National Eating Disorders Association

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My girlfriend relapsed and I want to help

My girlfriend has struggled with an eating disorder since she was about 12, and has been on the path to recovery. She's 20 now, and although things were great for a while, she's recently had a relapse. I care about her very much, and I want so desperately to help, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do. I'm trying my best to be loving and supportive, but she has been very distant and withdrawn. She said that right now she's not trying to fix things because she doesn't feel like getting better, and that she's back to her old habits. It hurts me so much to see her go through this.

What kinds of things should I say/do? All I can think to say is that I love her and she's beautiful, and that I'm here for her. But all I can seem to do is stand by helplessly as she goes through this.

Hi EmmyLou,

Hi EmmyLou,
I'm sorry to hear that your girlfriend has been struggling with this relapse, but I can tell she is lucky to have someone who cares about her as much as you do! It sounds like you're in a difficult situation where you want to help so so much but aren't sure what can or will help her. I think that staying by her side and letting her know you're there for her DOES make a difference, even if it doesn't seem like it at first. It may be difficult for her to open up completely but having you there for if and when she does want to talk or just have someone there to listen to her can be a huge source of support and comfort for her.

Has she been seeking out professional help, such as from a therapist or doctor? As someone who also struggled with an ED in high school and then relapsed 5 years later in college, I found that having a treatment provider was helpful personally. Some therapy sessions could even be set up where you could go with her, depending on how open both of you are to the idea. I know it can be a tough balance between offering support and not seeming like you're pushing her to do anything she doesn't want to do, but letting her know you are there to help her work through this is the most important thing that you can do.

The NEDA Helpline (1-800-931-2237, M-R 9-9, F 9-5 EST) is a great place to call for more ideas on other options or steps you can take from here. Below are some other links with information you might find helpful:

Parent, family, and friends network:
NEDA support groups:
What should I say:
Stories of Hope:

You're an inspiration for wanting to help your girlfriend in her journey to recovery - stay strong!
All the best,


I think you've found yourself in the position that a lot of people find themselves in : We care so much for the person, but at least on the surface, nothing we do seems to be making any difference. And as you said, it feels like all we are doing is standing by and helplessly observing.

And then there's the withdrawal part too. For some reason this is a *very* common thing to see happen between people with EDs and the people they are closest to. It's almost like the more we care, the further they withdraw. My sense is that the idea of somehow being a disappointment to their friends is a big part of that. They make assumptions about what we seem to want, they feel they can't give those things to us, so "for everyone's good" they begin to detach themselves from those who love them the most.

As you also said, many people feel that they simply don't want to get better, so why should they bother looking for help when they feel they don't really want help.

So no wonder you feel helpless.

But I think it's important to pay attention to what Nan said. "Just being there as a friend" may seem like not very much, but it can make a lot more difference than you may think. It may not seem that way now, but you may be surprised at what she says about that in the future.

Also, one trick in all this is to *not* give the appearance that you are freaking out or consumed with worry. The last thing she wants is to be a bother or a burden on anyone, so projecting a "Steady-Eddy" and "feet on the ground" stance will be important too.

Even if you have to fake it, you know ? Because really, who wouldn't worry ? None the less, if you can keep that part to yourself, it may help with the part about her pulling away from you.

Telling her that she's beautiful, I'd cool it with that if you can. It may be the truth, but she's simply in no position to believe it.

Being "worthy" is a different thing though. It's likely that she feels "unworthy in a whole bunch of different realms, and that may indeed be something you can talk with her about.

In any case, I think a lot of people are in the same boat : In truth a lot of it *is* out of our hands, and the whole "support" thing can seem like not very much. But at the same time, as friends it is the role we are qualified for, and there can be more power in it than we think.