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Binge eating disorder commonly causes people to self-isolate, leaving them without the company of others and the social support they need. Though necessary, social distancing orders could make matters worse, resulting in near-complete isolation from family, friends, and the community at large. For children, isolation orders could also mean not seeing their biggest advocates and often results in them spending a lot more time alone.

Even as the orders lift, all these individuals may choose to continue to remain isolated as their eating disorder causes an urge to self-isolate. This can prove detrimental to their health and wellbeing, especially as their disordered thoughts and behaviors grow ever worse. 

Friends and family members can help by understanding why people with binge eating disorder self-isolate. Then, with that information in mind, they can encourage them to enter treatment and get the care they need to become fully recovered. 

Causes of Self-Isolation

Even without stay-at-home orders, isolation becomes a part of daily life for those with binge eating disorder. The urge to self-isolate often happens gradually as disordered thoughts and behaviors take hold. The following factors contribute to this urge and often make it difficult to move out of isolation without help from a skilled eating disorder therapist. 

Shame and Guilt

Shame-based beliefs are extremely common in adolescents and teens with binge eating disorder. This feeling often comes from a fear of disgusting or disappointing their family and friends if they do not hide their eating disorder. They may even feel ashamed of their inability to resist the urges and become recovered without help. Guilt typically arises as they hide their problems from the people they love.

As shame and guilt worsen, the urge to isolate becomes stronger and stronger. This is a self-perpetuating cycle that can suck the joy out of life and make it difficult to reach out for help. Throughout it all, these feelings can change how individuals perceive themselves and approach their relationships until they can challenge their beliefs in treatment.

Feeling Unworthy of Connections

With shame and guilt comes low self-esteem and/or feeling unworthy of meaningful personal connections. Teens and adolescents with binge eating disorder might erroneously feel like they waste people’s time or bring them down. This causes them to pull into themselves in a misguided effort to protect their friends and family from their presence. Self-isolation continually grows worse as a result, reinforcing those beliefs and leaving them without much-needed support.

Unwillingness to Share Feelings

When teens and adolescents feel unworthy of connections and ashamed of themselves, they are often unwilling to share their feelings with others. The people who know them best, however, will often notice that something is wrong whenever they come together. If this occurs often, then their drive to self-isolate will become much stronger as a way to protect their inner thoughts and feelings. 

Urge to Hide Disordered Behaviors

Low self-esteem and shame drive adolescents and teens with binge eating disorder to hide their disordered behaviors. They may feel like if people find out, then the disappointment and worry will become overwhelming. They might also feel like they cannot resist the urge to binge eat while around others, leaving them unable to enjoy group meals and outings with friends and family. With that, they end up self-isolating to keep from revealing their challenges to those in their inner circle.

As individuals with binge eating disorder turn to self-isolation as a way to cope with these difficulties, they become trapped in a harmful cycle. The isolation increases their challenges and, in turn, makes it difficult to avoid the urge to self-isolate. 

Ways Self-Isolation is Harmful

When it continues for an extended period, self-isolation can prove very harmful for teens and adolescents with binge eating disorder. They often have a harder time seeking the help they need to become recovered and may not even recognize the need for treatment. Here’s a look at several of the problems self-isolation can cause.

Decreases Self-Esteem

When isolated, teens and adolescents do not receive the small pick-me-ups that come with engaging with others. Without accolades, compliments, and the like, they are only left with their inner voice, which can often sound quite critical. Self-esteem plummets, as a result, leaving them feeling bad about themselves and contributing to the critical inner voice.

This is compounded by the impact binge eating disorder already has on self-esteem. Many have trouble seeing themselves in a positive light as they are unable to overcome the urge to binge eat. Changes to their body weight and size can contribute as well, which further serves to decrease their perceptions of self-worth. 

Boosts Risk of Depression

Even without binge eating disorder complicating matters, isolation can increase the risk of depression. Most people are simply not wired to spend copious amounts of time separate from their family, friends, and community. 

While isolated, teens and adolescents might feel disconnected from the world around them, which leaves them without anyone to lean on for support. Their spirits may start to fall as they move through each day on their own. Even when self-imposed, the isolation is often too much to bear while depression leaves them feeling like there is no way out.

Increases Eating Disorder Symptoms

Most individuals with binge eating disorder will only experience disordered behaviors in private. If anyone is around, they may attempt to eat in a socially-acceptable way. Or they may choose to skip that meal altogether if they feel like they cannot avoid the urge to binge eat.

