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It can be confusing and stressful to have a loved one with an eating disorder. If your girlfriend is struggling with disordered eating, there are certain steps you can take to support her.
How to Spot the Signs of an Eating Disorder
Sometimes people with eating disorders don’t recognize their behavior as disordered. This is common, especially during the beginning phases of recovery. 
If you know the signs of an eating disorder, it might be easier for you to talk with your girlfriend about what you notice. It can be easy to believe someone when they insist nothing is wrong, but if you’re clear about what to look out for then you can support your partner in getting the help she needs.
Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by cycles of binge eating and compensatory behaviors. A compensatory behavior is any behavior that aims to offset the “consequences” of binge eating. Compensatory behaviors include excessive or compulsive exercise, purging, laxative abuse, or fasting.
Warning signs of bulimia include: 
- Evidence of binge eating, including finding empty wrappers or food containers or large portions of food are missing from the fridge or pantry
- Signs of purging, such as going to the bathroom right after meals or frequently using mouthwash, mints, or brushing her teeth
- Dental problems, such as enamel erosion,discolored teeth, or tooth decay
Someone is diagnosed with anorexia when they severely restrict their food intake due to an intense fear of gaining weight. This results in severe weight loss.
Some signs of anorexia are: 
- Dramatic weight loss
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, or dieting
- Inability to maintain a healthy body weight
- Rigid food choices or exercise routines
- Intense emotional responses to food or gaining weight
Binge Eating Disorder
Someone with binge eating disorder (BED) struggles with ongoing binge episodes. A binge is when someone eats an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in the same period of time. When someone is binging, they feel out of control and unable to stop their behavior. 
Signs of BED are:
- Secret ongoing episodes of binge eating
- Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
- Stealing or hoarding food
- Evidence of binges, such as finding empty food wrappers or large amounts of food being gone
How to Help Your Girlfriend During Eating Disorder Recovery
If your girlfriend has been diagnosed with an eating disorder or if you’re noticing signs that she might be struggling, there are things you can do to support her. Some ways to be a supportive partner are:
- Talk with her about what you notice. It’s important to be honest, but compassionate. Your girlfriend may not recognize she has a problem or may not think it’s a big deal. You can point out to her what you notice. It’s easy for these types of comments to sound judgmental, so take extra care to be compassionate. You can say something like, “I notice when we eat together, you seem nervous. What’s going on for you?” You could also say, “I’m bringing this up because I care about you. I’ve heard you purging in the bathroom after meals. How can I support you?’
- Offer support. Even if your girlfriend doesn’t think she has a problem, it can still be helpful to offer support. It plants a seed and lets her know that you’ll be available. You can let her know that you’re open to talking about things with her if she wants. Don’t force a conversation on her. Offering your support is enough.
- Stay curious and listen well. It can be stressful to see your girlfriend struggling. This might lead you to feel anxious or angry. When we feel this way, it’s easy to make assumptions about what the other person wants or needs. You’re not a mind reader, so it can be helpful to ask your girlfriend directly what she needs or wants from you during this process. It might also be important to ask if there are things you do that aren’t helpful. Stay open to this, even though it might be difficult feedback to hear.
- Practice self-care. It’s important to take care of yourself. Your needs are just as important as your girlfriend’s needs.
It’s important to remember that no matter how much support you offer, it is her responsibility to accept and make use of your support. She has to choose to recover. Recovery is difficult, but it’s possible.
Resources Costin, C. & Schubert Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.  National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d). Warning signs and symptoms. Retrieved June 6th, 2022 from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms
Author: Samantha Bothwell, LMFT
Page Last Reviewed and Updated on June 30th, 2022 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC