Calculating calories, avoiding situations where food will be present, obsessing about body image and isolating can make finding love pretty difficult. I cringe when I hear or read people personifying his or her eating disorder and referring to it as “Ana,” “Mia” or “Ed.” It personifies an eating disorder and perpetuates the idea of harboring a “relationship” with one’s eating disorder instead of experiencing intimacy with others. The feelings of unworthiness, depression, anxiety and crippling insecurities are what make it difficult to be in a healthy relationship; eating disorder behaviors, or maladaptive coping skills, offer the patient a reason not to participate or even try–it occupies his or her time.
Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder (BED), and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) impair judgment, compromise health, lead to isolation or erratic behaviors, and are life threatening. Relationships affected by eating disorders can work if treatment, time and tolerance exist. However, more commonly these relationships are toxic because of destructive behaviors and enabled roles.
An adult’s unconscious attitude about unresolved issues can cause him or her to seek a partner that will fulfill the part of the person(s) who taught him or her at a young age a certain belief system. The person will find people that accord to this in order to trigger familiar feelings. For instance, if a young girl hears she has no chance at success because she isn’t smart enough, as an adult she may seek men who berate her in order to experience the familiar feelings associated with being “not smart enough,” thus, perpetuating negative coping skills.
One of the most difficult things for someone with an eating disorder to do is to be honest about what is really going on. It’s a genuine fear for someone who has been using an eating disorder as a way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Until they know another way, their eating disorder serves a viable function in their life. In the beginning, alone, speaking the truth aloud can begin the journey of taking back one’s life. The next step is talking to a counselor or trusted adult. In addition, if enough courage and trust exist, talking to a significant other is necessary if there’s any hope for that partnership to evolve.
I knew a beautiful, smart woman who struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She had dated as a younger woman but eventually closed herself off from any opportunities to meet new people. “I trust him,” was the last journal entry that she shared with me. I think she was finally beginning to accept herself and trust others again, but years of anorexia and bulimia had compromised her health and she passed away that spring. The memory of her laughter provides a smile and that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you are in love. Therefore, I guess love and eating disorders can exist, just not happily here on earth.