Intimacy and Eating Disorders
If you love someone with an eating disorder, chances are you’ve experienced both the highs of being in love along with the lows of trying to make sure your beloved has the professional help they need. Your relationship may also experience challenges due to complications from the eating disorder and its behaviors. For example, your partner may be experiencing low energy due to lack of nutrition or preoccupied with engaging in food or exercise rituals. Sex drive can also suffer due to the eating disorder and poor body image, resulting in a lack of intimacy. Open, vulnerable communication can also be difficult, as your loved one, and you yourself, may be afraid of rejection.
With all these challenges, how can you get through the eating disorder with relationship intact? Dr. Nefertiti Nowell (2013) suggests five ways to support your loved one:
1) Beware of becoming a “food cop”
It is really hard to watch your loved one suffer. The eating disorder behaviors, like restricting or leaving a meal to go to the bathroom to purge, can be frustrating to witness. It is important to remember that trying to force-feed your loved one or punish their behaviors will only push them farther away. You must ensure they receive professional help.
2) Encourage professional help
Talk to your loved one honestly and discuss the behaviors you are observing and the concerns you have. Research the professional resources in your area and present them to your loved one. Offer to go along to the initial appointments for support.
3) Be mindful of comments
Even a well-intentioned comment like “you look nice today” can be twisted in the eating disordered mind. People who suffer from body image issues may have a distorted perception of their bodies and may perceive “looking nice” as “looking overweight.” You may try to say something like “It’s so nice to see you today.”
4) Stay strong in the storm
You might be feeling unloved and rejected by a partner who has an eating disorder. Find support for yourself, and stick by your loved one.
5) Do your homework
There are many organizations that provide support and resources for families and friends of people who have eating disorders:
National Eating Disorders Association: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
The Alliance for Eating Disorders: www.allianceforeatingdisorders.com
Eating Disorders Coalition: www.eatingdisorderscoalition.org
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: www.anad.org