National Eating Disorders Association

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Girlfriend 2 yrs in Recovery-- how can I best be of help?!

Hello, and thank you in advance for the help-

I am in love with (and have been together with) a 25 y/o girl who is -- as of today -- 2 years recovered from (what sounds like) a mixed eating disorder. Though I only know details in full yet scattered fragments, I understand that she was hospitalized 2-3 times and in Residential Rehabilitation at least one handful of times.
To delve further, I am a surgical resident physician, so the medicine I understand. Her hair, her GI tract, her anovulatory cycles, even some of the psychology. Partly because of what I do and the rest because of who I am, she has been very vocal and has filled me in on most of what I hadn't already guessed (correctly) at. Again, I have seen many things.

She is currently in therapy + nutrition only monthly, and I have to admit-- she seems to be doing great. Meals together, cooking, overall satisfaction with life -- I am very proud and impressed. This is not just a facade- she made the decision to be better, and I am happiest to say I am a big contribution to her recent happiness. The rest is her own strength and personality.
Nonetheless, I do still see her getting overwhelmed quite often and I am very sensitive to how she is feeling, mood-wise. Some of this is the usual stress of life and work, but I know some of it is wrought from her mind.

I suppose what I am asking for help with is:
1. How much do I not know? It is of course hurtful to think about her as a young teenager (~14 y/o) being forcefully hospitalized and relapsing and dealing with this very secretive and lonely disease. I cannot imagine what goes on in her head on a daily basis, or picture how bad it once was. She has explained to me that "food" and "fat" are not feelings, and that rather the whole things was about control. What else should I know about the pathology? What is it like to be recovered -- yet still have compulsive thoughts, perhaps? What does recovery mean and how does it happen?
and 2. What can I do to help? Many -- but not all -- things she "does not want to talk about," and I am certainly not pushing. What is the best way for me to be supportive? How can I understand an addiction and the associated anxiety/depression/quest to be "perfect" when I have (fortunately) never dealt with ANY of the above?

I must mention once more that I have seen everything from gun shot wounds to inpatient schizophrenia. I even have self-conscious body issues myself, like the rest of us. But this disorder took up half her life, and I want to know more.
I want to know more and I want to know it so that I can be even better for her.

Thank you truly for your help-- whether you suffered yourself or were a major support.
I am looking forward to learning and to improving.

Hi jitdo,

Hi jitdo,

First of all, it is incredibly admirable how much you care about your girlfriend and supporting her through this recovery process. Simply from reading your post, I am sure that you are already being an tremendous support to her through how much you care and how much effort you are putting in to find the best ways to help her!

While you certainly know much more than I do about the medicine and pathophysiology behind eating disorders, I think it will always be difficult to understand exactly what an eating disorder is like if you have never experienced it. Even for people who have had eating disorders, each person's experience can be very different - even people with the same diagnosis can have drastically different symptoms and progression.

With that in mind and trying to accept that unfortunately there is not cookie cutter ED experience for everyone, I encourage you to continue to be honest with your girlfriend and be there for her for what she is ready to talk about. Reassuring that you are there for her can be extremely helpful in itself. Something else that might be worth trying is seeing if your girlfriend would feel comfortable with having you attend a few of her therapy sessions with her. It can help you gain more insight into the strategies she is using in recovering, so you can help her work on them in between therapy sessions.

Here's a link with some more resources aimed at friends and family of people with eating disorders: Reaching out to a community of other people who are in similar situations might be helpful as well. The NEDA Helpline (1-800-931-2237 M-R 9-9, F 9-5 EST) is another good place to call for more information or resources.

Once again, I think you are doing an amazing job in supporting your girlfriend. Recovery can be a difficult journey but continual support, though both the ups and the downs, is one of the keys to success.
Wishing you all the best!