know there will be plenty of food around. We avoid going to the beach on a hot summer day.

We tell ourselves we’ll wait until we lose weight, until we can fit into an old dress that’s been hanging in the closet gathering dust, until you’re finished dieting, until your body is “ready” to be seen in a bathing suit.

What are we doing to ourselves if we’re isolating ourselves because we don’t want to be seen?

I ask my clients to share with me what their friends love about them. Why do people enjoy spending time with you and being around you? Guess what — not once have they ever mentioned their appearance.

Self-Isolation Does More Harm Than Good

I say this as a textbook introvert — if you’re isolating yourself because you’re not feeling good about your body, it can do more harm than good.

There is a difference between being alone because you’re an introvert and need to recharge, and being alone because you don’t want anyone to look at you.

If it’s the latter, let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with you. The way you feel is valid and a normal response to your triggers. Instead of feeling guilty, think of it this way: isolation is a form of protection. This is an act of love for yourself. You wouldn’t do it if it didn’t benefit you in some way, right? It protects you from what you fear.

But what will help you out more is asking for support from friends and family. When we’re alone, things often seem a lot worse than they are. We get in our own heads and go in circles with our negative thought patterns, no one to check us and help us shift perspectives.

Asking for Support and Setting Boundaries

I know it’s scary to be vulnerable with people. You may be feeling embarrassed about what you’re going through, like a burden for sharing your feelings, unsure how to talk about it. But your friends want to support you! They can only do so if you let them in.

This is important, too, if you’ve been distant and want to explain why. You can share as much as you are comfortable, but be clear how you want their support.

Ask for what you need — do you want advice? Or do you just want someone to listen? Since people have a tendency to try to fix friends’ problems when they vent, be clear about what you’re looking for.

Is it asking them to keep diet talk out of your conversations? Asking to do activities that don’t revolve around food when you hang out? Let them know!

Also, find compassion if their response isn’t ideal. They may be in the same boat as you, but not necessarily as far along as you are to set boundaries.

If anyone gets upset as you create boundaries, there’s a quote I saw on Instagram that I always keep in mind: the only people who get upset when you create boundaries are the ones who benefit from you not having any. Consider this and their response in whether you want to keep them close to you as you heal your relationship with food.

An Opportunity for Richer Relationships

Being open and vulnerable with your friends or others who can support you can help you create greater connection, something we’re sorely lacking these days, and stronger relationships. You’ll be glad you did when your loved ones come through with their support for you!

If you’re in the beginning of the process, I created a free resource for you — the Overcoming Emotional Eating workbook. It helps you learn meet your needs so that you can better understand how to listen to your body. Download it here.

If you’re not ready to share with friends and family just yet, but still need someone to talk to, I’m happy to help. Learn more about how I work with clients to overcome emotional eating here

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