By Mandy Parsons
The mental and emotional toll of an ED can be equally traumatizing to those suffering from this group of illnesses. Poor body image, low self-esteem, and social anxiety can affect everything from one’s ability to perform at work or school to maintaining healthy relationships.
Intimate relationships can be particularly difficult to navigate with an ED, as eating disorders and intimacy comes with its own unique set of challenges.
Eating Disorders and Intimacy
Intimacy with ED is a complex issue with many considerations. There are multiple reasons why someone with an ED may shy away from intimacy:
- Feeling Like a Burden
Many people view their ED as “baggage” and wrestle with feelings of guilt about being a potential burden to their partner.
- Fear of Being Unclothed
Feeling like your body is not good enough may make it more difficult for a man or woman with an ED to feel comfortable naked. Even those who do not have an ED might be embarrassed undressing in front of their partner due to fluctuations in weight caused by events like childbirth or general life stressors.
- Low Sex Drive
A 2017 Healthline.com article reported a strong connection between women who struggle with anorexia nervosa and low sex drive. Contributing factors included malnutrition and depression. Similarly, a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found low Body Mass Index (BMI) as being a key factor in decreased libido.
- Past Sexual Trauma
Eating disorders are often linked to a history of sexual trauma or abuse. Victims of sexual violence who also battle an ED can be triggered by intimate encounters, causing anxiety, panic, shame, or other adverse reactions.
Striving Toward Healthy Intimacy
As with any recovery process, fear of intimacy and eating disorders requires compassion, patience, and understanding. Only you can determine when you are ready to engage in an intimate relationship. However, the first step toward allowing someone else to love you is learning to love yourself.
So, how can you improve the way you see and treat your body? Self-care is essential to ED recovery. Because an ED affects the entire person — body, mind, and emotions — treatment should be holistic as well.
If you are recovering from an ED, you should seek professional assistance to establish proper nutrition and eating habits. Starvation can have serious health implications including hypogonadism, or failure of the ovaries to function properly, which reduces levels of hormones related to sex drive and function, says Healthline.com
As mentioned earlier, there is a high correlation between depression and ED. The proper medication may boost your mood and overall sense of well-being. Additionally, approaches like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) work to combat negative thoughts about food, body image, and self-worth.
For those who have endured sexual abuse, trauma therapy treatments like eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) can help patients process traumatic memories and the emotions associated with them.
How Intimate Partners Can Help
If you are desiring intimacy with a partner with an ED and want to be supportive of their journey toward health, here are some ways you can assist:
- Reassure Them
Many who battle an ED have a distorted view of their value in the relationship. They might believe they are undeserving of love or that there is someone better for their partner. All relationships come with challenges; reassure your partner that you are there with them for both the trials and the victories.
- Be Available
Be a safe person with whom they can share their thoughts and feelings. Make yourself physically and emotionally available when they need it, whether it’s a listening ear or your presence at a therapy session.
- Seek Support
Support comes in many forms. Educate yourself on eating disorders to better understand your partner and how you can come alongside them. Find groups that provide resources and community to loved ones of those battling an ED.
If you are seeking ED treatment for yourself or someone you love, we at The Meadows Ranch are eager to hear from you. We offer specialized care and comprehensive, individualized treatment programs for both adolescents and adults. Learn more about what we treat, our approach, and various levels of care at The Meadows Ranch.