Dating a Woman with an Eating Disorder – What I’ve Learned

So last week, I wrote about Johnny.

This week, he wrote about me. He even came up with this week’s title. Ladies and gents, a guest blog post from the man I’m dating, Johnny Burkhart.

Beauty & The Beast

What It’s Like To Date A Woman Recovering From An Eating Disorder

When Amanda asked me to write a guest blog, I was hesitant to say the least. Could I really be honest about what it’s like to date a woman with a binge eating disorder and would she still love me afterwards? I pray that the latter part is true.

Another reason I was hesitant was because she wanted me to respond to an article entitled 5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder written by an anonymous guy on the misogynistic website “Return of Kings”. The author of the article, who writes under an alias (ahem, coward), claims to “specialize in dating culture and social intelligence”. Before I read the article, I glanced at the comments below it which were strewn with hate for this anonymous guy and disgust for the article. Alrighty then, this oughta be great. After I read the actual article, I realized this guy had no idea what he was talking about. The article did not contain any intelligence, but was possibly his attempt at humor? One can only hope.

Apparently any idiot can spew out a bunch of nonsense and have it posted on the internet. So why shouldn’t I give it a shot?

This post is in no way a response to that article, and if you have any sense at all, you will totally ignore that article and not give it any more energy than it has already received. What I have written below is simply my experience dating Amanda and is not a blanket statement about what it’s like to date women with eating disorders or specifically binge eating disorders.

Honestly Though! – One of the things that most attracted me to Amanda was her honesty. I don’t think we would be together today if it weren’t for her brutal honesty. I read her blog before we ever went on our first date, so I knew what kind of craziness I was signing up for. I was in awe of how honest she was in her blog, and even face to face with people. It’s truly inspiring and sometimes a little scary, especially when she writes about me in her blog.

Something that came to me after reading her blog was that I had grown up with a binge eater. I had never called it that or thought of it in the terms she puts it in, but my mother was/is a binge eater. I watched her slowly put on the pounds as I grew up and saw the toll that it took on her body. She is now in recovery for it and working on getting healthier which I am incredibly proud of her for.

This realization caught me off guard, and I was afraid that if Amanda found out, she wouldn’t want to date me. I was afraid that she might think that I was trying to heal some old shit with my mother – which could be true, let’s face it – and that she wouldn’t want any part of it. I mean, we did meet when we were at a retreat center where she came to do some major healing around her ED. But I knew that honesty was the only course of action here, so I told her.

Honesty plays a big role in our relationship today and it has to. It has to go both ways. We have to be honest with each other. That could be said for any relationship really, but when you’re dating a binge eater that is especially true. Even when it’s hard and I feel that pit in the bottom of my stomach, no pun intended, I know that I have to be honest with Amanda. So bear with me as I get real honest about some shit here.

Shame vs. Accountability “You ate all the cookies?!!”  – When we first started dating, Amanda told me that I couldn’t say “anything” to her about her food decisions. I understand that shame plays a big role with women who have ED’s, I get it! But there’s a fine line between shame and accountability when you date/live with a woman who is a binge eater.

There are times when I bite my tongue because I don’t want risk her feeling shamed by me. Look, I don’t want to sound like her mother or anything. But we do share food and expenses, so there does need to be some form of accountability for what we consume. So when I ask where all the Fudge Mint Cookies are, I am not trying to shame her. I just want some fucking cookies!

I have learned to know when to pick my battles. Sometimes you can’t win, no matter what, you just can’t! When she does eat all the cookies, I know better than to say “why did you eat all the cookies, what were you thinking?” That would be shaming. I have also learned that if she buys cupcakes and there’s only one left, I better not eat it without asking her first or there will be hell to pay.

Now, when she asks if we can go get some ice cream, I know better than to say to her, “Really? Ice cream? Is that such a great choice right now?” I either say “Yeah, let’s go get some ice cream”, or “No thanks.” It can be that simple. I know better than to try and play her mom and monitor her food choices – I think that’s part of the reason we’re in this whole mess in the first place. That’s not my job nor do I ever want that job. My job is to love her no matter what her food choices are that day or that moment and to try to encourage her to be the best she can be.

The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride – They say that women are ruled by their emotions, and having an eating disorder just adds to that equation. Dating a woman with an ED can be quite the emotional roller coaster. The ups and downs, good decisions followed by bad decisions, craziness and uncertainty make for some interesting times.

There are days when she feels good about herself and she makes good decisions. She’s confident and it seems nothing can get in her way. Those are the days when she loves me and I can do nothing wrong, she’s supportive and nonjudgmental. Even if I say the wrong thing to her she can just laugh it off.

