This topic often comes up in my office at all different stages of the eating disorder journey and is a really important topic in recovery and life in general. Mental illness can have a pretty big impact on our finances, and on our ability to manage our money in a way that boosts our financial confidence. Before I answer I just want to make it clear that I am not here to give financial advice – merely to help you understand the ways in which finances and eating disorders can be intertwined.
I don’t think anyone can deny that having an eating disorder can have a significant effect on finances, and/or the mentality we have around money. For many people, their relationship with money can be an extension of the relationship they have with their eating disorder and with themselves. For example, those who restrict may struggle to spend money – even on things that are required for their recovery, like food, self-care activities, support, etc. For them, the fear of “too much” causes them to go without, even when doing so compromises their wellbeing. On the other hand, those who binge can be compulsive in their spending habits, and may purchase in excess because it feels soothing in that moment. For them, the fear of “going without” can feel incredibly overwhelming – even when the extra spending actually increases their overall suffering. Either way, shame and guilt about how we spend our money can feed our disordered thoughts and feelings and make it harder for us to find balance.
When it comes to recovery, many of the supports we need (like therapy and meal support), cost money, which can easily increase anxiety around spending habits. While I am not recommending that you put yourself at financial risk, it is important to look at the supports you need to move forward and then work on regulating your anxiety around the financial implications. It is, for example, normal to have to spend money on food and to invest in nourishing yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. While this might feel difficult if you are used to restricting your purchases, food and otherwise, this investment is not just important, but critical, to your recovery. We can’t recover by continuing to inadequately nourish our bodies. The same can be true for those who are prone to overspending – by learning how to regulate your anxiety before and during shopping trips, you can avoid purchasing more than what you actually need or intended to buy.
It’s also important to remember that millions of people, of all ages, genders, and income levels, experience financial stress in their lives. You are not alone, and you are not any less of an adult if this is something you are struggling with. We all achieve competency through practice, and through being honest with ourselves about where our real difficulties lie. Trying to recover from an eating disorder and simultaneously manage your finances in an often-expensive society is not always easy – but it can be learned.
What I typically recommend is to take some time to explore your own personal relationship with money, and ask for support when and where needed. Turning to people you trust or who could help you will move you towards greater security. This alone will help you feel more confident and less anxious. One of the most honest things you can do is write down what your relationship with money looks like, so you can see what is working well and what may be contributing negatively to your disorder and overall mental health. As you become more familiar with your habits, you can focus on continuing to strengthen your healthy habits while challenging the ones that are more destructive.
Understanding your relationship with money is important; not only because it is one you will have for the rest of your life, but also because it can move you closer towards living a recovered and fulfilling life.