Let’s face it – Dating is hard.
Everyone has their own personal preferences and insecurities that they bring to the table.
Dating, while recovering from an eating disorder, presents challenges that many people would never even think of.
I am going to touch on a few areas in this blog:
- Eating in front of your significant other (which sounds simple, but can be extremely distressing for someone with an eating disorder)
- Physical touch
I think it is important to mention that it is best to start dating when you are in a relatively stable place of recovery. I say “relatively” because nothing is ever perfect. I do not mean that you should wait forever to begin your dating journey; however, if you are severely struggling with an eating disorder, that should be your number one focus. Dating should come later.
Eating in Front of Your Significant Other
When I first started dating my husband, I was about two and a half years into my recovery journey.
I remember our first dinner date. I was extremely conscious of what I ordered and how much I ate. I remember exactly where we ate and what I ate.
We were at the End of Elm in Morristown, NJ.
I ordered fish tacos.
I did not want to eat more than him.
I made sure I did not eat more than him.
I didn’t want him to view me as a pig for how much I ate.
I know those fears were just in my head, but it was very real to me at the time.
Thankfully, we are able to talk about it now and laugh together. Those tacos were so good, now I wish I ate them all!
I am so grateful to be able to look back at the beginning of my early recovery and see the changes that have taken place with regards to eating in front of my significant other.
Now, I eat what I want.
I eat when I want.
Sometimes I eat more than my husband.
Sometimes I eat less than my husband.
Sometimes I eat dessert even if he does not have it.
His food choices do not dictate what I eat or how much I eat.
I never feel judged by him for what I eat or how much I eat.
This is freedom.
If you are early in recovery and have a tendency to obsess over the menu, it might be a good idea for you to look at the menu online, prior to your date, so you already have an idea or two of what you might order. This way, you are able to be more present on your date, instead of obsessing over the food choices.
Try to remind yourself that nobody focuses and obsesses over food the way you do. Your date will not care. They are not watching every morsel you put in your mouth. They are focusing on you as a person. Keep reminding yourself of that over and over again.
Many individuals who struggle with eating disorders follow very rigid, structured lifestyles. Deviation from their routine can cause extreme anxiety and stress.
Structure and routine provide comfort, even if it is with unhealthy behaviors, such as restricting, bingeing and/or purging.
I always thought I was spontaneous, and I was, until I developed an eating disorder. At that point, any spontaneity made me very uncomfortable and upset.
Spontaneous events triggered me to restrict, binge and/or purge through vomiting or exercise.
In the beginning of dating my husband, I had to get used to last minute date nights, such as going to the movies or out to dinner, because life isn’t lived through a planner!
I was so strict with my schedule, my husband jokes about the first time he asked me to hang. I said, “I have to check my planner. I will let you know if I am free.” I WAS SERIOUS.
We laugh about it now.
For many people, making plans the day of is no problem at all; in fact, it can be exciting, but I struggled with it, significantly.
Some common thoughts that played in my mind when my daily routine was changed:
- Did I already use up most of my calories for the day?
- Can I really afford the extra, unknown calories of a restaurant meal?
- Would I gain weight from eating more tonight?
- If we eat dinner late and I want to have an extra snack beforehand, is that okay?
- Can I have candy or popcorn at the movies if I already “completed” my meal plan?
In the beginning of my recovery journey, I was following a meal plan.
It helped me feel safe.
It helped me learn to trust my body.
As I gained more time in recovery, I was able to let go of my meal plan and completely trust my body.
I now eat intuitively, but for a long time I needed that structured meal plan, and that is okay.
It was a process I had to work through to get where I am today – Recovered.
One thing I found to be crucial to my recovery was to always eat breakfast the next morning regardless of what foods I ate or how much I ate the day/night before.
If I went on date night and consumed foods that I considered “scary” (desserts, calorically dense foods) or ate more than what I believed to be on my meal plan, no matter how much discomfort I felt, I made sure to eat breakfast the next day – AND TO NOT RESTRICT WHAT I ATE.
This is important.
If you restrict in the morning, you are setting yourself up to binge and/or purge later on. Or, you are setting yourself up to continue restricting for the rest of the day.
Frequent date nights meant many mornings of discomfort, but it was worth it. I pushed through it.
I ate my breakfasts, and I started to enjoy it. My husband and I would get bagels on the weekends and it became something that I looked forward to.
I did not force myself to work out first thing in the morning because I needed to punish myself for the food I ate the day before.
Each time I did this, it got easier. I began trusting my body more and more.
Now, I couldn’t tell you what I ate two nights ago for dinner, but if you asked me early on in recovery, or when i was significantly struggling, I could tell you everything I consumed. I obsessed.
I used to hate being touched. I hated hugs.
If I didn’t like my body, why would I want anyone else touching it?
When I was in treatment in California, my therapist knew how much I hated hugs, so she began forcing the clients to give me hugs every day.
Multiple times a day.
I hated it. It just reminded me of my body that was being forced to gain weight at the time. I cringed every time I received a hug. I usually just gave a half hug with one arm.
Eventually, after weeks of being forced to receive hugs, I began accepting them without complaining.
Today, I love hugs. I love giving hugs. I love receiving hugs.
Thankfully, when I met my husband I already loved hugging, so now he is stuck getting my strong hugs all of the time, regardless if he wants them or not 🙂
Anyway, I know physical touch can be very challenging for someone who struggles with an eating disorder. My best advice is to, first of all, be comfortable with the individual, then, practice accepting their affection.
Hold their hand.
Let them hug you.
Don’t push them away because you hate your body. Slowly, you will begin to feel less trapped and more comfortable. It is okay. It is a long process.
I am so thankful for the support and understanding my husband always showed me throughout our relationship with regards to my eating disorder. I know it can be difficult to grasp the concept of an eating disorder, and that is okay, but sometimes just listening and being there is enough.
A lot is going on in the mind of someone that is trying to recover from an eating disorder. Standing by our side is enough.
I hope this blog was helpful for someone today.
Keep on keeping on.
You can do this 🙂
Cary Tracy says
Very well put, to the point, awesome blog!!
Humbled to be friends with someone so honest and persevering, thankful for your testimony Shay!