Then there are the days when she doesn’t want to get out of bed, let alone get dressed. She makes unhealthy decisions, like eating cake just before going to sleep. She has zero confidence in herself or what she’s doing in life. Those are the days when if I make the slightest comment about anything she wants to kill me and I would rather be anywhere else but by her side. Thankfully there are less of these days and more of the good days or I might have to reconsider the situation.

Amanda is one of the most ambitious and positive people I have ever met or had the pleasure of being in a relationship with. But when she has bad days, there’s not much I can say or do to bring her out of it. As much as possible, I try and let her find her own solutions to things and encourage her to look inside at what’s really going on. I know from experience that people need to really sit in their shit and feel it before they are ready to come out of it.

The same fire that fuels her passion for dance and performing is also at the heart of her addiction in some way.

“It is a beast, this thing that stirs in the core of her being, but it is also the star of her innermost nature. We have to care for this suffering with extreme reverence so that, in our fear and anger at the beast, we do not overlook the star.” – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

Body Image & Sex – When I was 19 years old, I told my live-in girlfriend that if she got fat that I would leave her. OK, OK, put down your weapons ladies! That was a long time ago and I have learned to be more compassionate. I’d also like to think I’ve gotten a lot smarter about how to talk to women. Key word, “think”.

Many years later, I find myself in a relationship with a woman whose weight has slowly but steadily increased since we began dating. Now I would never say anything to her about this because it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. I find her just as sexy and attractive as when we first began dating.

Sexy to me isn’t about being rail thin or starving yourself or working out 8 hours a day. Sexy to me is about how you carry yourself, the love that you share with others and being emotionally present. Amanda has that; I mean did you see her Roar performance? This woman has got that attitude and drive that just does it for me and it doesn’t matter what the number on the scale says.

Amanda has asked me before if I think she is fat or has gained weight but I don’t take the bait. I’m not going to stand over her shoulder as she steps on the scale either. It’s not my job or place to say if she’s gained weight or needs to lose a few pounds. Again, my job is to love her just the way she is, fat, thin, clear skin, or broken out.

I’m not saying it’s always easy because it’s not. Having sex with someone who just engulfed a bowl of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate chips doesn’t exactly do it for me. Then there’s the days she wants to make out in the morning with a huge whitehead on her upper lip from binging on chocolate the night before. “Um… hey babe maybe you uh… can you take care of that before we uh… um I mean have you uh… oh boy!” Thankfully those times are the exceptions and not the rule.

The “D” Word – Recently Amanda asked me if I would be willing to do an Intolerance Test with her. Not sure what she was talking about I asked her to explain what that meant. She proceeded to tell me how you weren’t allowed to have any gluten, dairy, corn, sugar, bread, processed foods, or bananas for 3 weeks. Oh, and no eating out at restaurants either, my personal favorite. “Well,” I said, “as fun as that sounds, I don’t really like doing Diets!”. Then the earth actually stopped spinning for a few seconds and she said “IT’S NOT A DIET! It’s an intolerance test don’t call it a Diet!” Yep, I actually said the “D” word to a binger, my bad.

Not realizing what the “D” word meant to someone with an eating disorder, I had some back peddling to do here. I proceeded to tell her that I would help support her in any way I could without actually doing the intolerance test with her the whole time. I’m willing to try some new recipes and things but giving all that up for 3 weeks basically amounted to torture to me. I’m of the philosophy of everything in moderation.

Amanda used to tell me about her experiences with trying to cut out sugar and desserts and how that would just lead to more bingeing. So I wasn’t so gung ho about this intolerance test to begin with. She would always say that it’s better to have some of her favorite foods around just in case the cravings came on and she could try and hit them off at the pass before full bingeing mode kicked in.

So a few days later she started her “intolerance test” and the fun began. I really should have seen it coming. It hit me like that magical visit from Aunt Flo each month. When you take away sugar and all the deliciousness of most foods away from a binger, it’s not a pretty picture at first. Luckily that only lasted a couple days.

I was surprised that she even wanted to try it, given her history of trying food restriction, and I was honestly skeptical of the whole thing. She eventually settled into it though and seems to be hitting her stride now. She really is handling it amazingly well. It speaks volumes for her recovery that she is able to stick with it, and I am so proud of her for that.

So #Blessed – One of our closest friends, John Reardon, was the catalyst for our relationship. He is always saying to me how blessed Amanda is to have me in her life. I can literally feel Amanda’s eyes roll back in her skull and cringe every time he says this or texts it to me. But like, it’s true. Some of you know or have experienced what it’s like to be in a relationship where you don’t feel supported by the other person OR their behavior just seems to trigger you into doing things you shouldn’t. When you find the “right” person, they should lift you up and encourage you, not trigger your bad habits and addictions. I think, (again, key word, “think”), that I lift Amanda up instead of triggering her, and that’s why John always says how blessed she is to have me in her life.

