National Eating Disorders Association

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obsessive questioning - how to respond?

my girlfriend has had an ED since she was young. we started seeing each other in April of 2020 so we haven't had a relationship pre-COVID. the pandemic took a big toll on her mental health for various reasons and her ED has been on a flare-up ever since. i don't know many details because she keeps a lot of it secret from me and she says that nobody knows how bad it is.

anyways the point of this post is that i don't know how to deal with the obsessive questioning that starts up when she is feeling very low and full of self hatred. she starts asking me over and over things like, do you think i'm fat? do you think i'm chubby? do you think i'm overweight? do you think i've gained weight since then? do i look fat in this picture? do you notice ___? have you noticed _____? ... and she says that she is asking these questions because she wants to understand and have a clearer and more realistic picture of herself, because she says the ED distorts her self image.

In these moments, it feels like she has become a stranger and her demeanor is completely different. Even her voice is different. She looks at me like she doesn't quite see me. It is very eerie and disturbing and i feel so disconnected from her. i feel as though i've become a tool that she is using for self harm. It makes me so sad and also angry. I am doing my best to empathize with her situation but i am also myself hurting so much from this. I have tried everything: from telling the truth, to lying, to saying nothing, to changing the subject, telling her that that stuff isn't important to me and that i love her and just want to see her happy, everything. Unless she decides to change the subject, any answer I give only confirms to her that I think she is disgusting. It makes me want to tear my hair out.

Anyone else?

angel star - Body Dismorphia.

First off, Body Dismorphia is a very real thing. People simply can't accurately assess their appearance. For example, they can take their height and weight, and calculate their BMI, and see how it lines up with the guidelines as to whether a person is under or overweight, and even if the charts indicate that they are severely underweight, they can still visually see themselves as fat. So from a clinical standpoint, people honestly can struggle with these sorts of misperceptions. It's helpful for us to understand BD, but even though it all seems obvious to us, I don't think it's going to help matters to point the various aspects of it out to her.

However, from a psychological standpoint, it can be helpful to think about her questionings as code-talk for deeper concerns. "Do you think I'm fat ?" and other such seemingly weight-related questions are often just code-talk for…"Do you think I'm an adequate human being ?" Or "Do you think I'm worthy of living in this world?" Or even "Do you think I deserve to respect myself ?" So when trying to craft answers to these questions, you may want to see them as questions about these deeper concerns, and see if you can respond to them from those angles instead ?

Because really, you don't want to take the bait, when she dangles these appearance-type questions in front of you. It's just ED, encouraging you to play along. And as you've seen, there's really no sort of satisfactory answer that can be provided when you do.

Telling her you think she is beautiful is just more of the same. You are "just saying that" to make her feel better, when what you really think is that she is fat. It's always going to be a no-win situation when it comes to comments regarding appearance, even if they are positive ones.

Again, try and think about what the coded messages are in all this, when trying to respond. "I know you must be having a hard time thinking well of yourself." " I know you may be struggling with a lot of self-doubts right now." Granted such responses may feel like you are trying to be an amateur psychologist, but at the same time, they do get closer to the core of the issue, rather than dancing around in all the appearance-based stuff.

Which as you've seen, rarely goes anywhere productive.

Anyhow, none of this is easy, so just some thoughts.

What BobJ48 said, finding the

What BobJ48 said, finding the source/code of these questions is key.

In my experience these questions, that more than questions they appear to be invitations to play along with my partner's insecurities, were coming from a relationship insecurity angle. So my partner's train of thought was something like this: "I'm sure as hell overweight therefore I'm not worthy of this relationship because let's be honest who would want to be with me....... wait.. I'm even fatter than I look? right?... right? yeah I should look even fatter than I look in the mirror because this study I read was saying that basically all brains makes us look better through our eyes, OMG, how much fatter does he perceives me? he must be doing an abysmal effort to look at me and hold his disgust.... why doesn't he say anything at all? why doesn't he show me support right this second that I'm having a crisis........"

It doesn't end there but you get the idea, all of this of course she's not telling me so I have no idea what it's going in her mind, when she makes me part of this issue was normally at the very end stage which is the of the obssesive questioning you mentioned... "do I look fatter?" "is she fatter than me?" "do you think this and that....." After many many many looong talks I found out about this and learned why answering her questions was a no-win situation.

What I do now is whenever she's at the obsessive questioning phase, I just go directly to her and tell her how much I love her and I need her. I'd would say some recent examples of why she's very important to me, the things I'm doing to spend the rest of my life fulfilling our dreams etc. This way I'm going directly to the source of the issue and very soon I see she snaps out of that negative mentality.

TL;DR her obssesive questioning is a symptom not the issue, avoid playing along with symptoms and go directly to the source.

Hope it helps!

NEDA Resources

Hi angelstar2345,

We're sorry to hear your girlfriend is struggling! If she'd like to reach out for support, please let her know that she can always reach out to the NEDA helpline by phone or text at 800.931.2237 M-Th 11am-9pm ET and F 11am-5pm ET. She can also can chat with us online M-Th 9am-9pm ET and F 9am-5pm ET. 

Take care!