If you have never suffered from any body image issues, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. For many of us, having a body comes with an entire grab bag of anxiety, stress, and self doubt. While wanting to be in shape and the best version of you that you can possibly be is an admirable goal, like all things moderation is key. Without moderation, things can easily go off the rails. The pressure to be “perfect”, and measure up to the airbrushed ideal that society shoves down our throats on the regular, can be exhausting. People make themselves sick trying to attain these impossibly false standards.
Even if you yourself have never felt such pressure, you can be drawn into it if you happen to have a partner that is struggling with body image issues. Today’s column addresses the challenges of having a partner with body image issues, anorexia, and gym addiction.
My Partner Has “Potentially Serious” Body Image Issues
“How do you deal with partners that have their own, potentially serious, body image issues?”–Image Issues
You do not specify exactly what the particular body image issues are in this case. So, I am left to guess what these issues might entail. I am going to focus on the key words “potentially serious” in your question. Potentially serious is not to be trifled with.
A partner should be your teammate. It is the two of you uniting and collaborating against the day to day struggles that adulting on this planet entails. They have your back and you can count on each other. Having a teammate that is struggling with depression, substance abuse, poor impulse control, or body image issues is significant added weight to the raft that is your relationship. That is not to say that the raft is going to sink under that weight. But it does need to be factored in.
You are not your partner’s therapist and that is not a job you should try and take on. Your responsibility is to bring up your concerns in a loving and caring manner. Your partner’s job is to hear your concerns without dismissing them outright. Arrange a time to talk with your partner. You don’t want to just spontaneously surprise them with the conversation. Planning a time also reduces the possibility of unwanted interruptions during the conversation. Calmly and without judgment bring up your concerns. I always like to sit down and go over a bullet point checklist of the things that I want to discuss. This ensures that the main issues that need to be addressed don’t get lost or forgotten during the discussion.
There is a possibility that your concerns will be dismissed, minimized, or ignored. If that happens, you will have to decide your next course of action. Are you willing to stick it out with a partner slogging through body image issues that they are unwilling to address? Or is an avoidance of these issues a deal breaker for you? Only you can answer that.
There is such a thing as caregiver burnout. And burnout is not a pretty place to be in. Resentment from the unaddressed elephant in the room piles up and causes issues in the relationship. Resentment is the dry rot that destroys the foundation of relationships. If your partner’s body image issues are so extreme that you have to “deal” with them, this is not a good sign and bodes poorly for the future of the two of you. Professional therapy might need to be considered if these issues prove to be so serious that they are affecting your relationship and can’t be resolved between the two of you.
What Can I Do About My Girlfriend’s Eating Disorder?
“After we had been dating for a few years, my girlfriend slowly started to focus more and more on her weight. It has gotten to a point that she is always on a diet and hardly ever eats. She really doesn’t look healthy and has lost so much weight that her clothes hang off of her. The worst part of her extreme dieting is that it seems to have affected her breath in some way. Her breath is so bad I don’t want to kiss her anymore. Help! What do I do?”–Scary Skinny
Your girlfriend sounds like she has developed an eating disorder. More specifically, Anorexia. Three to 10 percent of the population suffer from anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, Eating disorders are a “bio-psycho-social diseases, which means that genetic, biological, environmental, and social elements all play a role”. Woman are about twice as likely to get an eating disorder than men.
There is evidence that biological factors are an important influence in who develops an eating disorder. However, to me, there is no doubt that the media at large is one of the driving factors behind the prevalence of eating disorders in our society. There have been studies done on that show how the introduction of television to a society leads to the development of eating disorders. We all have to come to terms with the endless images of unattainable body perfection that surround us daily. Some of us deal with this media onslaught easier than others.
Women bear the brunt of the fictionalized skinny ideal that we are fed. They are made ashamed about their weight by incessant weight loss ads and glamor magazines. “Fat” is one of the easiest and most cutting insults to be thrown at women. It is no wonder that so many develop body image issues while and fixate on controlling their weight.
Another leading factor is the need to feel in control of something in an unpredictable world. You might not be able to control much that happens around you, but you sure can control what goes into your mouth. If one feels out of control in regards to their life, weight becomes an easy way to take back control.
This fixation on weight is compounded by well meaning people that compliment a weight loss. Getting positive feedback about restricting your caloric intake can easily tip the scales into unhealthy behavior. If 5 pounds was good than 10 pounds must be better! And down the rabbit hole they go.
The reason I feel fairly confident about your girlfriend developing anorexia is because you mention her breath. Anorexics have fairly distinctive bad breath. When you don’t give your body the foods that it needs, it breaks down its pre-existing fats and proteins in a search for fuel. This this leads to a condition called ketoacidosis.
You are not in a situation to take lightly. Your girlfriend is in the grips of a mental illness, an illness that left untreated can kill her. She needs professional therapy. You can not force her to get healthy if she doesn’t want to nor do you want to take on the role of her food police. Such a role will only add more stress to your relationship. What you can do is talk to her about the problem in the most supportive and loving way possible. Get some information about anorexia and share it with her. You can also encourage her to use the online eating disorder screening tool HERE.
It can be frustrating watching someone you love struggle. Do not ignore this situation. Anorexia can be lethal and it does not go away if you chose not to address it. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do but express your concern and the effect it is having on your relationship. Everything else is up to her. She needs to be willing to recognize that she has an illness and take the steps to get better. Hopefully she will be willing to make some much needed changes in her life.
Should I Be Concerned About My Wife’s Gym Addiction?
“I am all for being healthy, but my wife has taken a sudden desire to get in shape to such extremes that I am starting to become concerned. She goes to the gym seven days a week and whenever she has a spare moment she is fitting in a workout. It isn’t that she doesn’t look amazing, she is actually in the best shape of her life, but she is at the gym so much I hardly ever see her these days. Her dedication to fitness has become so strong that I feel like I have lost my wife. Should I be concerned?”–Gym Widow
Should you be concerned? The fact that you have signed off as “Gym Widow” indicates to me that yes, you should be concerned. Getting in shape is a healthy and admirable goal. However, like all things, it can be taken to an extreme. And extremes are not healthy places to be in.
Working out can actually be addictive in that it releases endorphins, and endorphins feel gooooood. We like feeling good and pursue the things that give us endorphins. While working out might at first seem like a relatively benign way to acquire an endorphin payoff, once it starts to take over your life to the point that your relationships are suffering, it becomes less benign.
Addicts are often in denial as to the extent of their addiction and seek to minimize their actions. Consider keeping a log of how often and how long she works out. When this is completed, sit down with your wife and calmly address your concerns. Choose a time when you will not be interrupted and as neutral an environment as possible. Your wife may honestly be unaware of just how much she has started hitting the gym. If you do keep a record, don’t use it as a shaming “got ya!” tool. Just have it as backup if she tries downplay her gym time.
Explain to her that you miss her and don’t feel like you get to spend as much time with her as you used to. Be open to compromises and suggestions. See if she can identify why working out has become such an all consuming activity. If she asks that you join her for some gym time as a couple, be receptive to that possibility. You can also offer some couple options for endorphin payoffs that don’t come from a gym. Suggest skydiving or riding a roller coaster or going dancing. Something that the two of you can do together to reconnect as spouses.
Your job is to calmly express your concerns in as positive a way as possible. Her job is to hear you out and be willing to come to a mutually satisfactory compromise that works for the both of you. If all works out, you should be able to get to a healthy place that feels right for all concerned. Communication is the glue that holds relationships together. And the more you put in the legwork in terms of communication, the easier it becomes. Hopefully the two of you will get to a space where you no longer feel like your wife has chosen the gym over your company.