I am also so blessed to have Amanda in my life. Her love and enthusiasm for life are infectious and I am so inspired by her. So much so, that I agreed to learn a duet tap dance with her for the May recital with the dance studio she’s teaching at – in front of an actual audience. I have mixed feelings about this decision, but it’s all happening now, so I’m just gonna go with it. I was also inspired by her to write this post and put it out there to you all. All of her passion and love for life make all of the craziness of her ED seem so insignificant.

“The uniqueness of a person is made up of the insane and twisted as much as it is of the rational and normal.” Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

You see, Amanda and I are both a little twisted and insane, but in a way that supports each other. And for that, we are both so blessed.

Seriously Though! – Dating a woman who is recovering from an eating disorder isn’t as scary as it might seem. As I started out saying here, the key is really all about honesty. Like Amanda always says, “everyone has their shit” that they are dealing with – some more than others. But if you’re honest about your shit, it makes all the difference in the world. Hiding your shit really only makes things worse in the end.

So ladies and gents, if you think that hiding an eating disorder or an addiction from the person you are dating is a good thing, or the safe thing, I want you to reconsider. I strongly encourage you to share your shit with your partner. It may help explain some of the crazy shit you do from time to time. I know that if I didn’t know what Amanda was dealing with, I would have been out the door a long time ago. Knowing what she’s going through allows me to be more compassionate with her when she’s acting like a crazy bitch. Seriously though!

I don’t try and heal Amanda. That’s not the intention here. You are honest not so your partner can help fix you, but to bear witness to what you are going through. I’ve dated, and was even married, to women who were a closed book and would never reveal what was really going on, not even to a therapist. They carried a lot of extra baggage around to basically try and save some face. It eventually catches up to all of us at some point. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m thankful everyday for Amanda’s honesty – even when things are rough between us – because it’s the foundation of our relationship and the reason our love is so strong to this day.

Let me just remind you – like I remind Amanda often – of the second agreement of The Four Agreements: Don’t make assumptions. You cannot assume what your friends or your significant other will think if you open up to them about your issues. Never assume. And if you open up to them, and they make an ass out of you, then seriously though, they are NOT worth your time.

Well, I think I covered all the ground I wanted to here. I’ve been trying to come up with a good way to close this all up, but I’m a little stuck, so I’m just gonna let Bob Marley do the talking.

bobmarley

Lots of aloha from Hawaii,

Johnny

Next Week’s Posting:

I’m not sure but I’m sure Amanda has something good to say

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An Epic Interview That Will Change Your View on Fitness Instructors

About a year ago, maybe more, my friend Caitlin Krause invited me to take a barre fitness class she was teaching at Pure Yoga on the Upper West Side. As a dancer, I walked into class feeling confident and overqualified. I mean, c’mon, a barre class? Easy peezy, here we go.

As a human, I walked into class feeling self-concious about my lack of Lululemon, and a little concerned at the lack of skinny mirrors.

Fifteen minutes into the class, I realized that I was basically wrong about all the things.

Lululemon doesn’t matter when you’re testing your own leg strength with just your body weight. Skinny mirrors don’t matter when you’re on the floor doing the most effective core workout you’ve ever experienced.

Caitlin kicked my ego’s ass just enough to make me feel accomplished, yet wanting to come back for more. My saddlebags shrank, my abs tightened, and my anxiety subsided. I had been terrified to enter her class – assuming I would be clueless and uneducated about the workout.

Guess what? I was right. I was clueless and uneducated about the workout. Because I’d never done it before.

That’s the whole point of trying new fitness classes. Of course we are clueless when we step into that room! That’s why those instructors have jobs. And 9 times out of 10, that’s what makes an instructor happiest. They WANT to help. They WANT to clue us in. They are HAPPY to teach to the clueless and the uneducated. Their livelihood is to help people learn to love their bodies and to teach us how to keep our bodies healthy and strong. Instead of being so intimidated by fitness instructors, I’ve learned to love them and be grateful for the gifts they have to offer.

Two months of Caitlin’s class – about two or three classes a week in early 2013- and my body was in the best shape it’s ever been. I felt sexy and strong, despite my secretive binging habits.

Most importantly, the class was the first group fitness experience I had ever had that left me feeling great. Optimistic. Not a complete failure.

So I encouraged friends to reach out to Caitlin and try her class as well. Not a one of them took her up on the offer.

Most of us have a weird thing about group fitness. Either the instructors are stronger than we are, or our peers are skinnier than we are, or we just feel like we don’t quite belong.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and I think I found mine when I jumped into Caitlin’s class with naivety and no expectations.

So I wanted to give you Caitlin’s insight to group fitness, in hopes that you could find your exception as well.

