National Eating Disorders Association

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I don't know what to do

my girlfriend and I began dating just a few months ago but I have known her longer than that. I know that she has struggled with her eating disorder in the past but she was doing better. She's reverting back to her old habits because she wants to look better for me despite constant reassurance that she looks amazing. I read that she may be doing this as a way to regain a sense of control during a hectic time. I haven't been the best boyfriend lately but I would never break up with her. It's hard for me to help her because we're young and I have no idea what I am doing. Not to mention I am also doing this alone because her family doesn't really care and my family doesn't even know that she is my girlfriend. I just want to help but I'm scared.

Back at you.

Oh brother, I can see why you might be concerned. And you are right, it's quite possible that something in her life is triggering her and causing her to feel insecure, and causing her to return to behaviors which help her feel more in control. Not necessarily in control of whatever the actual stressors are, but a feeling of control over…just something, you know ?

You mentioned being young and not knowing what you are doing. But really, most people, no matter what their age is, have that feeling of not knowing what they are doing in situations like this. So please don't feel like you are being dumb or anything like that. Because it's clear to me that your heart is in the right place with all this, and while it might be wrong to think that that's going to fix things, it serves to keep aa person at least somewhat on the right path I think.

One suggestion I could make would to not keep telling her that she looks great. People's EDs tend to twist comments like that in all sorts unhelpful directions. Like when you tell her that she looks amazing, that must mean that you DIDN'T think that she looked amazing before ! Or that you are "just saying that" because to be honest, you don't think she looks good enough yet. Appearance comments are generally a no-win situation it seems, no matter how sincere or well-intentioned we are.

Asking how she is feeling can help though, if she can feel safe being open with you I mean. If she is willing to tell you things, and it turns out to be negative things that you'd rather not have her feel…try to resist contradicting her and telling her that those thoughts are silly. More helpful would be something like ; "It must be terrible to find yourself feeling that way."

Things that show that you "get it" about how she's feeling, even if those feelings should seem unreasonable to us.

If you do want to point out things that are good about her, try and be specific. Rather than saying "You are such a good person" (too general of a statement), you could point out how you've seen her be helpful to friends, or how you've heard her be concerned about the treatment of animals, or concerned about other situations in the world. People with EDs can worry that they are not good enough as a person, so try and be specific, you know ?

Anyhow, you sound like a good person yourself, so keep writing if it seems to help.

Long Road

BF359 My mother tried to make me wise to her feeling of my then girlfriend's body image. But I had dated enough women; and this little Italian sprite and I got along. It was the end of the 80's but the fitness rage was still raging. We married bought a house had a couple kids. About the time the youngest was 6 and I was blind to things because of parenting and providing and career; my bother in law said something about how bad my lady looked at a reunion party. (we live 300 miles away from family so sometimes 6 months can go by without contact). She was freaked out be her bother in laws candid comment, her father and nurse sister chimed in. Her doctor perscribed a certain drink for a couple weeks. It was weird seeing her struggling to drink the persciption. Anyway time moved along... scare over. This is where I may need to use language that the site sometimes flags and it makes me nuts because I am just sharing the truth. Past 4 or so years she has become OBSESSED with exercise. But she wears long sleeves to Hawaii, won't eat wonderful stuff on vacation. She's so cautious about what she eats. I find out a year ago that she went nearly X DAYS on that vacation without a "BM". Shesh, no wonder she couldn't eat, but also the fact she eats so little that her system is slow. I started a dialog with her DR. at the New Year. I had delivered a letter to her home on New Year's Day. She called me on the 2nd and agreed that my lady has been a difficult case. I called Dr. and said I think things are getting dire and gave same description. Dr. had called my wife for a mandatory appointment tomorrow! The reason I am sharing this is I suspected an issue when we were dating in 1989/90, wrote it off as something people were talking about too much (Karen Carpenter was in the news at the time). I fell in love, made a family, it's been good. But this issue has been front of mind to me for nearly 4 years. She's dancing on a high wire / knife edge of functioning. NEDA doesn't allow us to use numbers and such, but I will bet $ her mass is not X digits tomorrow. Things socially in my home are going to get pretty ugly, and from what I have read about ladies much younger than mine she may have to be hospitalized. She's the bread winner right now, she's stressed, I'm stressed. We made a family... but I feel trapped by my choice. I am starting to imagine my life without her. Will COVID get her and knock her frail body out? Will she have a breakdown when she's told to take a week off or spend 2 weeks in a program? Will her company let her go as the don't have much loyalty to anyone who's spent 30 years with them. It's high stakes, and the choice we all make in a partner is heady. I didn't think I deserved her way back when... we have been a great team, but its like being married to a super star that has a self destructive alter - ego. This issue is a whole other can of worms, people are too polite to confront (her family). That's all I have to say. I'm 54, I met her in '88, and it's be great... but I am afraid I'll spend my empty nest years alone, because I used to be afraid the flue would get her and now we have COVID, and from what I have read a cardiac event could get her, or worse "refeeding syndrome" looks to be a possibility if she slips much farther.

