Double bed and dining table: what is the connection between eating disorders and relationships?

Posted by Frank Gillespie MA

In some cases, the recovery process of eating disorders can bring unspoken relationship and family conflicts to the surface. But this is not a problem since unresolved situations and unarticulated needs in a relationship can hinder the improvement of eating disorders, or in case of a successful weight loss they hinder the maintenance of the results and the person will gain back weight again and again.

People struggling with eating problems frequently link their healing process to a specific segment of their life (or the improvement of this area), which is their relationship most of the times. `If only I would be in a good relationship, I could get over my eating disorder.` Unfortunately, this is a misconception, despite the fact that many people rely on it. The basis of this belief might be that relationship failures or crisis can intensify the symptoms of eating disorders. These tensions are very likely to lead to binge eating or enhance anxiety about physical appearance in people facing eating or overweight problems.

There are many similarities in the backgrounds of both eating disorders and the problems of finding or being in a relationship. These underlying problems may include attachment problems and associated separation and problem-solving difficulties, problems with exploring and expressing feelings, needs, desires, the lack of knowledge and acceptance of the own body and the lack of self-awareness. In this light, if we want to be in a good relationship, it is worth to give a thought about what is missing from us for being in a `good relationship`.

Eating disorders affect the whole personality, so the solution does not lie in one specific area. A person`s quality of life is fundamentally determined by physical appearance, by the success in relationships and quality of intimate relationships. The two areas are interconnected: many escape from unsuccessful relationships to overeating, while finding partner for people struggling with eating disorder is much more difficult, or they find someone who fits the underlying causes of their disorder in some way.

Eating disorder is always present in a relationship. It is in choices explicitly or implicitly, consciously or unconsciously. It is not uncommon that people with eating disorder find a partner with similar control problems. The warning signs may be addictions, compulsive traits in the behavior, increased aggression, and stress disorders resulting from difficulties with assertiveness.

Also, another reason why the relationship is an important area of eating disorders is because the partner who only knows about eating disorders from the media often doesn’t know how to help the other in the process in losing weight. Unfortunately, the inadequate interventions are not only unfavorable for the achievement of the goal, but fighting about eating and body weight and the resulting feelings of helplessness are destroying the relationship as well.

There are many meeting points between eating disorders and the sources of relationship problems. These meeting points provide opportunities for intervention and even if they are not sufficient to cure eating disorders alone, they can hinder or also support the personal development.

Frank Gillespie MA

Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.


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