National Eating Disorders Association

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Girlfriend suffers from bulimia while studying in another country

Hi everyone,

I am in a bit of a complex situation. My girlfriend is currently doing her master abroad. Now, a couple of years ago she told me that she had struggled with an eating disorder some years before we met. But, she also mentioned that she had made some significant progress in her recovery.

The problem is that now that she is studying abroad, she has relapsed. She told me about it, and I've been trying to be as supportive as I can be. She mentioned that in part it could be caused by the stress associated with studying far from home and from the fact that we are no longer living together (although I've tried to visit her as much as I can).

The whole situation has put a lot of pressure on our relationship and to make things more complicated, she had a bad experience with professional help in the past. So whenever I bring up that option, she just dismisses it.

So I need some advice on how to give her some support, how to make her feel safe and perhaps not alone. She has made some friends at the place where she is living, but I don't think she trusts them enough to tell them.

At the moment, I am the only one who knows about her relapse and she doesn't want to tell her mother because she feels that this might make her mother extremely worried. Finally, the whole situation with COVID-19 makes it impossible for me to travel and give her some face to face support.

Thank you for your help.

Support at a distance.


I suspect she's right about it being tied in with stress. And the disruption of the living situation she shared with you. EDs are often tied into a sense of control and security/insecurity within one's life. Upset that sense of security, and prior feelings of being on top of things, and relapses can occur.

Letting her know that you understand that part, and not underplaying the insecurities she's feeling may be the best way to go. When we know that someone else has an understanding of the challenging feelings we're dealing with, there can be some real comfort in that.

I'm not sure how secure she feels in her new situation, but if there have been some parts which have been fun or adventuresome, then encouraging her to talk about those things might help a little too. Sometimes we don't give enough credit to the good parts, you know ? Once she realizes that there may be some good stuff too, perhaps the idea of being there may begin to feel a little brighter, and she may begin to feel a little bit more in control of her life.

And since EDs are often tied in with feelings of control, or lack of control, things with her ED may improve a little as she starts getting the lay of the land, begins to feel a bit more mastery over her situation.

If that makes any sense ?