National Eating Disorders Association

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Are these early signs of an ED?

I love my girlfriend very much- and I feel guilty for writing in this forum about her- as if I'm doing something behind her back. I want to protect her, support her- not expose her issues to strangers. I've read through the ToolKit and other support links on this website. I found some great advice and general information- but I just have no reference point to understand if my concern for her is an overreaction:

She is vibrant, positive, outgoing, communicative, and I believe very healthy in most ways. We get along very well and enjoy each other. However, more and more recently our conversations are dominated by subjects regarding the food she eats, her workouts, her weight, her body shape, calories, ingredients, diets, what she ate that day, how clothes fit, etc. I would much rather talk about other things- but no matter how hard I try the conversation seems to often circle back around to these subjects. She can go on for an hour or so, just talking about these things. I'll change the subject a few times, but it somehow very often returns to her diet/body/fitness. She'll apologize and admit that she is talking too much about it. I try to keep things light and positive and say it's ok, but I can tell she feels a bit embarrassed when she realizes how long/often she's been talking about it. The worst thing is that I'm starting to find myself getting frustrated when our conversations so frequently turn back to the subject of her diet/fitness/weight. I don't want to get frustrated with her, but I do...and I hate that.

Other observations: She uses a small scale to weigh all her food. She uses iPhone apps to monitor her very detailed caloric intake. She tries different diets all the time. She has lost some weight in the last 4 months. Her menstrual periods have not stopped but she misses one here and there and talks about how things are not right- she's 27 years old. She bruises extremely easily- especially on her legs - sometimes for no reason at all. She sends me a lot of before-and-after pictures of herself (which I love because she has a great body) but she just wants me to tell her if I think she is losing/gaining weight. She admits to vomiting after eating sometimes- not always- she says it comes and goes. She feels shameful making herself vomit, and gets a bit depressed after- but at least she tells me. I suggested it might help if she talks with a therapist- she agrees- but then she doesn't go. I tell her she could be fat or thin, and that she is going to inevitably get older, have gray hair, wrinkles, flab, etc, just like everyone else in the world- and none of that will change how I love her. I tell her I have my own issues and insecurities and fears, and I try talk about them. I suggest that she should try to give her diet/fitness an appropriate and balanced amount of energy and time- but she needs to find what "appropriate" means for her- not just what I think. Am I doing the right things here?

To complicate matters, I am a professional athlete. I used to talk about my training and nutrition openly, but now I often try to avoid the subject (which is hard since it's my job) in hopes it won't lead down the rabbit hole of her dieting/shape/fitness. There is so much more in our lives we can talk about! It's seems that recently our natural conversation flow has shifted due to my carefulness to stay away from certain subjects- and it's beginning to feel awkward. What's even worse, I'm starting to think that all the focus I am required to place on my nutrition and fitness for my career as an athlete is negatively affecting her. So confusing....

Thanks for reading.

Sounds like you've got a lot

Sounds like you've got a lot on your plate.
Good on you for supporting your girlfriend in these trying times. It's important for people with eating disorders to have a good support group of friends and family and sounds to me like you definitely qualify as such.
It's certainly a good idea for your girlfriend to try out therapy. There are also therapists who specialize in eating disorders. Some other options are to suggest that she meet with her primary care physician who can then possibly refer her to a dietician. Dieticians can help their patients come up with healthy eating plans.
There are also some good resources here on the website. Here are some that I found that I think might be relevant to you: (not just for parents)

NEDA also has a helpline at 1-800-931-2237
Their volunteers can help you one on one to come up with solutions and strategies.

I also wanted to speak to something that you hinted at in your post. Try your best not to get caught up in the stress surrounding her eating disorder. What I mean by that is, I think that you should remember to care for your self as you help your girlfriend; after all, your profession in addition to your mental health could be affected in the wake of this ED.

I hope that helped a bit. Best of luck and keep us updated.


your gf will be thankful

I am also a caregiver of my fiance who is in recovery from an eating disorder. I know how difficult this time can be while your girlfriend is resistant to getting help, but she will be so thankful when she begins to accept her disordered eating behaviors. Being a carer requires so much patience which is not easy! Unfortunately, it may take her some time to accept her disordered eating and then some additional time for her to ask for help. Oftentimes, people with eating disorders do not think that they deserve help because they are not "sick" enough, but everyone deserves help and treatment. I would definitely encourage you to continue to suggest that she sees a therapist that specializes in eating disorders and a dietitian who also specializes in eating disorders. In the meantime, when she gets hung up on diet/calorie/body shape, etc. you can ask her why she is so concerned with what she is eating, how much she is exercising, etc. Is there something going on in her life that is contributing to her stress? Usually EDs are used as an unhealthy coping mechanism. She may be feeling like she doesn't have control over something in her life, but she can control what goes into and out of her body. Just some thoughts but keep us updated. I definitely think she should get help. It may help if you provide her with a list of therapists that she can contact rather than her searching for them on her own. Unfortunately it takes time to find a therapist that specializes in eating disorders and has availability and can treat any other co-morbidities that she may have. Goodluck!

Four Cees

Not sure if you will see this, but yes, it sounds like you have good reasons to be concerned. I suspect you are noticing the obsessional nature of all of this, and not being able to think of much else but food, diets, calories, number of hours at the gym…that really is how things go with people who develop eating disorders. After a while, they find that that's kind of all they can think about anymore.

The bruising and vomiting are red flags too. Normal people just don't have those problems.

However, It sounds like she is beginning to notice these things herself, and that sort of self-awareness can help. But at the same time, these obsessions can develop to a point where the person no longer has control over their thoughts, even if they wish that they could exert some.

The therapy thing : She really needs to make a decision about that. The fact that she can't…even she might admit that that's one more worrisome sign.

Some fellows will actually volunteer to drive their partners to the appointments, and although that might involve some degree of humiliation on your partners part, it still might be something she'd allow you to do.

Time is a factor here though. The longer these thoughts have free reign, the thicker the neurological wiring that's behind them becomes, and as a result, the harder and harder it becomes to shake them.

So yes, I'd want to see her taking some kind of action, if it were me. There's real danger in allowing these patterns to continue unchecked.