Boundaries With Family and Eating Disorders

Here, we often reference eating disorders as a ‘family disease’.

Some wonder how can that be if only one person has disordered eating? The truth of the matter is eating disorders are a genetic disease that are triggered by environment, i.e. Family. Here we’ll explore how to have a healthy relationship with our family members and yet keep a boundary up that protects our recovery and individuality.

Belonging to a family is much like belonging to a grammar school, Junior High, High School and College. One is taught lessons about life, the world and themselves and then graduate on to the next level. However, the problem with some eating disordered families is that they are at times over protective, controlling and intimidating, which does not cultivate an environment to learn and grow in. The result is we have a family member who is stuck in grammar school when they really need to be in college. However, the dynamics of the individuals family don’t allow for growth. Here we’ll go over some simple verbal communication skills that will help an individual to grow out of an eating disorder.


Most families have a “theme”. A common denominator that keeps everyone together; sometimes it’s sports, dance, music, charity work, intelligence, success etc… What do you think happens when someone doesn’t align with the family theme? They are regarded as the ‘Black Sheep’ of the clan. The Black Sheep sometimes isn’t even a far cry from the family and at times, acts as if they are happy in the family while on the inside they are screaming to get out. In order to protect ones own identity everyone needs to be able to communicate their emotions honestly to their family members, such as, “Thank you for offering to pay for an entire year of dance classes for me, but I really want to focus on soccer.” Sometimes families don’t agree and they have every right to be honest with us, but they can’t be honest with us, unless we are first honest with them about what we truly want from life.


Working at the Vic, you hear a lot of stories. I have yet to meet a client that wasn’t in some kind of co-dependent relationship with a mother, father, sibling or child.Co-Dependency is putting one’s own needs on the wayside to take care of another persons needs for approval and self esteem. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that love is sacrificing and though at times it is, a love that sacrifices one’s own desires the majority of the time is not the result of ‘love’ it’s the result of imbalance. A healthy relationships is one where each individual can voice their opinion and say, “I would love to help you with that project, but I have a lot of obligations right now and can’t. I’m sorry.” If that statement sounds bold to you, you might need to practice saying it over and over again because being able to confidently speak up for oneself is an essential part of life.

Time –

I genuinely think that the people in my family are some of the most fascinating characters I have ever met. We can laugh and talk for days. However, that doesn’t mean just because we CAN we SHOULD. Though my family is stimulating and fun, so is a roller coaster. But, if you go on a roller coaster all day long you’re going to get pretty discombobulated. The same thing happens for me with my family. My family triggers me in ways that challenge me, but aren’t necessarily healthy to expose myself to for a 18 to 24 hour period. Therefore I
set time limits on the time we spend together. I let them know in advance, “I’m stoked to celebrate Nana’s Birthday! I’ll see you at 1, but I have to head out at 5.”

I hope some of these verbal communication skills are helpful to you in setting up boundaries with your family. Remember that boundaries are AWESOME things! They are set in place to protect what is valuable, which in this case is YOU. You are a valuable individual that is entitled to have emotions, opinions and a voice to express who you were created to be!