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10 Things to Say to a Partner Struggling With an Eating Disorder

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When I had an eating disorder, I had many rules. I had a strict regimen of food and a strict regimen of exercise. I would not let myself enjoy a meal or buy clothes that fit my body. I would not let myself date.

You see, my eating disorder made me believe I was disgusting and unlovable. So, I listened to my eating disorder religiously and, at 24 years old, I ended up at an eating disorder treatment facility.

In recovery, I was supposed to start doing all the things I had previously denied myself. I ate (and enjoyed) my “fear foods.” I bought clothes I liked — clothes that fit.

I left treatment in the winter of 2012, and decided I was going to date. Two months later, riddled with anxiety, I went on my first date. One date led to another and, on our fourth date, I discussed my eating disorder. This would be the first of many conversations about my eating disorder.

During our conversations, I was really surprised by my partner’s compassionate responses to hearing about my eating disorder.

His thoughtful responses helped me deepen my recovery and they helped to deepen our relationship. Some of the best things my partner ever said to me are things I truly needed to hear from him. I’ve included ten examples of things he said:

1. “Tell me about your eating disorder. What was it like?”

2. “I want to learn more about eating disorders. Where can I get more information?”

3. “How do you want me to respond when you are struggling during our mealtimes?”

4. “I am not going to hyper-focus on the food you are eating. Let me know if I start doing that.”

5. “I never knew all of this. I am going to change the way I think and talk about food and bodies.”

6. “What was your motivation for pursing recovery? How can I help you stay motivated?”

7. “What role do you want me to have in your recovery?”

8. “How will I know if you start getting sick again?”

9. “How should I talk to you if I have concerns that you are getting sick again?”

10. “Let’s talk about how to incorporate your recovery into our lives together.”

Best of all, the man I went on that first, terrifying date with is still my partner today.

My partner has supported me, learned about eating disorders, let me take the lead in recovery and incorporated my recovery into our life plans. While I entered and left eating disorder treatment on my own, my partner has taken on such an important role in my recovery. I will forever be grateful for his support and kindness. We’ve been together for over four years now, and are planning on spending a lifetime together.

My eating disorder fed off of my isolation and my recovery has thrived on relationships. My hope is that more people become aware of the many ways they can support their friends and loved ones in recovery. This list of things to say is one way to begin.

Laura Patterson is a Recovery Ambassador for Eating Recovery Center. Writing and speaking about her eating disorder allows her to fully engage in recovery and connect with others. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Photo via iStock.

Originally published: May 31, 2017
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