National Eating Disorders Association

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Girlfriend with Possible (?) Disordered Behavior

Hey everyone!

I'm a 19-year-old female college student and I've been noticing some behavior in my girlfriend that could maybe point toward the possibility of disordered eating and/or thinking. She exercises daily, sometimes to the point of real exhaustion, and gets very anxious when she doesn't make it to the gym. Often she'll only have a small amount of food at meals and she justifies it with a shrug and by saying that it's just what she does when she's stressed. She also weighs herself daily and has mentioned that anxiety about her weight has been an ongoing problem for her, and acknowledges it's an issue but then immediately laughs it off. I believe she understands some of her behavior is harmful but regards it with a candid attitude to prevent me from worrying.

I've tried a couple times to urge her to see a professional about this and other problems regarding depressive moods, as I myself am bipolar and found professional help beneficial, but she is extremely reluctant to go. She doesn't believe she needs help and justifies it by saying that other people have it worse than she does. I'm very overweight and though I sometimes experience body insecurities, I try to exude as much body positivity and self-love as I can around her. However, I'm not sure if this is a constructive way to support her or if it does more harm than good.

Let me know if you think her behavior could point towards a disorder or if it boils down to simple body image issues. In either case, I worry a lot about her well-being and would appreciate any advice you could offer. I want to support her as best I can.

Thank y'all so much!

Hi aud4567,

Hi aud4567,

First of all, it sounds like you are a really supportive and caring person. Your girlfriend is lucky to have you around! I am not a medical professional, so I cannot say for sure whether she has an eating disorder, but it does sound like she is exhibiting some concerning behaviors around food and exercise. The earlier you can treat these kinds of behaviors, the better. If left alone they can get progressively worse, more ingrained and harder to treat.

You are doing the right thing by opening up dialogue with her about it, encouraging her to seek professional support and being as body positive as you can around her. Ultimately, she will need to decide to take the first step towards recovery herself. The first part of that is recognizing there is a problem!

I have included a link to the NEDA parents toolkit here (its definitely helpful even if you are not a parent). It has a ton of advice on recognizing the signs of an eating disorder and how to communicate with someone who is suffering from one. I encourage you to check it out:

Do you know if her parents or anyone else close to her is aware of these struggles? Another avenue would be to encourage her to open up to those people about what she has been going through (if they are supportive and understanding). Or, if things get really dire, speaking to them yourself.

I hope this is helpful. Please continue to come here for support and let us how things progress. Remember to continue to take care of yourself as you support her!



Hey Aud,

Yes, it does sound like you have reasons to be concerned. While exercise is something that a lot of people seem to be obsessive about these days, missing a day or two is something that most people who exercise a lot might comment on with a little light humor. When people address it with anxiety instead, I think you're right in seeing that as something different.

She also mentions that she reacts to stress by eating less, and while we all may do that to some degree, for people with EDs, restricting is a common response to situations which feel as though they are not as much under their control as the person might want.

You wrote :

"She doesn't believe she needs help and justifies it by saying that other people have it worse than she does."

While none of us are professionals here, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard these exact words expressed by people who have EDs. On the one hand, one might see this as a charitable expression, but on the other hand it underlines the sense of "not being good enough", and personal unworthiness that so often plagues those with EDs, and holds them back from taking the steps they need to take for themselves.

As liz said above, Admitting that there is a problem is a big milestone in all of this, and from all you've said, I think it's possible that she may already have an idea that things may have already moved into the "problem" area. Getting to the point where she's willing to actually say these words out loud to someone else….that will be the next step.

You sort of hate the idea that people need to be tricked into seeing someone, but if she complains about depression or anxiety, or general school issues, she might see it easier to justify a trip the school counselor for those matters than for what may be her eating issues ?

Bob J.

The sooner the better.

It's sounds like there are reasons to be concerned.

She says the are people worse than her. True, but the worse they get, the harder it is to be helped. When you think you can get out, it's the time you need to try.

Down that road, she will think that she can't get out. If she thinks she doesn't have a problem now, then let's do something before it becomes one.

The self hate doesn't get better (being a 'good anorexic') it gets way worse. One day you see yourself as if you were watching a movie, and you're having a terrible toothache, but you won't take a pill, because you don't know how many calories it has, and then you think about yourself 'how pathetic is that?'

You don't put conditions to love someone. You wouldn't say to other "I'll love you if you drop some weight". So doing it to ourself it can never makes us happy, it would give some satisfaction that lasts seconds. But we'll need more and more to get less and less.

You're thirsty, and your trying to fill the cup with air, you drink it and you're still thirsty, of course. But you keep trying, maybe you didn't get enough air... You are trying to fill the cup of self love, with control and ultimately self punishment. So it never works. Never.

At the beginning, there are choices. You gotta get your friend to act now, when there are choices. Later on, they feel they don't have a choice. They'll have to do things that they absolutely know they are wrong, it would take control of all aspects of her life.

If people knew more about EDs they'd know it one of the scariest things in the world. But when you don't know, it always sound as a tale to scare you. Sadly it's not a tale at all.

Good luck.