Signs and Symptoms

Since you mention that you're worried about refeeding syndrome, we are providing you with a list of medical emergency signs and symptoms to look out for:The following are just some of the signs of a serious problem that demands immediate medical attention:

  • accidentally or deliberately caused themselves a physical injury
  • become suicidal
  • confused thinking and is not making any sense
  • delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (experiencing things that aren’t there)
  • disoriented; doesn’t know what day it is, where they are or who they are
  • vomiting several times a day or has uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea
  • experiencing dizziness or fainting spells
  • too weak to walk or collapses
  • painful muscle spasms
  • experience pain in the lower legs
  • complaining of chest pain or having trouble breathing
  • blood in their bowel movements, urine or vomit
  • a body mass index (BMI) of less than 16
  • an irregular heartbeat, and fast heartbeat, or very low heart beat (less than 50 beats per minute)
  • cold or clammy skin indicating a low body temperature or has a body temperature of less than 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • experience dizziness, nausea, fever
  • wounds/cuts heal slowly
  • feel tingling in the hands or feet
  • blurred vision

If your loved one experiences anything above, we highly recommend seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible. Seek medical help soon on an outpatient basis if you:

  • have significant heartburn and/or a burning sensation after eating
  • have other gastrointestinal concerns
  • have high blood pressure
  • struggle with significant joint or muscle pain
  • have difficulty sleeping (falling and/or remaining asleep)
  • struggle with fatigue, sudden weight gain, and/or hair loss
  • have frequent urination or unquenchable thirst
  • have gained and lost significant weight repeatedly
  • have gained significant weight in a short period of time
  • struggle with chronic diarrhea or constipation

Hey Buddy,

Yeah, it's some pernicious stuff alright, and you may be right about hospitalization or a program. It would be great if she could do a program, but that would need to mean that she saw her ED as a problem. And I suspect you know how that goes.

I work on another board, which can't be named here, and have worked on boards for people with EDs for over 20 years now. Where I'm the only "normie". And yeah, you often hear the same question "Do I want to be healthy and happy, or do I want to continue with my ED ?"

One would think that the answer would be obvious, but the way that EDs worm their ways into people's brains, it's honestly not an obvious choice for them at all. So you do kind of have to respect that, particularly if you're going to have a useful conversation with them, as crazy as that may seem to outsiders.

I suspect your wife knows that it's an issue though? "The tribe" on the ED boards…even if they are still going for it…they also understand that in the long run it's not a good thing. It's pretty much "tribal wisdom" these days that EDs are things which cause people a big pile of trouble in all sorts of realms of life, even if what you find yourself wanting the most is just to get thinner and thinner.

So yeah, I don't know what to tell you that will help much.

Because it's going to be up to her as to want sort of choices she wants, and what sorts of emotional risks she'll be willing to take.