National Eating Disorders Association

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Triggered by partner

Hi everyone, it's my first time posting on here so hello! I'm looking for some advice/shared experiences. Here's some context: I developed anorexia in my early 20s and suffered with it on and off for around 10 years (the vast majority of these years I'd say I was in semi-recovery: at a low weight and over-exercising but not intentionally starving myself). At the end of 2019, for various reasons, I decided I needed to change something and sought therapy, allowed myself to eat unconditionally and reached a healthy weight (and appetite level) that I've maintained for over a year now. I don't have any food rules and have been successfully practicing intuitive eating and have seen all the mental and physical benefits of proper recovery as a result. This isn't to say it's been easy, as you'll all know, there are good days and bad days but, generally speaking, I'm doing pretty well.

However, recently I've started to get really triggered by my partner. We've been together for seven years and for the vast majority of that time, he's had a really healthy and balanced relationship with food. Over the last year or so, that's changed slightly and he's doing lots of research into strict plant-based diets (like, literally just plants), wants to do a juice fast to 'detox' and has also lost a significant amount of weight. It doesn't seem to be obsessive and he says his reasons are getting closer to nature and becoming more in tune with his body and he is of very sound mind. It's also worth noting that while his diet has changed, he does still incorporate most food groups (so it's not just plants... yet).

As the closest person to him, who has history of an ED, I'm finding this all very hard to be around. I compare my food intake with his, feel really angry and upset when he talks about it, and question whether I can even be in a relationship with someone who is going down this road. At the same time, I know I can't rely on anyone else to validate my ongoing recovery and everyone's bodies and needs are different. I also think about this in terms of addiction (which I think EDs have components of): would someone who has substance abuse issues, for example, be able to be in a relationship with someone who is a heavy drinker/drug-taker? I suspect not. This makes me wonder whether someone with history of an ED can be in a relationship with someone who seems to be going down the diet culture track.

Has anyone had any experience of this? It's a really tricky one for me because all the other aspects of my partner are wonderful: he's kind, caring, gentle, has similar values and principles to mine and I know he'd be a great father (we are hoping to have children in future). It's just that this one thing feels like a big deal to me at the moment and I'm not sure how to move past it (or if I can). Any advice would be massively appreciated!

Hi! I have a lot of thoughts

Hi! I have a lot of thoughts on this subject…

Does your partner know about your ED history? Does he know that these conversations are triggering to you? Obviously, since I’m in this forum, I too have a history of EDs. My husband didn’t know about my ED until my therapist broke confidentiality and called home and told him about it. It wasn’t until then that I could open up with my husband about the ED (side note, I absolutely no not condone violating confidentiality laws in any way shape or form). I was able to tell him when I felt triggered and when his comments were unhelpful and at times hurtful.

There are a couple of my coworkers who know about my history with ED. I hate that they think because I know how to lose weight they can come to me with their diet concerns and tell me about their current fad diet. It is incredibly triggering to me and sometimes I try to shut it down with passive aggressive comments. I’m not good at confrontations, but sometimes I feel like it would be better to just come out and say that I’m struggling with the comments and I cannot handle any more fat phobic talk.

To answer your question, can you be in a relationship with someone who is on a diet, I believe the answer is probably. Only if you have a conversation with him about your eating disorder and that you’re nervous his change in lifestyle might be detrimental to you.

My experience

In my experience, my husband was only triggering when I was already having a hard time. Then I focused my energy on HIM to pass off the blame. When I am thriving, having the good day, I am not phased by him. I am anorexic/bulimic in/out of recovery and with past alcohol abuse. My spouse was definitely not a healthy eater most of the time and a drinker who works in that industry. When my mental health is tame, I can sit at a bar with him and not be phased. When my anxiety and depression peak, I can smell the drink on him from across the room and start to spin. I haven't drank in almost 9 years because of ME and my actions not HIM and my reactions. As he has gotten older he has tried to improve diet. It is beyond upsetting the days I somehow eat more than him. But I have to remind myself he isn't doing it to spite me and what he does is unrelated to me and my health and recovery. There were plenty of times I struggled through him eating X foods that I wanted to binge on but then being perfectly fine around him eating the same foods other times. Again, it comes down to me and my stability. He is a grown man and I have no control over him. I can only work on me and how I react to the triggering situations.

Thank you both for your

Thank you both for your really helpful comments. Yes, my partner knows about my history but he can be a bit dismissive (which I think is just due to a lack of understanding). I have ruled out the diet conversation with him and we've agreed not to talk about it but it's difficult being around his behaviours. I can't help but compare my food intake to his and see it as a lot greater (if we spend the day together, I'm often eating lunch on my own, for example) and feel bad about it. But I also know this is conditioning and everyone's body and appetite is different and all I can do is honour mine. It's just hard to really internalise that sometimes.

I also agree that I'm more triggered when I'm feeling vulnerable. This is a change that's happened recently so I'm getting used to navigating it and I do think that in the past, I have used his food intake (which was always healthy and significant) as a crutch to justify mine, which I know isn't healthy. This is all exacerbated at the moment because I'm newly pregnant and STARVING very often! It's an interesting and challenging point in recovery when your behaviours have gone but the thoughts still haunt you.


Congratulations! How exciting and probably terrifying. You are entering a wonderful (and challenging) journey. I wish you all the best!
Part of me wishes I experienced one pregnancy without an ED. I imagine it is an entirely different journey. I feel the focus was always on my weight and not on the baby's development. My first pregnancy, my doctor was so afraid I wouldn't gain weight. She made me think my body couldn't gain so I over compensated. I ate all the time even when I wasn't hungry. Baby was big and healthy but I ended up with a bunch of extra weight afterwards. I kept some of it on for a year before I finally snapped. My second pregnancy the doctors gave me the whole speech again. I wasn't as anxious about it though. I followed my body cues the best I probably ever have. Some days I ate a bunch, other days not. My doctor kept insisting I needed to gain more and my baby would be small. Nope. Another big, healthy baby and I didn't have any extra weight. It was like mom mode took over and was listening to baby. I wish I had that connection to my body again. To feel hunger and feed myself without over thinking it and to stop as soon as I was satisfied.

Really glad to hear you were

Really glad to hear you were able to find that intuitive balance in your second pregnancy. That's where I feel I'm at – I've been practicing intuitive eating for a year and a half now and can't not listen to my body cues! I'm finding they are especially pronounced during pregnancy so that's what I'm continuing to tune into, rather than any outside sources. Pregnancy, appetite and weight gain is such a personal journey and everyone's experience will be different, which is why professional advice can sometimes be unhelpful (even if it's coming from a good place).