How To Cope When Dating Someone With An Eating Disorder

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Finding out that someone you care about has an eating disorder can throw you for a serious loop — especially if it’s someone you’re in a relationship with. Whether you’ve been dating for a long time or you’ve just started seeing each other, that person telling you that they struggle with an ED is a big deal, which means they trust you, and that’s important. But like any mental illness, it’s also important to understand that this isn’t intentional, and it can be incredibly hard to move past the kind of disordered eating and thinking patterns that your S/O may be struggling to cope with.

Chances are, if you’ve never struggled with an eating disorder yourself, it might be hard for you to understand it. But to love – or even like a lot – someone who’s dealing with an ED, you don’t have to understand it — you just have to know how to support them so that they are able to get the help they need. As much as you might want to help them, it’s their job to do the work themselves, and all you have to do is love them through it, make them feel heard, and try not to judge. But you also have to make sure that you’re giving them the kind of support they need, and taking it seriously and doing the research is a good place to start.

Ask how you can be there for them.

It’s okay to ask your S/O what they need from you because there’s no textbook answer to how exactly you should support every person who has an eating disorder – especially considering that there is such variation from person to person, even for those who have been diagnosed with the same disorder. Find out what kind of support they personally need — whether it’s finding a fun way to distract them when they’re really struggling, helping them make an appointment with a therapist, or going with them to the grocery store. They will tell you what they need, and that’ll cut out the guesswork for you… and you’ll have more peace of mind knowing that there are ways you can help.

Don’t police their food intake.

It can be tempting to keep an eye on your S/O’s food intake, trying to make sure they’re getting in the right number of calories every day or following a meal plan that their doctor recommended. They’re struggling, and you want to make sure they’re eating enough to get healthy again. But you should avoid commenting on their food intake completely; don’t even discuss it.

As Sharon Peterson, a therapist who specializes in eating disorders, told Us Newschecking up on their intake may actually end up having the opposite effect you’re hoping. Drawing attention to their eating or habits they have that you might find “weird” can make them feel ashamed, and that could have a seriously negative effect on their recovery.

Be careful about how you talk about yourself around them.

You may not give it a second comment to mention you’re “feeling fat” after a large meal, or wonder out loud if your new top looks good on you. But to someone who’s dealing with an eating disorder, hearing those kinds of comments could make them remember the negative things they feel about themselves. As far as bad habits go, this isn’t a bad one to break even just for yourself. Negative self-talk can be incredibly damaging for someone with an eating disorder to hear — and it might even end up having a positive impact on you to be a little nicer to yourself.

“While it might not be serious to you, the way you describe yourself can have an impact on a friend with an eating disorder,” Heather Senior Monroe, program director of the Newport Academy teen rehab center, told Elite Daily. “Avoid phrases like, ‘I used to be so skinny,’ or ‘Does this make me look fat?’ as they may stir up feelings of guilt and shame.” Furthermore, even talking about how many calories there were in a thing that you ate can trigger them into a bad way of thinking.

Don’t bring up their weight in relationship to how ‘good’ they look

Even if you’re trying to be positive, just keep these topics off the table. Chances are that these categories are something they may obsess over, and it won’t help them to have you bringing it up as well, even if you’re offering up a compliment. Instead, try to compliment your S/O on something they’ve been doing really awesome with lately, or thank them for something sweet they did for you that day — things that have nothing to do with what they have or haven’t eaten or how they look.

It’s also important not to engage with your S/O when they talk about their weight or their appearance themselves. According to what psychotherapist Leora Fulvio told Your Tango, there’s a line you can keep handy anytime they want to know if they look fat or ask you about their weight or how they look.

“The best response is to simply tell them that you love them very much, but you are not going to engage in that line of questioning,” she said. “This conversation won’t go anywhere and it just feeds ‘eating disorder thinking’ — and you are choosing not to align with their eating disorder.”

You want to make sure they don’t feel judged for having these thoughts, but these kinds of boundaries will help your partner – and the future of your relationship – in the long run.

Encourage them to get professional help — and don’t hesitate to get some for yourself, too.

If your S/O isn’t already following a treatment plan, it can’t hurt to encourage them to get professional help, whether it’s from a doctor, a therapist, or finding the right treatment center for them. You may find that it’s helpful for both of you to see a therapist together or one-on-one, as well. And that’s okay — you may not be the one with the eating disorder, but you’ll be better equipped to offer your support if your mental health is in a good place.

Seeing someone you love struggle with an eating disorder can be really difficult, but you may be able to make their journey to recovery so much easier just by being there for them. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too — even though your S/O is dealing with something huge, your health and happiness are important, too.