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Originally published February 10, 2015. Updated January 29, 2024.
Content Warning: eating disorders, relationships, body image
I didn’t realize how much my eating disorder prevented me from developing healthy romantic relationships until I reached my strongest point in recovery last year and fell in love for the first time.
I don’t believe the cliché saying, “No one can love you until you love yourself.”
Struggling with low self-esteem or a mental health issue does not make you unloveable; it is only one aspect of who you are, and part of being in a relationship is loving someone despite their struggles.
However, I believe it is most rewarding to be in a relationship when you can present the most authentic version of yourself.
I am most authentic when, while mental health struggles come up, I am still in control of my life rather than my eating disorder running the show and making all of my decisions for me.
When I was consumed by my eating disorder, I could not open my heart to another person.
This was because all my energy was spent on my obsessing about food, weight, and my body.
We trick ourselves into believing numbing ourselves to painful emotions through behaviours will keep us safe when, in reality, it is impossible to selectively numb emotions.
If we train ourselves not to feel, it is difficult to experience attraction, affection, and emotional bonds.
In my experience, the difference between dating pre and post- eating disorder recovery is the trust I have in my relationship because I am not engaging in my eating disorder in secret.
Loving someone, accepting love, and believing I am deserving of love are the greatest gifts recovery has given me.
Being in recovery doesn’t mean my relationship is sunshine and rainbows all the time. Relationships take work, and there is always the potential for my eating disorder to come between my partner and me.
However, through experience and a lot of communication, I have a sense of how to maintain a healthy, balanced, loving relationship despite my struggles.
Tips for Healthy Relationships in Eating Disorder Recovery
I will share with you some advice I would have appreciated before I entered a relationship. Everyone is different, so use what works for you and leave the rest.
#1 Be honest and open, even if it feels terrifying.
If the relationship is meant to last, sharing your story will bring you and your partner closer.
Part of building trust and security in a relationship is discovering that your partner loves you for who you are, in sickness and in health.
I used to believe I was protecting my partner by not admitting when I struggled, but she only worried more when she felt disconnected from my recovery process.
#2 Realize your partner is not a mind reader.
We all have our triggers, but people who have not experienced an eating disorder do not understand how sensitive we can be to topics of food and weight.
Talk to your partner about what you feel comfortable with, encourage them to ask questions, and forgive them when they inevitably trigger you by accidentally saying the wrong thing.
You cannot expect your partner to be the “eating disorder whisperer.”
Tell your partner how they can be most supportive and what you need from them.
#4 Understand that the support you get from a partner is different from that of a dietitian or therapist.
It is not healthy to expect your partner to be the food police or listen to your list of food anxieties for hours on end. Support and encouragement should be expected, but respect your partner’s boundaries and limits.
If you cannot be in an equal partnership, it is probably best to focus on yourself and postpone being in a relationship.
#5 Accept that your partner cannot save you.
Yes, you can receive all of the love and support in the world, and your loved one can help you save yourself, but at the end of the day, you will be stronger for relying on your own strength and inner resources.
Above all, it is important to evaluate if you are ready for a relationship, what you are looking for in a relationship, and how your eating disorder impacts the quality of your relationship(s).
Jessica has a B.A. in Psychology and Women's Studies and is pursuing a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others and advocate for social change. Having recovered from an eating disorder, Jessica is committed to spreading the word that freedom from eating disorders is possible. Through her writing at Libero, Jessica hopes to empower those struggling with eating disorders to fight for the health and happiness that they deserve.
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