National Eating Disorders Association

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How to help in a new way

So my girlfriend and I have been dating for 4 years now. I have known about her ED since about half way through our first year. It hasn't been too bad for the past year especially. After going into counseling for a second time, it seemed to really help. But she has been out of it for about 6 months and she is beginning to reach an unhealthy point again, and I don't want to ignore it or let it get worse. I am encouraging her to go back to therapy again, but she is saying that we don't have the money (which isn't true) and that she doesn't want to right now. I understand that, but I realized that a lot of what I was saying to encourage her was quite wrong. I was trying to compliment her appearance still and hiding a lot of my own emotions and worries. So it is probably super important I educate myself more and get her to therapy. I wanted some advice on how I could continue to encourage her to go back to therapy, and in what ways I can talk about what I am feeling without upsetting her. I also want to know what else I can do, besides complementing her physicality, to try and distract her. Any tips and advice would mean a lot. I have no intention of leaving her after all this time, and understand that she is not fully herself right now. Oh, and anyone with good books to recommend that would also help me support her, would be appreciated too.

Poet Guy

Hey there PG,

Yes, it can be hard to know what to do and not to do when faced with situations like this. For starters, I'd avoid any sort of appearance comments. Anything you say in that regard will be interpreted as you think she's fat. Trust me on that.

Plus, no matter what she may say, this sort of stuff is not about appearance for her. She may go on about how she looks fat to herself in the mirror, but it's not really about that. It's more about self acceptance you know ? And about them being "good enough" or not. Those numbers on the scale, and the direction they move from day to day are all nasty little messages about their personal worthiness.

So from the standpoint of being supportive, I'd try and craft my responses by trying to put yourself in her shoes. "I know you may worry that you are somehow not good enough." Things like that, you know ?

The thing about her not being ready to do therapy again is about how she's not ready to face up to all those personal doubts yet. Besides, in one sense she is already facing them….by using her ED behaviors. Gee, the number on the scale goes down and she feels better ! So who needs therapy, you know ? Except for how crazy-making that whole line of reasoning is, that is.

One thing to keep in mind is that if she's been though this before, there's a part of herself that already knows what direction this all could be heading in. So it's unlikely that she's oblivious to the negative direction she could be taking herself. There's a part of herself that will understand the sort of negative effect this could have on the relationship the two of you share as well.

So yes, she may need to go back to therapy. But how do you get her to believe that herself. Even if a part of herself knows that it's true.

One tactic you might try is mentioning that you do worry that it might effect your relationship. So the two of you could go to therapy to address that part. Not so much address what she's "doing wrong" but to address the worries that you have yourself. So that's one way you could frame it. About it being more about you than about her ? But that you'd need her to be part of the therapy for things to really get resolved.

Granted, that's pretty indirect, so perhaps you can figure something else out. Something where it's not 100% about her, but more about the worries you have about the relationship.

Because it does sound like you have some, you know ?

Keep writing ?


Hey there,

My wife has an ED too. She actively participates in eating disorder behaviors. She has had it for 10 years, we have been married for 6. I, like you, haven;t figured out how to broach the conversation. One day she wants help and accountability and the next she screams at me for bringing it up. My wife rages at me sometimes too for no reason. I think she hates herself on a deep level which is why she is so destructive to herself, that's what my therapist says too. Keep fighting man. Shine the light. I know my wife will manipulate me into believing that I shouldn't stand up for what is right, for recovery, and sometimes just to avoid another argument I don't... Keep fighting man.

Hey Drake.

You wrote :

"One day she wants help and accountability and the next she screams at me for bringing it up. My wife rages at me sometimes too for no reason. I think she hates herself on a deep level which is why she is so destructive to herself, that's what my therapist says too."

I've been on forums with the people who have EDs for well over a decade now, and I can tell you for a fact that the self-hate thing is a never-ending topic. " I hate myself"- Everyone seems to say it sooner or later, and bulimics seem to have the worst of it. The nicest people you could know, yet consumed with self-doubt and self-hate. As far as mental symptoms go, the self-hate thing has got to be one of the most toxic and least deserved of them all.

And I'm not sure what you can do about it. One approach is to keep in mind the legitimate good things you notice about the person, and let them know when you see those parts in action. But you have to be specific. " I always think what a nice person you are" is just not going to cut it with them. "The way you responded with sympathy to that person we saw today." "The caring comments you made about your friend who's in trouble". That's how we need to go about it.

Because really, one of the worst things about EDs is that the person can lose all perspective on themselves. Gee, they are still not losing weight, so that just proves how fake and horrible they are. And all the food they waste too ! Only a truly hateful person would allow themselves to do that, when there are so many other people in this world who are really in trouble. These are the sorts of thoughts that plague them and tear them down and keep them on edge.

So helping them see the good sides of themselves, that's one way we can help them I think. But you can't just speak in generalities, because they know you're "just saying that" to try and help them feel better. You gotta stick with the specifics, and the parts that are hard to refute, you know ?

Edited Post

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 wording 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!

Hey PoetGuy

Hi PoetGuy! I'm sorry to hear you're having a difficult time figuring out how to address this situation with your girlfriend. Being supportive for someone with an ED can be very challenging. I also left this on Drake's post, and wanted to share it here too. NEDA has a Parent Toolkit that explains a lot of concepts about ED's and provides helpful tips on how to navigate through your loved one's recovery. This toolkit isn't just for parents; it's really for anyone in a supportive role for someone with an ED. You can access it under "Resources" here: