National Eating Disorders Association

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Concerned about girlfriend's eating habits

My girlfriend of four months is a very picky eater. She is a vegetarian, and she does not like certain foods and many other things. She is also extremely thin. When I introduced her to my parents, "your girlfriend looks malnourished" was not the response I was hoping for. She does eat a mix of foods. When she eats, she eats very slowly, cutting up her food really small. She is very active, playing sports and going to the gym pretty much every day. When we are together, I feel like we only eat meals because I am hungry - she tells me she doesn't usually get hungry.

Early on while we were starting to date, I told her that I was concerned about her eating habits, but she said "Don't worry about me, I am getting enough food." I let it go, since, after all, if she had an eating disorder, she would not eat certain foods, right? And I wanted to believe her, too. Eating disorders are very serious business.

Recently, I brought it up with her again, and I asked her to humor me and take the NEDA eating disorder screening test. She took it and it showed that she was not at risk. She said she's always ate like this, she's never lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time. She seemed pretty taken aback, and I felt bad for accusing her. I want to believe her and I want to believe the test, but I can't shake my feelings. She doesn't feel sick - she never gets sick, in fact. And she's always full of energy -- I've never seen her get tired. She is an excellent endurance athlete. She exercises like an athlete, but she does not eat like an athlete. Again, not all the foods she doesn't eat are unhealthy. She also doesn't like one type of food, and she does like other types. But I am concerned that her food intake is falling short of her body's needs. Is this just picky eating, or should I continue to push her to ask her doctor or a nutritionist?

"Picky eating"


Yeah, it's hard to tell what's going on. It's true that some people are naturally thin. And of course we're all supposed to be concerned about "health" and "healthy eating". And golly, aren't we all supposed to be going to the gym every day ? And feel guilty if we aren't doing so ? Isn't this the sort of thing that society envies ?

Of course it is. But it can also provide an acceptable cover for behaviors that aren't necessarily healthy too.

I went out with someone like this once. She was a highly accomplished athlete, and had won all sorts of statewide trophies. But at the same time she would lie, and be deceptive about matters that were extremely important to our relationship. I liked her, and think about her still, many years later. But she had a lot of problems which continue to get in the way of her having a full life.

I'm not sure what the situation is with your partner. People who have all sorts of rigid rules for their life, and who find it difficult or impossible to be flexible those rules, what are we supposed to think about that ?

For example, say for some reason she could not go to the gym for…5 days. Say she challenged herself to see if she could do that.

Would she be able to cheerfully do that, like most people would, or would she find herself getting anxious and consumed with anxiety ?
Also, have you gotten any hints about how her self-esteem might be ? People can hide that pretty well, it's true, but often things like this are tied into those kinds of issues. Like "Am I good enough yet ?". Some people can have a hard time with that, and judge themselves in ways that can cause problems.

Because some people have excessive-exercise problems, and the dynamic around the thing is much like the dynamic that surrounds eating disorders. Like they both have similar addictive and emotional aspects which is like they are half-sisters of each other.
Again, it all could be nothing, so take this with a big grain of salt. But keep an eye on her moods, and her ability to deal with frustrations.

And how easy it is for her to be flexible with her rules and routines.

Anyhow, just some thoughts.