What It’s Like To Date Someone With An Eating Disorder
Some counselors mandate that their patients with eating disorders do not even date until they are fully healed. Since eating disorders are a form of addiction, that does make some sense—alcoholics and drug addicts in AA or NA aren’t supposed to date until they are healed. But an eating disorder doesn’t affect the psyche as strongly as recreational substances do. A person with an eating disorder still has almost total control over their mind and their actions. Only one small part of the brain is affected, but when it is affected, they will act up strongly. That being said, you can carry out a (mostly) stable relationship with someone dealing with an eating disorder, but there are some things you need to know. Here’s what it’s like dating someone with an eating disorder.
She doesn’t want you to know
As someone who is recovered from an eating disorder, I know that when you are in the thick of it, you do not know you have one. Typically, it’s only once someone is recovered from their eating disorder do they understand, looking back, that they had one. For this reason, you cannot use the words “eating disorder” in reference to your partner’s habits. This will upset her, and make her feel like she’s been accused of something. Even if you know she has an eating disorder, you can’t call it out. You can, however, suggest that some of her patterns aren’t good for her.
She’ll cancel plans at the last minute
Making plans with a woman with an eating disorder can be difficult. She might cancel plans you’ve had for weeks—plans you were really looking forward to—at the last minute, with no explanation. A hundred different things could have caused this. Perhaps your girlfriend doesn’t let herself have fun until she’s swam 100 laps but that day, the pool she goes to was closed unexpectedly. Perhaps she binge ate the night before and feels insecure. Unfortunately, people with eating disorders can’t quite be relied on to keep plans.
Pressure and important days are triggers
Events like meeting your parents for the first time, meeting your best friend, going with you to a wedding or being there to support you when you give a speech can be triggers. Stress, of any kind, is typically a trigger for those with eating disorders. If you’re wondering why, of all the days, your partner had to act up the night before meeting your parents you have to understand that meeting your parents is the reason she is acting up.
Don’t tell her to just eat
Eating disorders have very little to do with the body and everything to do with the mind. Your partner may recognize that she is slender and looks good but her brain is suffering from glitches that tell her if she has one piece of pie, that could all go away, or if she doesn’t go for a jog today, she may never jog again.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that you think she’s perfect
It can be very frustrating to date someone with an eating disorder who also suffers from body dysmorphia—a condition in which a person doesn’t see themselves the way others do. You might feel like your compliments and flattery are totally wasted, and she doesn’t appreciate them at all. She does appreciate that you care about her enough to say those things, but she doesn’t believe those things.
Don’t force her to break her habits
You might think you can just force your partner to break her habits—like force her to stay in bed cuddling in the morning when she’d usually get up and run five miles—and if she could just see how good it felt, she’d be healed. But it doesn’t work that way. If you try to force your partner to break a habit, even if you know it’s for her own good, she will panic and then become angry with you. She needs to hit her own breaking point, and stop these habits in her own time. Let her go for the morning run; trying to stop her will only make her feel like you’re the enemy.
You can slowly help her change her habits
As I mentioned before, you can slowly get your partner to change her habits. There is merit in helping her see how enjoyable life can be when you do not obsess over your body. Maybe convince her to stay in bed for 15 extra minutes to cuddle in the morning, rather than asking her to skip her run entirely. Ask her to at least have a few bites of your ice cream cone so you don’t have to finish it alone. Ease her into what life can be like when you’re a little more relaxed about your body.
Her sex drive will be mostly low
No matter what type of eating disorder your partner has, from binging and purging to anorexia, her hormones will be out of whack. That’s just what eating disorders do. This means that her sex drive will be, sorry to say it, mostly low. Don’t take it personally.
The rare times it’s high, she’ll want to act on that
People with eating disorders usually aim for some perceived “perfect body” or “perfect behavior” in their minds. On the days they achieve that, they often want to have sex—they feel like they’ve earned it. On the rare occasion, your partner does have a sex drive, it’s important you don’t turn her down. This is important for several reasons including the fact that, as a couple, sex is an important part of bonding and the fact that turning her down could trigger her bad behaviors. I know—it’s a lot of pressure on you.
Travel is stressful for her
Those struggling with eating disorders usually have very specific routines. They go to bed at the same time every night, get up at the same time every morning, work out for the exact same amount of time at the same time each day and only eat very specific foods. Traveling can, naturally, interfere with their routines. If you want to travel with your partner, you’ll probably have to schedule activities around her habits and make sure she has access to the things she wants like a gym and certain food.
She’ll likely have a strict bedtime
People with anorexia or who use exercise as a form of purging often keep very strict bed times. Women with anorexia may not want to stay up late, because they want to avoid cravings in the middle of the night, or throwing off their specific eating schedule. Exercise purgers want to be up at a certain time to exercise. Regardless of the exact reason, your girlfriend probably won’t be going to that late night party with you.
Your female friends might judge her
Your female friends recognize an eating disorder when they see one. Many of them may have suffered from eating disorders themselves. Your female friends might judge you for dating someone with an eating disorder, or just feel very skeptical of the relationship entirely.
She’ll need to be alone at random times
Those with eating disorders often have habits they don’t want people to see. These could range from repeating certain mantras to themselves, to eating odd combinations of food, to purging. If your girlfriend wants suddenly and often to be alone at random times, this could be why.
Take it easy on diet talk
If you do have even just mild body insecurities of your own, well, unfortunately, those will have to go on the back burner. Someone with a full-blown eating disorder cannot handle being around a lot of body and diet talk. Even small comments about how you’d like to cut back on your red meat intake could set your partner off.
She needs to know why you love her
Women with eating disorders are often very insecure and do not believe—deep down—that they have anything to offer besides their physical body. That’s one of the reasons they work so hard to perfect it. Your partner needs to hear the reasons you love her (aside from her looks) often. She needs to know that if she eased up on her unhealthy habits a little bit, she wouldn’t be any less attractive to you.