Dear Virgie, about a week into her diet, my friend started distancing herself from me. She stopped reaching out and communication went dark.
My closest friend and I are having a struggle. We’ve known each other for about one and a half years and have been next to inseparable a lot of that time. We hung out every week. We’d text almost daily. It was as solid a friendship as I thought could exist. Recently, my dear friend went on a “juice cleanse diet.” I don’t have the extreme details, but from what I gather, it’s a regime where you only drink juice for weeks and weeks.
About a week into her diet, she started distancing herself from me. She stopped reaching out and communication went dark. Since her diet is radically restrictive, she has declined invites to meals and a few other invites to spend time with me — even if they were non-food related. I made it a point to not include food in some activities in hopes she’d join. I’ve stepped back and am trying to let things run their course, but I feel compelled to speak with her about how I’m feeling. She has struggled with anorexia in her life and I don’t want to say anything to trigger that or further damage the friendship. Your words have helped me through some tremendously stressful things, so any wisdom you have on the subject would be very helpful.
Thanks for being the raddest fat babe I follow.
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I must start by saying that I am not an eating disorder expert, and so my advice should be read with that in mind.
The self-isolation could be caused by any number of factors. For example, she may feel a compulsion to create distance from people she believes may not co-sign on her diet (just FYI, it’s not your or anyone’s job to co-sign on things that they don’t want to), a desire to control any possible factors that could threaten her food restricting, or she might feel ashamed.
I want to tell you that no matter what the cause, it is not your fault that she has pulled away from your friendship. Her distancing has nothing to do with you. Remember: she (like everyone) is struggling with her own demons. Diets do really weird things to people, like altering behavior and mindset sometimes.
I think since you are close friends and you are worried about her, it’s definitely OK to bring it up. As scary as it might sound, you can’t pretend this isn’t happening and that it isn’t affecting you. Trying to anticipate other people’s needs often goes awry. So, rather than allowing your concern about triggering her to preside over your decision-making, I think you need to try to start a conversation.
I think, preliminarily, I would encourage you to reach out soon and ask her if she’s OK and if she’s in need of urgent support. If she says yes, it might be time to reach out and get external support. If she says no or she doesn’t reply at all, here’s what I would keep in mind:
1. Don’t catastrophize
I know you’re worried about your friend, but it’s important to stay grounded. Don’t presume the worst-case scenario. You don’t know if she’s been triggered back into ED behavior. You don’t know if she just needs some time alone to figure stuff out. It’s important to remember that it’s not your job to speculate on all the possible scenarios and take on a sense of responsibility for her overall well-being.
2. Put a deadline on next contact
I recommend putting a date on the calendar for “if I haven’t heard from her by (date), I will reach out and let her know I’d like to talk about not having seen her recently.” I would also figure out how you want to reach out: phone call, text, email. Once you put it on the calendar, try not to think about it again until that date comes.
3. It’s OK to be scared
It can be scary approaching a friend who has distanced themselves. We don’t want to lose the friendship. Just remember: fear is sometimes a natural part of doing stuff that matters to us.
4. Be curious
Rather than presuming you know what’s going on with her, be open and ask genuine questions. I think it’s OK to tell her what’s going on with you (because you know what’s going with you), but when it comes to what’s going on with her, make no presumptions.
5. You can’t force her to communicate with you.
Friendships are about reciprocity. And it’s possible she can’t be there for you right now. What matters is that you remain honest and authentic with yourself and your needs. If you need to be mad or sad or frustrated, that’s OK.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help women who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.