5 Ways To Love Someone With An Eating Disorder

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Love Someone With An Eating Disorder? 5 Ways To Be Good To Them
Love, Self

Some say that love can conquer all. But a couple struggling with the effects of the pressures of an eating disorder may need a little outside help. Though eating disorders are more frequently reported in women than in men, they occur among both genders. And when you recognize the signs of an eating disorder in your partner, it's time to step up and support them.

The most commonly seen are anorexia (starvation) and bulimia (binge-eating and purging food). There are many reasons that people struggle with these disorders, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Weight control
  • The positive response that both men and women receive when they lose weight
  • Emotional control — the ability to control food intake even if a person cannot control other aspects of their lives. Many anorexics say that they had a lack of voice in their families and interpersonal relationships, and that they were able to find power in their ability to restrict food and become thinner and thinner.

RELATED: 6 Signs You're At Risk Of Developing An Eating Disorder

There are signs to watch for that may suggest your partner has an eating disorder. Signs of anorexia include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Excessive working out
  • Food restrictions
  • Avoidance of social interactions (usually as a way to avoid eating in front of others)
  • Extreme fear of weight gain
  • Decrease in physical intimacy
  • Mood changes

Signs of bulimia include:

  • Large amounts of food disappearing in a short period of time
  • Frequent bathroom breaks after meals
  • Laxative use
  • Vomiting
  • Weight fluctuations

Also note that people who are dealing with eating disorders often become preoccupied — even obsessed — with food, and can feel overwhelmed in situations where food is presented or is the focus; for example, a date night at a restaurant or a birthday party with cake, where they might feel they'll be "forced" to eat.

In addition to food being an issue, working out can become a major obsession as well. For example, anorexics may often work out for hours, pushing their bodies over the limit — especially given their limited caloric intake. You may see a bulimic doing a 10-mile run after a binge-eating episode, or begin a risky diet to help prevent weight gain.

If you notice any signs of an eating disorder in your partner, you may not know how to react. But here are a few tips to make sure you are their rock during this difficult time, as well as their recovery.

RELATED: The Girl With The Eating Disorder Isn't Always The One Who Looks 'Scary Skinny'

1. Don't police their food intake.

Watching these things happen to someone you love is difficult, but don't become a "food cop" and intrude into your partner's eating habits, force-feed them, punish them with a lack of emotional support, or threaten to leave.

2. Have a conversation about what you're noticing and suggest third-party professional help.

Find out what support your community may have by calling local hospitals and treatment facilities, and be willing to go with your partner to establish treatment. You may want to consider a support group for yourself, too.   

3. Be careful of your words.

When a person suffers from body image issues, the smallest comments, even well-intentioned ones, can trigger a downward spiral or feelings of a lack of emotional control that feed the compulsion to control body weight. How one sees their own body becomes a major problem, and negative comments or jokes can contribute to extreme behavior.

4. Understand why your partner may be emotionally distant.

A major issue for the partner of a person who battles an eating disorder is often the decreased desire for intimacy. Instead of feeling supportive and wanting to help, many partners feel rejected and unloved. This may cause them to miss the bigger picture, and not notice the depression and anxiety that can exist alongside an eating disorder, both of which contribute to emotional distance.

Loving someone means that you are there through thick and thin. You can do it, but you don't have to do it alone.

5. Do a little research.

Good places to start are www.bulimiaguide.org and www.nedic.ca. Arm yourself with knowledge because couples can love and persist through mental illness. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible with the right attitude and support.

RELATED: 6 Painfully True Facts About Eating Disorders No One Ever Told You

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Nefertiti Nowell, PhD is a certified hypotist and trained mediator. She has provided therapy since 1996, working full-time in several local hospitals before deciding to work full-time in outpatient private practice.