The Ugly Reality Of Living With An Eating Disorder And Trying To Maintain A Relationship

Arnel Hasanovic

For as long as I can remember, my good ole ‘friend’ my eating disorder (ED) has been interfering with any and every relationship I’ve tried to establish. From family to friends to my so-called dating life, ED proved to be a very jealous man. He very clearly wanted to be the only one in the picture.

“How come you never eat with me?”

“Why do you never accept anything I offer you when you’re here?”

“You have to be hungry, you haven’t eaten all day. Why do you never want to go out to dinner?”

Time after time, I dodged the questions, making up excuses as to why I was never hungry, claiming I had already eaten or had made other plans to grab dinner with my roommates.

Dating is difficult when you are suffering from an eating disorder. Between my inherent fear of food and fear of eating in front of others, combined with my compulsive exercise addiction, I seemed to always be filled with anxiety, besides the times I was in the gym, or had just finished my workout, and was seemingly high with adrenaline.

Since I started college, I have had a few serious relationships, but have only confided about my eating disorder to one guy, after my hospital release.

For the rest of the time, going out got pretty difficult.

YEAR ONE:

I met the first guy I was seeing on a dating app.

At the start, things were going really well.

Knowing I lived on campus with limited and most likely not desirable options for food, David always offered to take me out to dinner or cook for me at his home.

While some girls may jump at the opportunity to have their man cook for them, this stressed me out to no end.

When he suggested going out to dinner, I told him I had night class. To which he would offer to wait until after I got out to enjoy a late meal… I would tell him that I already ate.

Claiming I wasn’t hungry or that I had already eaten would prove to be difficult once we started to spend entire days together.

“You haven’t eaten all day,” he said. “You have to be hungry. I want to cook for you.”

I never ate in front of him before.

At the time, I was dieting, and didn’t want to come off as one of those people who ‘only eats salad.’ I was following a completely raw food diet, eating only raw fruits and vegetables, with the exception of cooked egg whites (and the occasional protein bar or protein ice cream).

I had just recently told him that I was a vegetarian, and though he wasn’t vegetarian himself, he said he wanted to see how I ate. He was willing to try a vegetarian meal and we could cook it together at home.

We went to the grocery store to pick up ingredients to cook a vegetarian meal. He said he wanted to see how I ate, he wanted to eat like me.

No, he didn’t, I thought. I didn’t want him to eat like me. Nobody should.

I thought the gesture was the sweetest thing someone had done for me yet but wasn’t ready to disclose to him how I actually ate.

He was patient as I scoured the aisles of Walmart, often walking up and down the same aisle three or four times, picking up products and putting them back down. At some point, I blacked out with anxiety. Afraid to even be looking at the food in front of him, afraid of the thought of cooking the meal together, and afraid of the thought of sitting down to eat it together.

After a long day at work, he didn’t care what it was, he just wanted to eat.

“How about pasta?” he suggested. “We can make a caesar salad with it, too, if you want.”

In my head, I dismissed it immediately. Think of the carbs, the empty calories in the dressing, and we’re definitely not eating cheese right now.

I smiled and agreed, anxious to get out of the store.

During our meal, I focused on the TV, while he tried to make conversation. It was hard enough that I had to eat with him, it would be worse if I broke out into tears over the meal.

I felt less vulnerable, less exposed getting naked than I did share a meal.

In the morning, he would always stop for breakfast on the way to work before taking me back to school: Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, or Burger King. I cringed at the sight of the menu, I tried to hold back the urge to tell him how greasy and unhealthy the ‘foods’ were.

Now knowing I was a vegetarian, he would offer to buy me an egg sandwich, a bagel, anything I would be willing to eat.

I promised him that I would get breakfast once I got back on campus.

I sometimes did.

For the mornings he went to work while I was still asleep, I packed a protein bar and banana in my overnight bag, so I could have a healthy breakfast and eat while he was gone.

The relationship didn’t last more than a few months, and in hindsight, I’m sure my unwillingness to go out for dinner, or any meal for that matter and not opening up about what I was going through had a lot to do with it.

I promised the next time I was in a relationship I wouldn’t keep my eating disorder a secret.

Until I did.

YEAR TWO:

Jeff and I didn’t spend as many overnights or mornings together, so it was easy to say that I wasn’t hungry or had already eaten, and be believed.

