National Eating Disorders Association

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The ED Group

It was an interesting meeting. I had thought it would be more like an Al-anon group but it was more a few women coming together every so often to share their stories. All of them were mothers of children with ED and all the children were now grown and in recovery. The mothers told stories about how their kids were doing, and we all made encouraging noises, but their wasn't really any sharing of solutions, or even advice for self-help and setting boundaries.

It was interesting that even years later the mothers were so traumatized by the whole experience that they continued to worry that a relapse might be caused by common life experiences and they analyzed everything their offspring ate. It's amazing how whole lives revolve around food with this illness.

I don't believe I will go to it again as I was looking more for a program where people share solutions on how to live with this and emotional support. I would have liked an ED-anon :-)


"It was interesting that even years later the mothers were so traumatized by the whole experience that they continued to worry that a relapse might be caused by common life experiences …"

No kidding, it is interesting how traumatizing experiences like this can be. Also it sounds like they've figured out that new stressful situations are what can bring EDs on once again for their kids.

"...they analyzed everything their offspring ate. It's amazing how whole lives revolve around food with this illness…"

Yeah, the food part. While EDs are "about" so much more than just food, that's often where the red flags will show up.

My sense is that these associations between eating and being in control really etch themselves into the sufferers brain. If you look at the posts on some of the "evil" forums, you can see just how obsessive and 24/7 that sort of thinking can be. When their brains are soaking in those thoughts day in and day out, wiring patterns in the brain are probably physical. Like hard-wiring or something, to an extent where changing the established neurological wiring that's involved in the food/control association is a really really difficult thing.

And yes, strategies and boundaries. My sense is these things aren't always hard and fast, and can depend on whatever the current situation may be. If they are too severe, they aren't going to be effective. and if they are too easy to ignore, then not effective either.

My sense is that it has to do with whether the person has acknowledged that they have a problem, and once they do, whether they are trying to recover or not.

So the boundaries and strategies thing does tend to depend on what stage of their ED the person is in.

Ed question

Hey guys this is my first time doing this sort of thing but lately I’ve been confused on whether what I’m doing is right or somewhat wrong. I’ve been with my girlfriend for about 3 years and have known about her ED from the beginning. We broke up about a year ago but found our way back to each other. Except this time I had lost about X pounds of weight and not ate as much as I used to before. She’s mentioned it a few times that I needed to eat more than usual and has gotten angry about it. About three weeks ago she was institutionalized at the hospital and recently was let out. She came over to my house and afterwards the topic of food came up and she suddenly got really upset. I took her home and unwilling to talk to me she later texted me saying she needed a break from us. We ended up talking about it the next day and proceeded to tell me that she is letting me go because i trigger her because of my weight loss and eating habits. She tells me that she wants nothing to do with me and will not get back together with me unless I gain weight and look how I used to before. I’m motivated to gain weight and all but I have this feeling that maybe I shouldn’t go back to her and that doing this is irrational. I love her and I want to be with her but I can’t help to think this is a weird ultimatum and that her ED has gotten much worse than before and that I’m possibly making it worse. What do you guys think? Opinions?


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452- Irrational but not Unusual.

Dear 452,

I work on a board for people with EDs, and I can tell you that her reaction to your own weight loss is not that unusual. As you mentioned though, the idea that you should gain weight as a means of helping her with what are her own mental health issues…it's irrational. It's a sign that ED has still got her under it's spell.

The thing is…there are always going to be potential "triggers" everywhere in the world. Skinny girls that she sees on the street or on TV, weight-loss advertisements that are pretty much everywhere. Learning to deal with normal sorts of things that have the potential to trigger her is one of the main goals of recovery, and she's clearly not there yet. In fact she's allowing herself to give in.

While it may be tempting to go along with her wish that you gain weight yourself, as a means to show that you're on her side, the reasons she wants to see this are ED-fueled reasons, and not anything that has to do with recovery. In fact, as you said, if you were to gain for her, it might simply play into her ED, and not really help things at all. Because if you did gain, it's likely she'd just find some other thing in the environment that triggers her.

The thing is…although she may be effected by "the new you", she also knows how crazy it is to ask this of you. It may not seem that way now, but she knows. If she leaves, it's going to be like so many posts that you see on the ED boards : "My ED has ruined my relationship !"

Because while she may feel that by leaving she's taking control, actually it's the other way around.


