What Can You Do When Your Partner Has An Eating Disorder?

It’s been about 13 years since I recovered from my eating disorder. If you happen to love someone with an eating disorder: be patient, good luck, and here's what you need to know.
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Laura Lifshitz
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It’s been about 13 years since I recovered from my eating disorder. If you happen to love someone with an eating disorder: be patient, good luck, and here's what you need to know.
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It’s been about 13 years since I recovered from my eating disorder. For about two years I went through everything, from periods of not eating, to binging and on rare occasion, purging — and I thank my lucky stars I got out of that hell every single day. 

An eating disorder is not an easy plight: you don’t need to drink alcohol to live, but you damn well need to eat if you want to stay alive. Food is everywhere and unavoidable. When you struggle with an eating disorder it can feel like you’re a prisoner to your body...so essentially, you’re dating or married to a “trapped” person in chains. If you happen to love a person with an eating disorder I say to you now: Be patient, good luck, and here's what you need to know: 

1. We’re not trying to please you 

An eating disorder is not about trying to look good for a partner. Oh no. Nope. Don’t get your ego thinking that. An eating disorder is all about control and often self-hatred/issues of self-esteem. For me, I felt as if I had very little control of life and I just started dealing with issues stemming from the time I was raped as a teenager.

Pair that with a deep feeling of insecurity and shame from post-traumatic memories along with repressed feelings and BAM: I was in eating disorder hell. Your partner is not starving themselves or binging and purging because they want to be perfect for you — they want to be perfect for themselves and perfectly controlled! And by the way: Until that eating disorder is conquered, they will never drop that false belief of perfection. 

2. We set up insane goals for ourselves

If I can just be this weight or that size or look like this instead of this. These are the little twisted narratives that people with eating disorders will tell themselves. When you’re in the trenches of an eating disorder, you set up these insane goals for yourself and then when you reach these “goals” you’re still not happy!

"If I only weigh 99 pounds I will feel great!" You hit 99 and do you feel thin enough? 

Nope! You’re not good enough because you’re still not perfect. Sure, we know intellectually that no one is perfect, but our brains aren't functioning how they should and so our minds keep telling us: Keep doing this until you’re perfect. The problem with that is we’ll never be perfect enough! When you love a person with an eating disorder you’re holding the hand of a person who will never measure up enough in their eyes, even if they does in yours.

3. We are married to control

I’m bringing it back to this one powerful word: control. 

Your partner is married to control. They want things to happen in a predictable way. They want to have the reigns over everything in their life but most especially, food. When they feel anxious about anything in their lives whether it’s a job change, move, health issue, fight with a friend or even you, their eating disorder will rear its ugly head.

If you think you’ve met a disciplined person before, think again. An eating disorder takes discipline and control to a whole other playing field.

4. It takes us years to bottom out

Bottoming out in an eating disorder is just as hard as with drugs. There is never a time in which an anorexic or person struggling with bulimia says, “Yes, now I am the perfect weight and can stop this nonsense.”

It takes years for folks to bottom out and seek help. For me, I was an exception in that there was no defining event that stopped me from my eating disorder. It simply seemed to trickle away as I found other ways to cope with my feelings of anxiety, depression, and past abuse.Sometimes my other coping mechanisms weren’t so great either, but eventually, I started to learn new ones thanks to therapy, maturity, and self-evaluation.

When I'm stressed, I find myself having to talk down that evil little eating disorder voice that wants to rear its vicious head when I’m anxious or sad. Thankfully, I can squash that whisper in my ear, but it's hard.If I had to pin down one moment that made me stop and question what I was doing it would be this: While filming for a television shoot, I had to stop every hour on the other to take a dump. 

Why? 

Because I had been severely restricting my calories for a few months and was starving so I went on a binge the night before. Realizing I had eaten “like a pig” (which honestly was probably equal to a little over someone else’s regular dinner out), I took laxatives and tried to puke. 

It disrupted the whole day of the shoot, but I shook it off and figured I would stay away from laxatives … for a while. Then two months later, my boss told me I needed to get help and I knew she was right.

5. We may avoid sex and intimacy due to shame over our distorted body image

Some people may also unhealthily cope with past sexual abuse through an eating disorder. Don’t be surprised if the person you love says “No thanks, honey” to sex more often than not. On the flip side, your partner may be extremely sexual. They may use sex as a numbing tool in order to cope with their bad feelings about themselves.

 By the way: If you think that if you tell them they're too thin when you’re in bed together thinking they might fatten up for you, think again. Why? Well …

6. Don't tell us we're too thin

You’re in love with a person and you tell them they're too thin thinking your great care and concern will keep her from eating just one grape for dinner tonight. Yup that’s right: just one lonely grape.

Nope, it won’t work. 

The more you tell them they're so thin, the more they'll be compelled to race to their delusional idea of perfection: the thinnest woman alive!

7. In fact, don't mention our weight. Period

What if they're bulimic? Well, if you tell them they've lost weight, they just might burst with excitement determined to not binge again until they binge again, only to feel ashamed and defeated. 

After weeks of eating a maximum of 1,000 calories while exercising like a fiend, I would give in to a binge.The binges were orgasmic — sometimes better than sex (another harsh truth) and every single bite of food felt like someone was going down on me. Heaven at each morsel.

But the feelings after the binge? Dreadful. I felt like the biggest piece of crap on the face of the earth. How did I do that? Did I want to become a disgusting fat pig? Wow, what a big loser I am. Don’t mention weight, period. It won’t get you anywhere good. Trust me.

8. Encourage us to get help

If your partner is dealing with an eating disorder, encourage her to get help. 

If it takes an intervention, do it. 

Gather all their loved ones around and collect some treatment plan options so they have less of a chance to back out. You should however be prepared for them to refuse treatment. If they're not ready, it won’t work and if they're not ready, perhaps you need to consider how intimately involved you want to be with them.

Reprinted with permission from YourTango. Want more? Check out these related articles from YourTango

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