by John Santana
Nine percent of the US population lives with an eating disorder. That statistic translates to nearly 29 million people. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders, but some people live with rare eating disorders like rumination disorder or pica.
What Does That Mean?
In short, the fact that eating disorders are so common means that someone you know has one. Indeed, it’s likely that someone you love lives with an eating disorder, whether or not you know it.
If you are putting yourself out there and going on dates, chances are that you’ll date someone with an eating disorder sooner or later. You might even fall in love with someone with an eating disorder.
Dating always has ups and downs, but things can be even more complicated when you date someone facing a challenge you don’t understand.
What should you know when you are dating someone with an eating disorder?
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are serious but common mental illnesses. They are often chronic — although many people with eating disorders enjoy periods of remission, where the symptoms don’t control their lives, eating disorders tend to come back in a cyclical pattern.
Eating disorders can sometimes be fatal. However, they always have a profound impact on a sufferer’s life.
The most common eating disorders are:
- Binge eating disorder. People living with this disorder suffer episodes during which they feel compelled to binge foods. Times of extraordinary stress tend to trigger these episodes.
- Bulimia nervosa. People with bulimia also experience binging episodes, but they purge after eating. They may use laxatives or induce vomiting to control their overall calorie intake.
- Anorexia nervosa. This eating disorder causes sufferers to limit their food intake severely.
Apart from compulsive patterns around eating, people with eating disorders typically struggle with their body image. In addition, many people living with eating disorders also suffer from anxiety and mood disorders.
Treatment for eating disorders includes talk therapy, working with a dietitian, and medication. People with severe eating disorder symptoms may have to be hospitalized to help them regain their mental and physical health.
While some people successfully survive an eating disorder and liberate themselves from its clutches, the illness will always remain a part of their lives. Periods of extreme stress can lead to recurrence, and — just like sober or clean addicts — they will always have to watch out for a relapse.
What Myths Do You Need to Ditch if You’re Dating Someone with an Eating Disorder?
Has someone you’re dating just revealed they have an eating disorder? You may be scared. You probably don’t know how to react.
No matter which eating disorder the person you’re dating has, it’s crucial to remember that sharing this intimate part of themselves with you was a brave step. You may be scared, but your date is likely terrified — the fear that they are unlovable because of their disorder is always at the back of their head.
Remember that nobody chooses to have an eating disorder, and the illness doesn’t define the person.
Is your date funny, intelligent, and kind? Does your date share your passions? The good news is that none of that goes away when they reveal they have an eating disorder.
We all have baggage. We also struggle in some way. Many of us hide our most profound challenges, but the person you’re dating was brave enough to share their biggest secret with you.
Now that you know what the person you are dating struggles with most, you can learn more about eating disorders and how they may impact your relationship.
That starts with some myth-busting! Immediately purge these common misconceptions about people with eating disorders from your memory bank:
- People with eating disorders are obsessed with their looks. They’re vain. No! Eating disorders have complex causes, including genetics, childhood trauma, and anxiety. Having an eating disorder doesn’t mean someone is superficial.
- Only teen girls get eating disorders. People of all ages and genders can develop an eating disorder. You might, for instance, be surprised to discover that 13 percent of military veterans live with eating disorders. Once the illness rears its head, it’s likely to stick around for the long haul.
- People with eating disorders don’t know what healthy eating is. Believe us, they know better than you!
- People choose to embrace their eating disorders. Having an eating disorder isn’t a choice. Breaking free from an eating disorder can take years.
Dating Someone With an Eating Disorder: Top Practical Tips
Now that you know the person you’re dating lives with an eating disorder, you may want to do everything in your power to ensure your dates are fun and don’t make your date uncomfortable.
Start with these key tips, and take things from there.
1. Do Tell Your Date How Hot They Are
Now that you know your date has an eating disorder, you may be scared that commenting on their looks or complimenting them could be triggering.
People with eating disorders indeed have deep insecurities about their body image, and making comments about their weight is a no-no.
You can freely tell your date that you’re super-attracted to them, that you love their hair, or that they have a great sense of style, though!
Just make sure you also tell your date what else you like about them — you might love that you’re both into the same game, enjoy in-depth conversations about 14th-century English words, or admire your date’s ambition and drive. Whatever you like most about the person you’re dating, be sure to mention it!
2. Don’t Make Your Dates Food-Centered
Dating often revolves around romantic restaurants, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Instead, why not invite your date to a cool new indie movie, go boating, visit the zoo, or tour museums?
