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As an eating disorders’ therapist, I can say unequivocally that partners of dysregulated eaters need to know what to do to help their loved ones struggling with food. Although they don’t think of it as “their” problem, it deeply affects them deeply. Whether they realize it or not, what they do or don’t do has a strong impact on their partner’s eating.
From working with partners of dysregulated eaters, I know they often feel either overly responsible or powerless to fix their beloved’s dysfunctional eating. Loving Someone with an Eating Disorder: Understanding, Supporting and Connecting with Your Partner by Dana Harron, PsyD provides concrete, psychology-based strategies to help partners become more helpful and feel more confident in promoting healthy and effective dynamics to help their loved one resolve his or her dysregulated eating problems.
Topics include feeling alone in loving someone who has an eating disorder, learning about different kinds of dysfunctional eating, and encouragement to seek education and support. The beginning of the book focuses on what eating disorders are and aren’t, including prevalent myths about them. Next Harron talks about how the partner of someone with an eating problem is also strongly impacted by it, how partner problems may dovetail, and how important it is for both parties to understand and improve their dynamics. In my experience, the partner of someone with an eating disorder always has his or her own work to do and must do it for the couple to be emotionally healthy.
The next part of the book centers on the tricky business of feeling empathy and compassion toward partners with eating problems while maintaining healthy boundaries. It’s all too easy to fall into negative, hurtful patterns that change nothing, yet anger and upset each other. It’s harder to take a dispassionate look at dysfunctional patterns, own responsibility for one’s part in them, and commit to responding more appropriately. For instance, being a food cop, pretending your partner’s food problems don’t affect you, nagging, enabling, withdrawing love, or refusing to admit to your part in unhealthy dynamics all exacerbate your partner’s eating problems.
Toward that end, Harron explains how to create positive dynamics around a partner’s food problems, detailing which behaviors are and are not useful by including challenging real-life scenarios. In the final part of the book, she focuses on sexual and intimacy problems which must be addressed if eating disorders are to be overcome—no matter how uncomfortable this may make partners. I advise anyone with an eating disorder to buy this book and request that your partner read it so you can discuss it together.
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