What do you suggest I do? She

What do you suggest I do? She suggested a month break until I gain my weight back but it’s already been a week and I only have X pounds left. I’m just feelings uneasy about the whole month break over my weight. I keep mentioning to her about my status and she gets angry and says if I’m trying to trigger her by coming back before her break.

452 - Irrational ?

While it may be OK that you guys are "taking a break", the whole situation seems based on some very sketchy assumptions. I mean really, you are an unacceptable partner at your current weight, but somehow if you gain back to what you once were, then everything's going to be fine ? That idea doesn't sound slightly weird to you?

I'll bet it sounds pretty weird to her, even though it was her own idea. And the fact that you keep mentioning your weight status to her just rubs her nose in just how irrational it was for her to present that idea in the first place. Because I'm willing to bet that she realizes just how ridiculous it was for her to base all the upset that *she* was having, on some perfectly normal stuff that you were doing.

And here you are going along with it, as though it might really make the sort of difference that she, in her momentary disfuntionality, claimed that it would, which makes her feel…well you see how it's making her feel. "Irritated", is I guess a word one might use. But maybe irritated at herself more than you.

I mean really, you're just the guy that took her at her word, so how angry should she be about that ?

If it were me, I'd try not to get my hopes up, but just let the month go by, cross your fingers for luck, and see what her thoughts are then.

We’ve recently talked about

We’ve recently talked about it and she blamed my eating habits on her need to lose weight. She mentioned that it didn’t matter if I triggered her or not that she’ll rather use this as motivation. Though today we talked again and she said we should just get back together and that waiting a month wont do anything. I’ve asked her if she was planning on doing anything about her trigger and she said she was going to let it be ? Is this relationship causing her harm enough for me to not get back together with her for her own sake ? I want to be there for her through it all and I love her but I don’t know if this is making it worse for her.

452 "We've recently talked about..

You wrote:

"Is this relationship causing her harm enough for me to not get back together with her for her own sake ?"

I can't answer that for you. We always hope that we'll have the chance to be a positive influence, and that can color our decision.

But really, she's going to have to take responsibility for her actions. The idea that what you do, or do not do, is going to be the factor that determines the course of her ED is an idea that she'll need to get rid of. Sometimes on the ED boards people will talk about what a trigger their (often loving and well-intentioned ) partners are, but once they get rid of them, who's left to blame then ? While it's true that people can be triggered by things they see around them, ultimately recovery (or not) will need to be their responsibility, and the sooner folks come to that conclusion, the sooner things will move on to a more honest and productive stage for them.

(As an aside, people with EDs can complain that they are being triggered by the fact that partners gaining weight, and just as often you hear them complain that they are triggered by their partners losing weight. The point being not that their partners need to change, but ratherthat they need to find a way to gain control over the idea that its other people who are responsible for their ED thoughts and behaviors.)

You haven't really mentioned to what degree she seems committed to getting better or not. What's your sense of that ? People can say that they want to recover, and I suspect that she wants to avoid hospitalization again, but those sorts of feelings can be different than actual recovery.

Sadly we’ve had this

Sadly we’ve had this conversation over recovery and she said she is in no way wanting recovery. I know she has thought about it she’s just scared though.

Not wanting recovery.

"Sadly we’ve had this conversation over recovery and she said she is in no way wanting recovery"

That's going to put her in a jam alright. If she's been to the hospital once already, and yet still wants to lose, then she'll be ending up back there again I'm afraid. Some people with EDs get used to going to the hospital, but for others it starts to wear on them.

There's all sorts of reasons why people don't want to recover. "I'm not sick enough yet" is a common one. The emphasis is on "enough" in most cases. This means that the person can mindfully try and get sicker, as a means of feeling like they finally deserve to get help; an approach which doesn't really help matters much.

" I know she has thought about it she’s just scared though. "

No kidding, the thought of recovery can be authentically scary. Everything the person is going to be asked to do is going to feel totally wrong to them, so it's worth acknowledging the fears that she feels.

Another theme to remember is the risk-taking theme. Getting better is going to involve taking some risks, and there's no way around that I think.

So yeah "Being willing to take a risk." That's a theme to keep in mind when the two of you talk.

Would it be rational to

Would it be rational to continue to see her after the weight gain


See my comments above.

What about you?

Do you ever wonder what would be best for you? Is this a healthy relationship for you? Is gaining back the weight a positive thing for you to be doing to yourself?

....Just a few questions that have crossed my mind.