Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is your diet ruining your relationship?

When the desire to lose weight turns into an unhealthy obsession with food, it can also eat into the core of relationships, says the psychologist Naomi Shragai.

Many women secretly believe that being thin is the solution to finding and maintaining a good relationship. But when the obsession to lose weight is taken to an extreme, real intimacy becomes impossible.

The need to stay thin takes over every aspect of their lives. In extreme cases bulimia sufferers can spend up to £500 a month on food for bingeing, and can vomit up to three times a day, sometimes more. They become so single-minded about food and their body size that they don’t have room in their minds for anything else.

Many sufferers leave the illness untreated for years, so more are now married or living with partners. These couples typically have low levels of emotional and sexual intimacy and poor communication. Research and statistical findings also suggest that married women with eating disorders experience more severe symptoms and have a less favourable prognosis than single women.

How then does the condition contribute to problems in relationships, and how might partners unknowingly contribute to the illness? Sufferers attempt to satisfy their needs and soothe their feelings through their obsessions surrounding food, which allows them to avoid the difficulties and complications of relationships.

They master one relationship only: with food. With this single-minded attitude, they begin to treat their partners in the same manner as they relate to food. Women with anorexia, for example, deny that they have any needs, physical or emotional. They will interpret all the nurturing and care other people have to offer as dangerous intrusions that must be repelled.

Through their vomiting, bulimics not only get rid of food, but also the bad feelings that they cannot digest; they are rejecting the nourishing aspects of a relationship. They often attempt to mask their needy and demanding sides by trying to convince their partners of their self-sufficiency. As they push their husbands away, they hide their need for closeness, all the time becoming more vulnerable and less approachable.

Advice for men: ‘Don’t think you can cure it on your own’

Learn what you can about eating disorders.

If you think there’s a problem, do something about it. And be patient; it won’t go away overnight.

Don’t have challenging conversations around meal times, that’s when feelings are most intense.

Look after yourself; don’t give up the things you enjoy.

Say what you think. People with eating disorders need a dose of reality.

Avoid arguments. People with eating disorders are sensitive to criticism, so be aware of your words and tone.

Don’t think that you can cure it on your own.

If your wife says no to treatment, seek professional help on your own. This can provide support and perhaps make your wife curious enough to join in.

Find someone who knows about eating disorders.

And for women: ‘Let your partner help. Don’t shut him out’

Don’t think you can recover on your own, get professional help.

Talk about the illness with your partner or other people; it will lessen the fear.

Be honest about how the eating disorder is affecting your life and those close to you.

Get the facts. Know that this illness is progressive. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to treat.

If you find it difficult seeking therapy, let your partner help. Don’t shut him out.

Naomi Shragai is a psychotherapist and family therapist in North London. She is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and Association of Family Therapy. To contact her, email

For advice on eating disorders, contact Beat, the Eating Disorders Association;

From the Times Online


2BIG said...

thanks for blogging about this. i'm sure many kimkineetes will need help from a loved one in recovering from their food obsession.