Updated on 2/10/2023

If you’re in a romantic relationship, you may find it difficult to relate to your significant other while in recovery from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED). An invisible wall stands tall between you and the one you love. They may express that they feel you are distant or hiding something, especially when trying to enjoy a meal together or have a spontaneous rendezvous. You might feel self-conscious eating in front of them or undressing in their presence. While in eating disorder recovery, some challenges you may face are dining out or sharing a meal and physical intimacy. In this post, there are some tips to share with your significant other when issues arise. This can help them understand you and your recovery process a little better.

Practicing Self-Compassion in Eating Disorder Recovery

While in recovery, you likely experienced dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The term “dialectic” means that two opposite ideas can be correct at the same time. This is helpful for eating disorder treatment, as the “all or nothing” mentality is challenged and can be avoided. A big part of this type of therapy and working through recovery is practicing self-compassion.

One definition of self-compassion is “to show oneself empathy, love and acceptance, particularly in times of failure. To respond the same way that one would if it was directed toward someone else.” According to Dr. Kristen Neff, researcher and author of “Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself,” the three main pillars of self-compassion are mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.

  1. Mindfulness swoops in to pause the spinning browser in your head. Simply observing that you’re in pain can ease the anxiety that may wash over you when you stare at a plate of food. Breathing presents a barrier between your thoughts and your actions, and you’re more aware of the present.
  2. Common humanity reminds us that we aren’t alone in our pain, even if others don’t feel the same type of pain. Feelings are human, emotional pain is human and healing begins when we connect through our human pain.
  3. Self-kindness is as “simple” as speaking kindly to yourself. What would you say to a friend in the same position? A good place to start might be, “This is hard right now, I understand.”

You may experience feelings of guilt, shame, confusion and anxiety after eating while in eating disorder recovery. Through the practice of self-compassion, you can start to be patient and kind with yourself. Know that your feelings are valid, and that recovery is hard. It can be very liberating and helpful to share how you’re feeling with your loved one. Practicing self-compassion can remind you and your partner that eating disorder recovery is a journey.

Dining Out or Eating in Front of Your Loved One

Let’s say you’re at a cozy restaurant on what’s meant to be a nice date with your sweetheart. You pick up the menu and become overwhelmed by the options. Internal struggle and panic ensue. Take a breath and acknowledge that this is a challenging experience. Here are tips for practicing self-compassion when dining with your loved one.

  1. Tell your partner how you are feeling. Sharing your feelings can alleviate anxiety and allow your loved one to offer support.
  2. Take a few deep breaths when reviewing the menu and try to order something that you truly want.
  3. Order something you feel would be satisfying and tasty.
  4. When you’re not having meals out in public, make a schedule of mealtimes to eat together at home. This can help you have a routine, show yourself and your loved one the progress of your recovery, while adding a special time in the day to reconnect.

Physical Relationships While in Eating Disorder Recovery

Physical intimacy can be strained while in eating disorder recovery. It is common that during recovery the body changes as it is healing. During the beginning stages of recovery these changes could make you feel uncomfortable. The struggle with arousal and relational intimacy happens during the active and early stages of recovery. During recovery as the brain and body are being nourished, you will find that your hormones may change, you may experience decreased feelings of anxiety and depression and your overall mood may increase. As you are on your journey in recovery, connection with your significant other can also play a part in feeling better. Here are some tips for intimacy:

  1. Set boundaries. If it’s time to get physical with your partner, you may feel self-conscious as you work on your recovery. It may make you feel more comfortable to set certain boundaries. Voicing what you do and do not want will help you be more assertive and honest, and in turn feel more empowered.
  2. Note the positives. Expressing your challenges in life may bring you closer together with your partner. Honesty can help create connection, and space for them to be honest with you about certain issues your partner deals with, too.
  3. Start the healing process with your body. Work with your treatment team to build body trust and body respect. Begin the journey of healing your relationship with your body. Once you start building trust and respect with your body, you will start to have a better relationship with how you feel in your body.

Relationships can be complicated and especially tough to navigate when you’re in eating disorder recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t hesitate to contact us at Center for Discovery today.

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