In a relationship there’s two of you…. unless you have an eating disorder (or maybe you’re into some other stuff? 😉 ). It’s inevitable that your ED will creep up on your relationship at some point and want to snuggle. I’ve found that partners often don’t know how the eating disorder can affect the relationship negatively.
Below is a list of the main ways (FOR ME) it might show up in your relationship. This is purely my experience and what I’ve found has helped during relationships and recovery.
1. Issues with body image run deep
When it comes down to body image among people with eating disorders, these issues most definitely run deep. This is because people with eating disorders, particularly those who are women, are more likely than others to experience negative body image.
In fact, negative body image is one of the initial criteria for being diagnosed with anorexia & bulimia. Body dysmorphia can have a number of negative effects on people with eating disorders, including sexually.
In women, negative body image can lead to complications in all areas of sexual function and satisfaction — from desire and arousal to orgasm . When it comes to how this might show up in your relationship, some people might tend to avoid sex with the lights on, refrain from undressing during sex, for me I’ve found that I get distracted while in the moment because I’m thinking about how i look….. not all the time. It’s totally dependent on what I’ve eaten etc. Plus I have a wall of mirrors in my room which isn’t helpful I know!
I’ve always found that historically I feel most comfortable in the bedroom with men who give me affirmation and reassurance of their attraction to me. Obviously that’s not enough to solve the problem alone but it helps. It’s always reassuring when my partner encourages me to talk about my struggles, and listens without judgment……It’s important to remember that this isn’t about you and your love — it’s about your partner and their disorder.
2. Food-related activities can be stressful
So many culturally accepted romantic gestures involve food — a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, a day at the fair to enjoy rides and cotton candy, a date at a fancy restaurant, Christmas dinner etc. But for people with eating disorders, the mere presence of food can cause fear.
That’s because, contrary to popular belief, people don’t necessarily develop eating disorders due to thinness as a beauty standard.Rather, eating disorders are complex illnesses with biological, psychological, and social influences, often related to feelings of obsession and control. In fact, the presence of eating and anxiety disorders together is very common.
For me, food-related activities can spike stress and because of this, it’s best to avoid these treats as surprises I.e. a romantic date at a restaurant. Whether someone currently has, or is in recovery from, an eating disorder, they may need time to prepare themselves for activities involving food. For me I need time to ‘get thin’ first, check the menus online, work out if I can wear tight fitting or bloating clothes ….. let me explain, if it’s an Italian, pizza, pasta & carb based restaurant then I’d wear something floaty so no one can see my stomach bloat.
Soo basically, NO SPRINGING FOOD SURPRISES ON US ED SUFFERERS OKAY? 😂 thanks for the thought though 😘
3. Opening up can be difficult
Telling someone that you have — or have had — an eating disorder is never easy. Mental health stigma is everywhere, and stereotypes about eating disorders have never reeaaallly been broken. Paired with the fact that people with eating disorders often express insecure attachment issues and having an intimate conversation about your partner’s eating disorder may prove to be tricky.
But creating the space for your partner to talk to you about their experiences is central to building a healthy relationship with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m currently single and still struggling with abandonment issues which have caused me to look for validation from men. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had healthy relationships before with my ED!
Having someone available to discuss my eating disorder openly and honestly, and with demonstrated interest, always helped me feel safer in the relationship. I never expected them to know the perfect response to what I was saying but just listening and offering support was enough. It instantly made me feel more emotionally and physical closer to that person as well as more invested.
But the most special for me that I’ve always felt after opening up to a boyfriend is, it makes me feel like you’re part of a team, you’re in this recovery together, they want you to get better for YOU!
Dating someone with an eating disorder isn’t unlike dating someone with a chronic condition or disability — it comes with its own set of unique challenges. There are, however, solutions to those challenges, many of which depend on communicating openly with your partner about their needs. Safe, open communication is always a cornerstone of happy, healthy relationships. It allows your partner to share their problems, ask for support, and therefore strengthen the relationship as a whole. Giving your partner with an eating disorder the space to make that experience part of your communication can only help them in their journey