We were both really busy, so our dates would only last an hour or two.

I made excuses as to why I couldn’t go out for dinner, or why I had to be back on campus to meet with a friend in the dining hall.

I had become more of a slave to my eating disorder than I was the previous year, but still didn’t fully acknowledge it.

I was working seven days a week and taking 18 credit hours and was determined to keep up with my circuit exercises four times a week and attend at least three boxing classes every week.
I rescheduled dates.

If I didn’t go to the gym, I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t feel confident. I felt insecure, berating myself for any reason I could find. I didn’t feel like going out. I didn’t want to take my pent up stress and anxiety out on Jeff*, who wouldn’t understand where it was coming from.

So I canceled.

I would offer to sit with him while he grabbed dinner, but he felt insecure doing so, with me not eating.

“You make me feel fat,” he commented.

I felt fat, too.

I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship.

I wasn’t comfortable in my own company, and couldn’t expect anybody else to be.

I wanted to learn to be on my own and feel at peace with it.

I was single for over a year.

YEAR THREE:

Having more free time to myself than I was used to, good ole ED came knocking at my door.

In his mind, now that I was alone, there was no one standing in the way of our relationship. He was jealous and controlling.

Being on my own meant that I could eat what, when and how I wanted, without answering to anybody, I could workout whenever I wanted, without feeling guilty for changing anyone’s plans.

In solitude, my disordered eating habits and excessive exercise quickly developed into severe anorexia.

As my weight decreased, my insecurities only increased. I didn’t want to go out anymore. I was getting compliments on my ‘new figure’ and getting asked how I lost the weight.
I wasn’t proud of it.

I was still working close to 40 hours a week and taking a full course load in school. I was working out every free chance I could.

When I got home from work, I didn’t want to go out with friends. I didn’t want to go to the club or the bar, or any parties, like a college student, might want to. I didn’t want to be around anyone.

I was stuck.

It was just me and ED.

With my curves gone, I didn’t feel sexy.

I made excuses as to why I could never go out with guys who messaged me. Even if we have been out before, my severe anxiety held me back from going out again.

July of that year, I spent my first week in the ICU of the hospital.

After such a long period of time of food restriction, my body was having a hard time digesting food, because it was refusing to eliminate waste. My body was holding onto whatever nutrients it could get a hold of, starting to feed off of itself.

My doctors prescribed me laxatives to try to help my body start to regulate itself, and so I would be able to eat and digest food again. My body had to work to trust me again.

I wasn’t ready to recover.

I was released after four days, and back to restricting.

In September, I was back in the hospital, this time for an extended period of time. I spent six weeks in the medical unit, with a feeding tube, working to gain weight and to restore proper function in my organs.

I didn’t let anyone visit me, except my mom. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that.

I was afraid to be vulnerable, and still afraid to ask for help.

I was afraid of my truth.

After being released from the hospital for the second time and returning to school, I was still insecure.

I hadn’t gained weight like my doctors had hoped, and having the imperfections of my body and situation pointed out day after day, I was even further ashamed of my body.

I was insecure about reappearing in school and on social media after being away for so long without any explanation.

I tried to go out on dates like my friends were doing, but still, couldn’t manage to get over my fear of going out to dinner. I had never realized how important meals were in a relationship and social situations. I thought it wouldn’t matter to someone if I had simply passed up the offer to dine out.

It took a toll. Friends were still concerned about me.

It stressed me out to hear people talk about food, suggest going out, or seeing people work out.
I couldn’t do any of the above.

I was uncomfortable with my recovering body and the amount I had to eat in order to recover.
So I isolated myself again.

I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship.

I wasn’t comfortable in my own company, and couldn’t expect anybody else to be.

To this day, having been in recovery for a little over six months and fully weight restored, I am still learning how to accept my recovered body.

I am still learning and trying to be open about my past and current struggles.

I am working on being comfortable with the fact that with dating comes sharing meals with someone, and this is a normal part of life, which is supposed to be enjoyed.

This is something I still struggle with and often avoid.

I am still learning how, to be honest with myself and with potential partners that I struggle, and any excuses I may try to make has nothing to do with them.

I am learning how to accept help in working towards normalizing the act of going out to eat and sharing my truths with another person. TC mark

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