Dating Someone With an Eating Disorder: Dos and Don'ts
Today is day three of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2022 and I'm going to talk about some of the dos and don'ts of dating someone with an eating disorder.
If you are interested in or are currently dating someone with an eating disorder, here are a few tips to consider.
P.S. If you're here because you feel you're already said or done the wrong thing, you're in the perfect place. This article will help you understand what may have gone wrong and what you can do instead to show support.
If You're Interested in Dating...
Don't Start Dating Now
Don't start dating when the person is in active illness or active recovery. This isn't the right time for the person to bring someone else into their life. There is much deep soul work that needs to be done and layers that need to be peeled back to uncover the contributing factors that lead the person here, now.
However, it can be tempting for someone in recovery to join forces with another person. This process of falling in love can be a much desired antidote or pain-reliever. But let's be honest, if this person has not already established a romantic relationship before this point, now is not the right time.
Advice: You can be a friend without adding any pressures of romance, but only go this route if you're really able to be patient, empathetic, and put the person's recovery above your own timeline. This may not be what is in your own best interest and you need to also remember that recovery changes people. The person you're interested in right now is evolving without limits. It's best to wait until this process has been given its due priority before jumping into the middle of someone's metamorphosis.
Do Some Reading on Eating Disorders
There are so many myths and misconceptions about what is and isn't an eating disorder- you may not even realize you're in a relationship with someone who's sick until things are serious. If you have suspicions or concerns, it's your responsibility to learn whatever you can about what's affecting the person you love.
Here are a few truths to get you started:
Eating disorders typically present in a person's younger years (adolescence and teenage hood) but this doesn't mean their damage is contained to those years.
People who have survived eating disorders and are in recovery may be worried about relapsing. They may be strict about certain rules you may not fully understand. Respect them anyway. For example, I went through recovery in my teens but still do not have a scale in my home in my 30s. Weighing myself, knowing that number, is a massive trigger for relapse for me.
Food and diet and fat-shaming cliches are deep-rooted in society and our psyches and you may have biases that need undoing or checking or wrecking...For example, are certain foods sinful to you? Do you feel guilty, bad, or ashamed after eating, ever? You may need to assess some of your own beliefs about food, body image, and self worth.
Eating disorders aren't just about food or vanity or fitting in. They are psychiatric illnesses and are particularly deadly. Take them seriously.
Adults can experience relapse- especially during times of added stress or life change.
Recovery is possible.
If You're Already Dating or Married...
Don't Monitor Their Food Intake
There are a million little ways to shame someone about their food intake. It may be common in your household or group to comment on things with light-hearted humor, but eating disorders are nothing to joke about.
Examples that seem harmless but are triggering include:
Wow! Another slice of pizza? Good for you!
You're gonna eat that?
You're really enjoying the candy today!
Oh good, you're eating.
I love a girl who eats.
I saw you went to town on those chips!
Don't go overboard.
We really need to change our diet.
We need to lose weight.
We need to start exercising more.
We need to get healthy.
Understand that for this person, they are getting healthy. It will not look typical because this isn't a typical situation! So this may not look like the next person's version of getting healthy because this person has an illness. They are (hopefully) working with a trained professional and know what steps need to be taken to recover. This may include sometimes eating "unhealthy" snacks or meals and reframing them as just food (not good or bad). It is not a linear process but it's moving in the direction that views food as food- not a measure of personal self worth or value.
Do Show Your Support
How do you support someone with an eating disorder? Ask them what they need from you. Listen to them. Some people will be better equipped to ask directly for what they need and others will still need work to get there! If you're in a relationship with someone with an eating disorder, you can also show support by seeking support for yourself, too. You may benefit from talking to a mental health professional who can dive into the specific details of your relationship and help set healthy goals or give you the tools needed to encourage your spouse to seek treatment.
If you are your spouse have gotten into a fight over food or recovery, please try to remember this is a very sensitive situation for many and reactive defensiveness is a typical reaction. If you love this person and are committed to your relationship, approach them with vulnerability and loving kindness and let them know that while you don't "get it," you aren't going anywhere- so what can be done better next time around?
Group therapy, couples counselling, etc. are also helpful but do keep in mind the person needs to prioritize their own healing, own recovery, and relationship with themself. Ask yourself what role you're willing and able to play in their story (and your own).