National Eating Disorders Association

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My girlfriend has ED. Steps on how to be supportive?

My girlfriend and I started dating two years ago, and after two months of dating, we moved on to a long distance relationship. Recently we moved back close to eachother and shes lost some weight.

She lives in a studio with a hazy glass door to her restroom, thats enough to see the silhouette of a person thats inside. First couple times I went over to her house was when we were drunk, so even though I saw her purge, I thought it was due to the alcohol. Then I saw her do it so frequently, even when we didn’t drink that I knew she had bulimia nervosa. She is not aware that I know of this yet, and I am really worried about her health because she has a stressful job and barely gets 5 hours of sleep at night. I want to help her out without making her feel uncomfortable. I suspect that she hasn’t been suffering longterm, so I really want to help her out before it gets worse.

Here are some of the instances I’ve seen or suspected her:
1. We came back from a night of light drinking, and she said she wanted to shower and I saw her silhouette and what I saw indicated she was purging. I thought it was from the alcohol, but she came out the shower and said lets have one more beer. We drank, then while getting ready to sleep I saw her go into he restroom to purge again.

2. After eating a regular meal around her house, 9/10 times she goes back to her place with some excuse.

3 We had a big lunch at her house, then she said she needed to shower. At this point I was aware of her ED, and tried my best to make her not step into the restroom in an attempt to stop her. We then hung out for about 4hrs, at which point I believed it was too late for her to purge her food. She went into the shower, and I saw her try to purge briefly, as if she wanted to check if it was too late. Then that night, we had a big meal again, and once again I stopped her from stepping into the shower. Next morning, about 7 hours later she went into the restroom and started purging.

Maybe I was just careless during the beginning of our relationship, but I believe she didnt have an ED then.

Being a healthy guy my whole life, its really hard for me to understand her feelings. How can I:

Address this problem to her without making her feel uncomfortable? Or should I do so at all?

Ive heard there are safe foods, which it doesnt trigger her to purge. Also if shes outside with me she usually doesn’t eat big meals, so I suspect that she doesn’t purge after that. Should I avoid eating big meals with her? Even when she really wants to eat something unhealthy?

For those who had the same ED, what helped you the most besides medical help? (Im almost positive shes not willing to get a professional help)

Welcome to the forums!

Hi Joshk2010! We are glad that you are finding support here on the NEDA forums. A portion of your post was edited due to the mention of specific behaviors and numbers that may be triggering to other forum members. Our community guidelines are always available to review here In the event you need further assistance please call the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (M-Th 9-9 F 9-5 EST).
Again, thank you for posting, and we hope you will continue to do so!

Josh, GF with ED.


Situations like this can be difficult alright. They have this problem that's personal, and we want to respect that, but on the other hand it's become such a part of their life, and we have a pretty good idea of how it must be effecting them mentally, and…well…it really is an important thing. So how can we just ignore it ?

And I really don't think that we can. Granted, we may not be able to "cure" them in the ways we might hope to, but with things like this it's better that the thing is at least acknowledged and named, rather than it being this big lurking and ongoing secret.

To get right to the point, sometimes confronting the person face to face is not the best approach. The can be startled, and impulsively deny that there's a problem. Then on top of everything else, you have the denial to deal with. Sometimes a better approach is to write your concerns in a letter….like in the mail, you know ? That way you have the chance to really frame things in the way that you want to, and they have some time to really consider what they want to say as well.

As far as the food end of things is concerned, sometimes people with EDs will say that they don't want to be involved with dates that involve any food at all. Because basically that means that they'll be needing to purge at some point. But really, normal social interactions often do involve eating, so I'm not sure that we should find ourselves avoiding all eating, simply to go along with the demands of their ED.

What I mean is, I'm not sure it should be our responsibility to do what we can to try and restrict their purging. With my friend I just behaved like normal people would behave around food, and if she needed to purge then that's what she did. But we both knew it, and there were no secrets around it. Which for me, felt like at least things were honest, you know ? Which I do think is important in situations like this.

I guess what I mean is…our support is better when it's an emotional thing. The person's thoughts and feelings - It's there where we can be most supportive I think.

Also I think it's good for us to ask them what would feel most supportive to them. To let them be the ones to tell us, if you know what I mean.

But yeah, them asking us to ignore it like it's not really happening, I think you are already seeing how difficult that is, so I don't think they can reasonably ask us to do that.

And do all you can to educate yourself about this. That's something you can do as well.

Things will also depend on what stage of her ED she finds herself in, but in my experience, very few bulimics are completely happy about what they find themselves doing, even if another part of themselves sees it as this great way to exert control.

For now, that is.

Keep writing ?



I really admire your thoughtfulness and your determination to help your girlfriend through her struggle. I have cared for people similar to your girlfriend in the past, and it took a big toll on me. It's really difficult to watch people struggle with this. Do you see a therapist of your own? I found that talking out some of these things with a professional really helped me.

As for the part of it being uncomfortable, I've found that leaning into the discomfort can be challenging but truly rewarding. For me, a lot of the discomfort came from the fact that I just wanted my loved one to be happy, and I thought bringing this up would just ruin the moment. I learned after approaching her that because of her disorder she wasn't truly happy regardless, but after I expressed my concerns, she ultimately told me how grateful she was, and that helped us build a stronger and more genuine relationship. I hope the same would happen for you if you express your concerns to her. I'll also say that the happier and stronger relationship came a few months later - immediately after I approached her she yelled at me and ran out of the room, then used more disordered behaviors. I think it's natural for some people with eating disorders to reject support and help right when it's offered; the most we can do is try our best and hope that our support will eventually be able to help.

In terms of approaching her, I've found that starting the conversation by saying something along the lines of "I know I might catch you off guard by saying this, but I've noticed X and I'm concerned and I want to have a genuine conversation about how I might support you and understand this" has been helpful for me in the past. Have you thought more about talking to her since you posted?

Additionally, I was surprised when I approached my loved one, because I thought she would never seek help. She ultimately entered treatment (after months of me pressing), and is now engaging with recovery (and the struggles it comes with). I am concerned about your girlfriend's health, and she too deserves treatment and wellbeing.

Hope to hear back from you,



Hello. I just read through some of what was posted a few weeks ago. How are things now? Did you talk with your girlfriend? If so how did she respond? I think the head on approach may not be the best approach, but asking her if you may ask her a few questions about some concerns you have for her might be a gentle in. People who struggle with eating disorders don't want to be found out, but then again sometimes we do because we really know we need and deep down want help. So sometimes people who purge don't clean up afterwards or make it a bit obvious with what they are doing. This to me is a way of someone asking for help indirectly, hoping someone catches on. Others try to protect their "secret" with an iron wall. A lot of fear is wrapped up in being found out. So try asking her as I said if you can talk to her about some concerns you have. If she says yes, great, if not, then you may need to be a little more direct and let her know what you know. For some, it may mean the end of a relationship. For others it may be just what they need to get help. There is really no sure fast way to know how one will respond. But know that you are not at fault and if she breaks things off, it is the eating disorder doing that. If she loves you and has been with you, then you can surmise it is the eating disorder trying to protect its grasp on your girlfriend. I do not know if this makes any sense to you and I hope I haven't confused you. It is the nature of the beast. Everyone reacts differently and are at different levels of needing/wanting help. NO ONE could keep me from starving myself. NO ONE. So my parent's who are nurses put me in a hospital. They did this to save me from my blindness and rigidity.

I hope this helps. I hope to hear from you again and I hope things are looking up. Post if you need to.