Dating can be nerve-wracking for anybody. But throw an eating disorder into the mix and it can feel impossible. Whether someone is struggling — or has struggled — with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or orthorexia, there’s no way to know just by looking at them. Eating disorders are often secretive and isolating, and dating involves sharing ourselves.
Recovery is a long journey with twists, turns, and occasionally relapse. Eating disorders affect people physically, psychologically, and socially, so they can touch on nearly every aspect of our lives. Dating has a special way of highlighting our self doubts and fears, so it can be especially rocky territory to navigate.
For me, the majority of my online dating app pictures have been after I’ve had a period of starving my self in order to looking skinny for a night out, the IG pictures or to be able to wear a particular outfit. Therefore, I fear that I’ll go on a date and they’ll never want to see me again because I’ll look different to my pictures.
When do you tell the person you’re dating about your ED?
When is the best moment to tell your new love interest that you’re in recovery from an eating disorder? For me, the prospect was terrifying. Ive spent years in a struggle with bulimia , an unhappy obsession with food, my body & an addiction to laxatives . On good days, I feel proud, but on bad days, shame takes over. What would my date say? What would they think? It feels like heavy baggage I lug around to every new experience and relationship.
I’ve had a few relationships so have gone through this a number of times and have experienced a few very different reactions. One time, I shared it very early in the dating process(3rd date) it just felt right & we ended up together for about a year.
As time goes on I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s best to be authentic, upfront, and explain my experience. Usually, my dates and partners are respectful, although one spent the whole evening grilling me about eating disorders. Suffice it to say, there was no second date. It is a part of who I am, but it’s only a small part.
I hid it from my second boyfriend for nearly two years. When I told him he started to shout at me. He felt I was blaming him, he felt cheated that I hadn’t told him sooner and upset I felt I couldn’t. He stormed off, left me alone in London and didn’t talk to me for two weeks! I was so upset and stupidly stayed with him for another year. I was craving love and for someone to make me feel sexy and pretty.
Stigmas that surround eating disorders can make the prospect of revealing one terrifying. Some associate it with vanity or superficiality. Although it couldn’t be further from the truth. Eating disorders involve so many complex factors beyond food that they can be tough to explain on a first date. Also, vanity is about loving yourself, thinking you’re beautiful…. having an eating disorder is about hating yourself and feeling like you’re not worthy.
There’s never a perfect time to share, but as you get to know a date better, it might feel right to disclose more personal parts of your life naturally. Be prepared to answer questions and help your partner understand your specific experience. I use this as a sort of test: If someone responds with kindness and curiosity, they score major points. If not, it is most likely time to say goodbye – especially if they come out with some sort of line like “is it a phase” or “is it because of social media”🙄
Navigating body image issues while dating — and being active on dating apps — can be tricky.
Sharing — and judging — pictures, an integral part of dating today, can be a major trigger for body image issues, which often go hand in hand with eating disorders. One reason struggling with an eating disorder while trying to date can be hard because; that’s your first impression, a picture. But in reality, you might find someone not so attractive but given the chance to discover their personality….. love could be on the cards!
And what about sexting? I know it’s not for everyone but let’s face it… people do it? I definitely have the same fears with that as I do Tinder, Hinge, Bumble etc. however, I’d say they’re probably heightened! With clothes on it’s one thing but in underwear… that’s what this person is actually expecting.
I’ve even been known to say to men before hand “do you think it’s weird if people bloat?” …… WTF! Of course it’s not weird, I was just scared of them thinking I was fat or a catfish!
For me, a meal as a first date is a BIIGGGG NO NO! Let’s do something more fun! As someone with body dysmorphia going out to eat with a complete stranger who I’m trying to spark feelings with, I can’t help but have questions: Am I going to be judged for what I order? Am I going to be judged for how much I eat or do not eat? How much will I bloat? Should I wear a lose or tight fitting outfit? If he comes back to mine then I can’t go on top…..
In recovery, people’s bodies often change as they adapt to new food behaviours; they may gain or lose weight, and it may happen fast. For me, being single and dating while recovering is, in a word, rough. As I’ve started to seriously began to recover from bulimia, I’ve gained an amount of weight that objectively wasn’t dramatic but feels dramatic to me!
I sometimes can’t help but wonder constantly if the second dates I get or don’t get were related to the way I look? I constantly feel uncomfortable and vulnerable in my own skin, and it was so easy for any failed connections to contribute to my certainty that my body was, in some way, not right.
In addition to dealing with body image issues, those dating while in recovery also have to directly confront their relationship with eating itself. After all, many dates revolve around food… weather it be the first date or not. Also let’s not forget that drinks have calories to plus water retention! A spontaneous dinner date or a last-minute change in venue often leaves my head spinning. With time, I’ve become much more flexible with my food, but its definitely created a roadblock in my dating life.
In the core of my bulimia I had such a strict diet of one banana or apple & a slice of cheese everyday. It sometimes got in the way of my love life. But always my social life. On a trip to Spain with friends, i avoided carbs and sweets and ended up feeling like a killjoy. My friends wanted to partake in paella , tapas, BBQ’s and chocolate. But I passed on everything and lived off of watermelon, bread and aioli for 10 days to avoid looking fat in a bikini.
Recovering from an eating disorder can help us identify what we really want in a partner.
Connecting with another person becomes infinitely more possible and rewarding when we learn to care for our own needs first. My mum has always told me “you can’t let someone love you until you love yourself”. Which is so true, but easier said than done for someone who’s looking for constant validation.
Compassion is invaluable. Most people — if they care about you — want to know how to support you. This is something that it’s taken me ages to come to terms with. I’ve spent yeaarrrsss pushing away family and friends in order to avoid talking about it. Next year I return to rehab to focus on compassion therapy where I’ll learn to be less harsh on my body.
My friends and family are incredibly supportive of my recovery journey. I owe my relationships to my journey to recovery.