How Eating Disorders Can Harm Relationships

How Eating Disorders Can Harm Relationships

Establishing a new relationship with a significant other while recovering from an eating disorder is challenging, but it can also be transformative and healing.

I’ve had an interesting pattern in relationships. I’ve had one foot in the door and one foot out. I have never felt a true soul connection in my previous relationships and because of that feeling, I haven’t been willing to deep dive with the other person. “Well, if it’s not going to last, why put in the effort?“, I thought to myself countless times.

The result? I half-commit. I choose to hold back on giving my love, appreciation and gratitude. And how do I do that? I hide parts of myself by keeping busy. I get stuck in projects. I take up a lot of time exercising. I hold the other person at an arm’s length.

Interestingly, I have tended to also lose weight in new relationships. With my routine under threat and the fear of being “seen”, I subconsciously try restrict my food and control weight. I stay small and hide away, using food as a way of coping.

Essentially, my partners have been unable to fully penetrate me as I show only edited parts of myself. It’s conditional. And so, things slowly fizzle out.


Fast forward to today. I find myself in a new relationship where the love seems to be unconditional and mutually reciprocal. It’s exciting, invigorating and also incredibly challenging.

A new relationship is one big mirror. I can no longer hide in solitude, whereby I am able to go about things alone, justifying my (sometimes) maladaptive and unhealthy eating and exercise habits. And when there is someone else around, hiding these coping mechanisms becomes harder.

The other person starts to question why I eat the way I do, or why I can’t relax and lie-in in the mornings. These questions are uncomfortable because if I had to answer honestly, my disordered eating thoughts would be exposed. And I don’t want that to happen!

If these thoughts are out wide in the open, it means they come under scrutiny. Ultimately, I know that these thoughts are not healthy but am I ready to let them go? And if people start questioning them, it will result in me having to really look at myself - and possibly let them go and change the narrative. I have to leave what I know and what I falsely believe protects me. Am I ready to let go?


At the same time, I really want to spend time with this beautiful person in my life. But this means choosing to lie in bed rather than go to gym. It means eating meals together that include foods that I would usually stay away from (because they are not “healthy”, for example). It means lying together, skin-to-skin, when all I want to do is run away from my own body, let alone have another person see and touch it!

A new relationship can feel disruptive and out of control. This can cause our eating disorder to panic. But our authentic voice, that intuitively notices the truth that is present, wants something else that our ED doesn’t. The yo-yo between the head and the heart can be exhausting.

Luckily, I feel safe, seen and loved in my current relationship, where open and honest dialogue is encouraged and heard. Over this time, I have found a few things that help me move into the heart space, in times when it can be hard to hear over the shouting, harming and self-deprecating thoughts.

Below are five little tips that I am currently trying to incorporate as much as possible as I navigate this new territory:

  1. As much as possible, keep the communication channels open and ask for support.

  2. Notice when you start pushing the person away or start to find things that are “wrong” with them. Rather than breaking up or walking away, pause and take a few conscious breaths. This resistance usually points to something within yourself that is uncomfortable and needs to be healed. For me, it is often parts of my inner child that need some serious loving!

  3. Keep a perspective on what really matters - does your body size mean more to you than living a love-full life?

  4. Follow and trust your intuition. Rather than sticking to the rigid rules you have created around diet, food and exercise, listen in to what your heart wants. It will result in a deeper and more authentic connection not only with your partner but with yourself.

  5. Allow your body to embody love. Move with the energy and give yourself permission to be transformed by it.

With all my love,

Francesca

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