When self-isolated, however, the absence of social pressures allows eating disorder symptoms to increase without notice. Their symptoms are likely to increase in both frequency and severity without stopping until they decide to enter treatment. 

Eliminates Social Support

Isolation leaves kids and teens without adequate social support and often makes them feel like they are on their own. With that, their state of wellbeing might start to decline alongside their life satisfaction. The lack of a social support network also tends to increase their negative self-perceptions and makes it more difficult to cope with any challenges that arise.

While self-isolated, their relationships may start to degrade and leave them feeling more alone than ever. Rebuilding those relationships can take time and effort, often resulting in them feeling like it is a lost cause. Once they enter treatment, the absence of social support can make it harder to become and remain recovered, though it is not impossible. 

Delays Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

Individuals with binge eating disorder often have a difficult time seeing their thoughts and behaviors as disordered. Instead, they may justify and gloss over their challenges, remaining optimistic that they do not need treatment.

While in isolation, they may not have anyone to challenge those rationalizations and help them understand their situation in full. This can delay binge eating disorder treatment by quite a long time, allowing their symptoms to continually worsen in the meantime. 

Whether self-imposed or ordered by an outside entity, isolation has the potential to cause real harm in the end. Everyone needs to make personal connections from time to time — and that is especially true when working on becoming recovered from eating disorders. Treatment centers know this well, which is why they make it their mission to keep self-isolation at bay at all times. 

How Eating Disorder Treatment Reduces Self-Isolation

While in binge eating disorder treatment, everyone can rest assured that the program is designed to reduce self-isolation. Although the urge might still exist at first, their daily schedule makes isolation impossible. The many different activities everyone participates in allows them to engage with others and make connections. Through that approach, they can avoid the harmful effects of isolation and build the foundation they need to become and remain fully recovered.  

Activities that can prevent self-isolation include: 

Group Therapy

Daily group therapy sessions bring many individuals together to share their stories, vent their frustrations, and gain support. In addition to serving as a safe space to talk, the group sessions also revolve around learning important life skills. 

Eating disorder therapists may introduce many different therapy models, such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Interpersonal process

Everyone can then work together to build the skills they need to overcome their personal challenges and become recovered. They can help and encourage each other, keeping motivation levels high through every session. This serves to help increase self-esteem and decrease the risk of depression while making it easier for everyone to become recovered from eating disorders.

Family Programming

Binge eating disorder treatment centers make family involvement a priority through every stage of the care process. They offer weekly family therapy on an individual and group basis through both onsite and remote means. During those sessions, everyone can voice their concerns, provide mutual support, and repair dysfunctional family dynamics. 

Family also plays a vital role in the support exposure therapy process. These exposure exercises help everyone relearn how to approach mealtimes, outings, and much more. They assist in gaining confidence in newfound abilities and ensure teens and adolescents can easily transition back home after becoming recovered. 

With family involvement, the urge to self-isolate dissipates as it removes the need for secrecy. Self-isolation also becomes much less important as kids discover that their family loves and supports them despite their challenges. 

Shared Meals

When people come together for meals, they build strong social connections that provide lasting benefits. Before entering treatment, many kids with binge eating disorder had already started skipping meals, leaving them feeling estranged from friends and family. Treatment centers eliminate this problem by bringing together therapy groups and family at mealtimes.

The group meals begin at the treatment center, but eventually extend out to outings to restaurants. As they practice having family and group meals in various settings, confidence increases in kind. This helps to prepare them to transition back home after becoming recovered at the treatment center. 

Self-isolation is simply not an option while enrolled in a binge eating disorder treatment program. The daily activities keep everyone working together and interconnected to help them move through the levels with confidence. 

When to Seek Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder

Although everyone needs to remain in isolation right now, faraway family and friends can check in on their loved ones by phone or video chat. During those check-ins, they might be able to pick up on any problems that are developing and start the conversation about binge eating disorder treatment. 

Signs to look for include:

  • Overeating well past feeling full
  • Inability to control eating habits
  • Only consuming food in secret 
  • Feeling ashamed of eating patterns
  • Constantly trying new diets 

Parents may also need to check in with their children more often than normal to compensate for the stress of isolation. Kids might want to hide away while cooped up in the house and far from their friends, but that does not mean they do not need family time. Parents can entice them out with fun games, meals, and other activities, gaining a chance to assess their kids’ wellbeing and watch for the above warning signs. 

When loved ones notice the warning signs, they can call 855-900-2221 for help from the treatment team at Clementine. Admissions specialists will pick up the call and assist families in moving toward the first steps toward helping their loved ones become fully recovered.  


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.