You’ll both have a more interesting experience, and one that doesn’t involve triggering your date.
While you’re at it, don’t talk about food much at all. Someone with an eating disorder won’t enjoy hearing all about that rare local dish you got to try on that once-in-a-lifetime vacation. So why not tell your date about the architecture, the scuba-diving lessons, or the hiccup at the airport instead?
3. Do Listen
Getting to know each other intimately is a key part of dating, and that includes the hard bits.
The eating disorder is part of your date’s life, just like your struggles partially define yours. Listening and asking questions is always a good idea in those early stages of dating. Do that, keep your judgment out of it, and you’re good to go.
4. Don’t Think You Can Fix the Eating Disorder
Definitely don’t think tropes you’ve read on the internet can cure an illness as complex as an eating disorder. The person you’re dating has read it all before and is likely in treatment for their eating disorder.
If you make the mistake of thinking you can “fix the problem,” your budding relationship isn’t off to a good start. Your date doesn’t want to be saved. They want to be loved and respected.
5. Do Learn More About the Eating Disorder the Person You Are Dating Has
Are things going pretty well? Do you think you’re falling in love? If you think you’re developing serious feelings for the person you’re dating, you should be prepared. The eating disorder doesn’t define the person you’re dating, but it’s part of them.
If you two are developing a serious relationship, it will also become part of your life.
You will want to learn as much as you can about the eating disorder in question — what its symptoms are, what factors play a role in causing it, and how loved ones can help people with that particular eating disorder.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About the Eating Disorder
People in the thick of an eating disorder often hide this fact. They may be in denial about their eating disorder while simultaneously going to great lengths to hide their disordered eating patterns from the rest of the world.
If the person you’re dating has told you about their eating disorder, they don’t fall into this category.
People who talk openly about their eating disorders have likely been diagnosed and received treatment for them. The eating disorder may even be in remission or under control.
Your date wouldn’t have told you about the eating disorder unless they were on a path to getting or staying healthy and were perfectly willing to discuss their journey with you.
Do you have burning questions about what it’s like to live with bulimia or anorexia? Do you want to know what you can do to help and what you should avoid at all costs?
Google can help — sure. But your date is the ultimate authority on their own eating disorder; they are the authority on how it presents for them!
That’s why asking hard questions early on is a good idea. The only way to learn what you truly want to know is to ask your date. Neither of you will enjoy these conversations, but your date is already expecting them.
7. Do Understand That Your Date May Need Time to Themselves
People with eating disorders are used to carrying burdens on their own. They tend to feel they have a lot to hide and much to be ashamed of. This is true whether the eating disorder is in remission or the person you’re dating is still actively struggling with an eating disorder.
If your date suddenly needs time to themselves and cancels plans, don’t assume it’s because they don’t like you. Your date might be struggling and need space.
8. Don’t Make Everything About the Eating Disorder
Devote the time you spend together to getting to know each other. Do fun things together and talk about the serious stuff. If you’re ready, introduce your date to your friends and family, and welcome the opportunity to meet theirs.
See if you’re compatible and want to move forward with the relationship.
The fact that your date has an eating disorder might be one of many factors in deciding whether you have a future together, but the eating disorder should never take center stage.
Is It OK Not to Date Someone Because They Have an Eating Disorder?
Some people enjoy casual dating because it allows them to meet new friends and have exciting experiences. Others date in the hope of finding a partner they can form a long-term relationship with and aren’t interested in casual dating.
Only you know what you are looking for and what your boundaries are.
You may not want to date someone with an eating disorder if you are looking for a lifelong partner and have struggles of your own. Both medical professionals and people who have survived eating disorders often compare anorexia and bulimia to addiction, for example.
If you are a sober alcoholic yourself, dating someone with an eating disorder may not be right for you — the same behaviors that trigger people with eating disorders may pose a challenge for you, too.
Successful long-term relationships are built on love, compatibility, and a healthy dynamic. An eating disorder could be one of many things that prevent that kind of relationship from blossoming between two people.
Dating Someone with an Eating Disorder: A Final Word
Eating disorders are more common than you might think. If someone you’re dating told you they have an eating disorder or are in remission from one, they aren’t alone.
An eating disorder adds a layer of complexity to a relationship, just like the many other things people may struggle with do, but it never defines a person.
As you’re dating, you’ll want to keep the focus away from food and body-image struggles — but you will want to learn everything you can about the eating disorder.
Beyond that, proceed as you usually would when dating someone new. Get to know the person by spending lots of quality time together, and decide whether you’re a good fit from there!