Join Date: Dec 2007
Having an anorexic girlfriend - my story
Before I start my story, I'd like to say exactly why I'm posting here. Although I'm dying to hear your advice and perspectives, I'm mainly doing this just to be able to tell the story to someone. Maybe it can help you understand your own situation, as the effect an eating disorder has on relationships really shouldnt be underestimated. I'm sorry if that sounded a little cocky, in any case it wasnt at all intended to be.
I started going out together with my girlfriend almost two years ago... we didn't really know eachother that well beforehand but we really kicked off fast, and despite everything we both see eachother spending our lives together. When we first started dating, I didn't know she had an eating disorder. Due to the fact that I've had numerous friends and family members with EDs, I figured it out after a month or two. From the day I found out, I've always been as supportive as possible. However, I didn't want her to find out that I knew because i was scared ******** of losing her... I lost my best friend 3 years ago because i confronted her with her eating disorder and didn't want that to happen again. You might call it selfish (which to a large extent it was), but because I've been close to quite a few other people with ED's, I figured that if she didn't want to deal with the issue, that confronting her with it would probably do more damage than good.
As you can imagine, this was a difficult time for me, constantly switching between being worried about her, feeling guilty for knowing, feeling guilty for not talking to her about it, and because we're in a semi-long distance relationship not always being there in person to confort her. This was especially the case near the end when things were really going downhill for her: you name a symptom, she had it. I know that my suffering was nothing compared to hers, but for the time being I'll just stick to my perspective as boyfriend.
After about 6 months of dating and hundreds of Euros on phonebills later, she finally puckered up the courage to tell me. Anyone that has an ED knows how big a step this is, especially for her as she was damn good at hiding it... to this day i can literally count the amount of people that know on two hands, herself included. This was a huge relief to me as well as her, and I told her straight away that I had known and explained why i had not confronted her with it. At that point she had been anorexic for almost 4 years (which, for an 18 yo is a long time), and very frightened because in contrast to before she no longer had some form of control over it.
In hindsight I have absolutely no regrets of not telling her. I think that my help has had much a greater inpact because i waited with it until she was ready, and things got moving really quickly. 1 week later she started eating without purging again... this was extremely hard for her, but i stayed on the phone with her while she was eating and a few hours after that to keep her mind off of things. As i understand it I'm not supposed to post numbers here, but the amount of weight that she was able to recover was absolutely incredible.
At that point I also decided to confront her parents behind her back. The week before I did that was absolutely the worst of my life. I slept maybe a total of 8 hours that week, as well as having lost my own appetite. Although my girl had never asked me not to tell anyone or something, you can imagine what kind of guilt i felt before i told them. On the other hand, I knew that to make her achievments sustainable she needed a good supporting home. On a more personal note i was absolutely disgusted by the way her parents were in denial - her parents BOTH being renown nutritionists. Her parents agreed to give it some time and not to talk to her about it until she told them herself. I managed to convince my girlfriend to confront them with it a week later. Her father never really changed and her mother only minimally, passing it off as some temporary obsession for their own convenience and confort. As you can maybe tell, I still hold a grudge against them for it.
This all happened in a month's time, her progress was simply amazing. She managed to keep this up for about half a year. However, mainly due to her parents' lack of understanding and forcing her to "eat normally" (as they had always done, the nature of my gf's eating disorder was purging), she gained more weight than she could handle and had a relapse. She didn't tell me this right away, but this time i decided to tell her i knew myself. Again this was a really confusing time for me as i didnt know what to do. I guess i was mad at her for not being upfront with me, but i can understand that she didn't say anything. I knew she was going to have a relapse sooner or later, and it was actually a lot later than i originally expected.
In recent times, she's been in a limbo between relapse and recovery... although she still purges sometimes (on a regular basis), she has been able to sustain an acceptable weight and most importantly is still working slowly towards recovery. I'm extremely proud to have a girlfriend that has been able to improve her eating disorder so much without ANY form of professional help. I just try to reassure her as much as possible and make sure i'm always there for her when she needs someone to talk to. I even dare to say that her eating disorder has made our relationship stronger than it otherwise would have been.
To conclude, I'd like to give some advice on being in a relationship with a ED from what i've learned out of my own experiences.
Guys: get over the stigmatization and taboos of eating disorders. Inform yourself as much as possible so you can understand what is going on. Its a disorder and not some kind of obsession - don't expect it to disappear after a good conversation, a few months, or even a few years. Its not something you can control or cure, all you can do is listen, advise, and just be supportive. Thats something you will have to learn to deal with and understand. Its not easy, but if you're well informed and accept the ED for what it is, it doesn't necessarily have to be a setback in your relationship... In my case it was even an asset (as terrible as that may sound). If you don't think you're up for it then its better to pull the plug sooner than later.
Girls: Having a girlfriend with an eating disorder does not hurt. What hurts is the overwhelming sense of helplessness. Be upfront with your partner but explain everything - if you have a relapse, explain why. Explain (if you can) how you developed the disorder. Explain what you're doing to try to get over it, but above all, tell your partner what he can do to support you in this. I've made a point of it to inform myself as much as possible about anorexia... but in many people's minds its still some form of silly obsession, help them get over that so they can understand whats going on. Don't underestimate how hard it can be for us sometimes.
Thank you so much for reading this overly long post, it means a lot to me that my story has been heard, and i sincerely hope it might shed some light on your own situation. If you have an eating disorder and are looking at sites like this, you've already come a long way and i wish you all the strength in the world, you should be proud of yourself, and not let any setbacks discourage you. Take care