Q & A: My Girlfriend Has an Eating Disorder, What Can I Do?
Q: My girlfriend has an eating disorder. I’m willing to stick with her while she recovers, but she refuses to get help and won’t talk to me about it. What can I do?
A: If your girlfriend isn’t ready to recover, there are limits to what you can do. You can be supportive, encourage her to get help, and tell her how you feel when she pushes you away, but that’s about it. The decision to make changes is hers. You can’t force her to recover, even though she may be in real danger and your heart is breaking.
Keep in mind that recovery is hard work. Since starving and stuffing are coping behaviors, people don’t quit until they find something else that’s more effective and satisfying. And baring your soul to a therapist is a scary thing to do, especially for someone who is using an eating disorder to navigate life. If your girlfriend isn’t willing to explore and develop other life and relationship skills, she may not be ready for recovery. On the other hand, she might take a baby step towards health and realize that organizing her life around food is a barrier to real happiness and satisfaction and decide to make further changes.
Are you Helping or Hindering?
Look for ways that you may be making recovery hard for your girlfriend. Do you tell her that you like her to be thin? Do you criticize women who are large-bodied? How do you respond when she expresses vulnerabilities and emotional needs? Are you pressuring her to recover? A power struggle is probably the best way to keep her resisting help. Let her know the consequences of her disorder from your perspective and draw her own conclusions about whether or not she wants to recover.
You Get Help, Too
Find a support group for yourself where you can learn from the experiences of others who are in relationships with people who are eating disordered. That way you’ll get some much-needed understanding, and also model for your girlfriend how healthy people use outside resources to help solve problems.
Adapted with permission from the ANRED Alert.
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Summer 2009 Volume 7, Number 3
©2009 Gürze Books
Dr. Gnap website editor eatingdisordersrecoverytoday.com. Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.