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I have been together with my girlfriend (let's call her Alice) for about one and a half years, with most part of it being long-distance due to her father working in another country and bringing the whole family with him.

After about six months (earlier this year) into the long-distance part, Alice began to develop a very bad body image and resorted to eating almost nothing or vomiting her meals. She has been to a clinic for help and has seen doctors, and has gotten better as a result.

My problem here is, I'm kind of at a loss of how to help her since I'm so far away and it seems to be coming back and getting worse. I did try to give her some advice on healthy weight loss but Alice took offense. I wasn't very forceful or anything, I merely suggested a diet.

I'm Asian and she's European if this information helps.

She's trying the low-carb high-fat ketogenic diet and since Alice is a vegetarian, her diet as it is, sounds unhealthy and I kind of want to help convince her that it isn't healthy and such without coming off as mean or as if I'm trying to control her.

The diet was something she got from a video she watched on Facebook (as she showed me the video). The professionals advised her to have a well-rounded diet (based on what they served at the clinic during her 3-month stay there). I also feel the diet is affecting her health negatively because she always complains about being tired and sleepy. As a result, she often takes multiple naps throughout the day even when she has had a solid 8-9 hours of sleep. She told me she doesn't need a doctor when I suggested seeing one.

As I'm terrible at supporting or helping someone without sounding like a know-it-all, is there any good ways that I could introduce or convince her that her weight and health is decent and should not need to limit her diet in such a way that affects her badly?

Update:

Alice and her Sister begun something where they would find interesting dishes and cook for each other on different days and also starting on some yoga and stretches. Her sister told her that yoga helps with feeling more energetic and less tired (didn't focus on the exercise part). Alice really seems to enjoy this and she tells me about it in an excited way. It seems that focusing on other things than her diet and lifestyle directly makes her much more receptive. I'm hoping to see improvements in the following weeks. Thanks all!

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This isn't your place to do.

The last thing she wants to hear from her own partner is that she is unhealthy and needs to diet. It sounds like, from what you write, that her issue is mostly with her self-image, and by throwing out "suggestions" well meaning as they might be, you're only compounding that issue.

You say:

I did try to give her some advice on healthy weight loss but Alice took offense. I wasn't very forceful or anything, I merely suggested a diet.

So she was unhappy about her body image and vented to you about it, probably because she just needed someone to listen and confide in, and she chose you, her partner, the one person that should have her back. And you reacted by suggesting a diet.

That is about the worst thing you can do in such a situation. Often times, partners just want to talk about the hardships they face, and don't want to hear suggestions how to solve them. I know this is an impulse, it is for many men (myself included) to immediately go into problem solving mode and try to show your compassion by helping. In my experience this is exactly not what partners venting off to you want.

So, I suggest you take a less direct and more supportive approach:

  • When she talks to you about it, be empathethic. Listen, but hold your suggestions until actually asked about them
  • If you want to help, you can look up nice healthy meals for vegetarians, and cook some yourself. Maybe talk about this awesome $insertMealHere you just cooked and how delicious it was.
  • When you two meet, maybe suggest a sport as activity. Maybe go climbing together, or hiking, or just take a stroll more often. Don't say that this is because of her weight - that'd be murderous to her self esteem. Be courteous about it.

In the end, the best you can do in this case is to be supportive but not pushy. She sounds like she needs someone to listen and empathize, not to re-gurgitate suggestions she's already heard from doctors a hundred times.

7

It sounds like she may be starting to redevelop the symptoms of her eating disorder - which, contrary to popular belief, is possible whether you are thin or not. As such I am going to take a hard approach to this, as eating disorders need to be taken seriously.

It's really important that you don't suggest any more diet tips to her, and when you see her, if she looks unwell tell her that she looks unwell. If she has lost weight in a very short space of time, or when she is already thin, don't tell her that she looks good. Tell her that she looks sick. It's important not to give positive reinforcement for unhealthy weight loss. If she starts to look healthy, give her compliments, but don't make comments about her appearance, weight or body.

I understand that this sounds cruel, and it sounded that way to me too when I first heard it. The reason that it's important is because the person with the eating disorder needs to understand that what they are doing is harmful, and that it's not helping them.

Explain to her what you've noticed and why it worries you, but not as a personal criticism. Something to the effect of "I am worried that you have started restricting your food intake again, I want you to know that I love you very much and I care about you, that's why I'm concerned. I would really appreciate it if you would seek medical attention again and I'm happy to support you in doing so." She may well get angry and be offended, but at this point the most important thing is that she gets the help that she needs, so that's something that we as loved ones do have to deal with. That anger will pass. She needs to know that she has support and that she is cared about.

Source: my wife was a support worker in an eating disorders clinic.

I found this article really useful in learning more about eating disorders and how to help someone who has one.

  • @SomeoneElse I feel I should mention, the most important thing you can do for her right now is be there for her and let her know you care about her. I apologise if my answer seemed confrontational in any way, I just want to convey that being careful and well-informed about the topic is important and I mean no offense to anyone reading :) – Groggo Nov 23 '17 at 12:51
  • No problem man, it was just the kind of shock i needed to see what i was doing might not be the best way. – SomeoneElse Nov 24 '17 at 1:59
  • Please do let us know how it goes and if she shows any improvements :) – Groggo Nov 24 '17 at 11:20
  • Good answer, I strongly support to view OPs question in the frame of a mental health problem, different criteria apply opposed to „general being nice social skills“. – michi Feb 8 '18 at 16:05
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My advise is that it is your right to give her your point of view and it is her right to choose her lifestyle. I suggest that you communicate for some time about the subject and that you give her your advises proved by some scientific point of view and then tell her that this is your opinion and all what you care about is her and her health but state clearly that if she doesn't agree you will support her in anything she feels comfortable with. As said before, don't make comments about her appearance, weight or body just stick to the health level. You can prepare your speech ahead to avoid saying offensive sentences.

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