Intimacy and Your Eating Disorder

By Tracy Pollack, Psy.D.
Postdoctoral Graduate
Clinical Staff Susan B. Krevoy Eating Disorder Program

Being close to someone is not always easy. Closeness may give rise to certain uncomfortable feelings that for some may seem unbearable. These may include feeling unlovable, not good enough, being too much to handle, too needy, or dependent. Vulnerability, expression of needs, and exposing parts of you that you feel are unpleasant are also associated risks that can be extremely frightening.

Trust adds another layer of complexity to an intimate relationship. Being intimate with someone requires a certain level of trust in another, as well as asking for their acceptance, understanding and reliability. Trusting yourself that you can care for you within the construct of the relationship is a serious aspect of intimacy. This includes maintaining safe and healthy boundaries, communicating honestly with another about your needs, expressing your opinions and believing that you will be heard.

Often those suffering with an eating disorder will be inclined to pursue intimacy with the disorder itself, rather face the challenges associated with being close to another human being. As a result of being in a relationship with the eating disorder, there is little room left for another human being. Your eating disorder becomes the one you divulge your inner most secrets to, the one you spend time with in private, and the one you come to rely on for many things; it becomes your emotional support, the one you turn to in times of need, loneliness, and comfort.

Often there are logical and understandable reasons as to why you have developed intimacy with your eating disorder, instead of a human being. Most likely, your experience with others involved unpredictability, unreliability, lack of understanding and acceptance, as well as discomfort with physical and emotional closeness. It would make sense why you would turn to something seemingly less threatening than a person. Over time, however, the eating disorder begins to disappoint you as well, and becomes deceitful, unpredictable, and isolating. This is when seeking help can be extremely helpful, albeit challenging.

When you decide to begin treatment for your eating disorder, you may experience many different, conflicting feelings about taking this step. You may feel pressured to seek help from a family member, friend or loved one, which can leave you angry, resentful, or guilty. Or you may pursue treatment because you have decided you want to try to be close with people instead of your eating disorder, which can certainly give rise many difficult and confusing feelings. With the help of honest and caring professionals, you can begin to try out what it feels like to be close to a human, within the safety and comfort of the therapeutic relationship. Together with your therapist, you can begin to explore the underlying reasons you have chosen your eating disorder as your intimate partner, and begin the process of establishing and building healthy and close relationships with other humans.

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