Maybe you’re already set with your spin classes and Zumba sets, maybe you’ve been to one step class and walked out, maybe you are too scared to try Crossfit. Whatever category you fit into, I think you’ll appreciate this honest and candid interview below.

Meet Caitlin Krause:

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Caitlin and I first met working at Equinox Fitness in NYC in 2009 – as spa desk girls.  She is a dancer with over 25 years of training who found her passion in fitness instruction. She loves to lay out in the sun as much as I do, she has a perfect cat named Winnie, and she is literally the best at walking in high heels, like, the best though. She’s a normal, yet fabulous, twentysomething who changes people’s lives multiple times a day. She says, “People attend fitness classes for a number of different reasons, but regardless of what they are, my main goal is to teach and inspire people to push past what they think they are capable of in a supportive, nurturing, positive, and safe environment.”  Caitlin revolutionized the way I look at group fitness, and I think she does the same for a lot of her clients. I’m proud to call her an inspiration, and a friend. Below, are some insights that I think you’ll appreciate as much as I did.

Me: Fitness instructors are often looked at with this golden light around them. We tend to assume that y’all are perfect, y’all eat perfect things, y’all get perfect sleep, have perfect sex, make perfect money, all that good stuff. Do you care to speak on that assumption?

Caitlin: All I can say is NO ONE IS PERFECT!!! It would benefit all of us to move on from this idea of perfection. There isn’t a person alive that doesn’t have any problems, worries, struggles, challenges, vices, or insecurities. Fitness instructors are not an exception. Seriously.

Me: Some of us fear group fitness classes because we assume the instructor will judge us if we aren’t “good enough” in class. Can you share your thoughts on this?

Caitlin: On the topic of judgement, I’ll say that being a fitness instructor in the most basic form is like performing in a one woman (or man) show. I am up in front of an audience pouring my heart and soul out for people to accept me, or reject me, however and whenever they would like. Regardless of a person’s background before becoming an instructor, all of us who teach are subject to harsh judgment and criticism right there in every class, every day. No one is alone in feeling the wrath of judgement!

Now onto this idea of being “good” in your fitness class. If everyone was “good” or “great” at the class, what would be the point of my job? I am there to teach people how to use their body, their muscles, and their brains in a different way. My job is much more rewarding when I can see the light bulb go off in a person’s head. When people who attend my class begin to understand what they are doing and what I am asking, it’s absolutely awesome when, together, we see a change in how they feel physically and emotionally.  

Most importantly, we need to get rid of this idea of being “good enough”. Good enough for who? This isn’t school or work. I am not rewarding you with an A+ or a raise in salary. The reward is coming from within yourself – the results that you see from pushing yourself past your comfort zone. And isn’t that what this whole “being good” thing really is? Why do we only feel comfortable doing things we are already “good” at? Being good doesn’t push us, and it doesn’t change us. Progress is only made through challenges and changes. That old saying is true: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

If you’re seeking out a new fitness class, it’s probably because you want a new result. None of us get new results from something we are already comfortable doing. We all have to stop expecting ourselves to be “good” or “perfect” at something new. Eliminate this and half the battle has already been won. 

Me: Fitness instructors are often able to do all the reps, all the push-ups, all the sit-ups, etc. Was it always like that or did you need to work your way up to it?
Caitlin: For the majority of my life, I have been an athlete, so I’ve always been fairly strong. Pushing myself to improve and get stronger was something I loved to do before I was an instructor. However, teaching 20+ classes a week definitely changes your body. What I ask people to do one time a day, I am often demonstrating at least 4 times a day. Remember that I get four times the practice.  

Me: Did you like group fitness classes before you became an instructor? 

Caitlin: Growing up as a dancer, I have always been in a group class setting. I don’t think I was ever aware of whether or not I liked it. It was all I knew.

Once I moved to New York for college, I started attending fitness classes as a way to stay in shape outside of dance. Honestly, it circles back to this idea of being “comfortable.” Starting at the weight section of the gym can be totally overwhelming. I had no idea what I was doing, and rather than be concerned I would hurt myself, I was concerned that other people at the gym would judge me – that I would look like an idiot. So, I decided to attend the group classes because I figured it was safer to have someone just tell me what to do, alongside other people attempting the same idea. Turns out I LOVED THEM!!! I love the energy a class setting has. I love that I started to build relationships with the people I would see multiple times in class. It became a supportive environment where we could challenge each other in a non-threatening way. Plus, I live for LOUD music!

Me: Was there anything about the classes you attended that you wished were different?

Caitlin: For the most part, I always took classes that were amazing and had instructors that inspired me. I’ve been lucky to study under some of the most dedicated teachers. Those teachers are the people who inspired me to want to do what I do.

I was always taking as many classes as possible to figure out what I liked, and what my body responded to. From time to time I would leave a class thinking that it was a good class and a good work out, but I didn’t LOVE it.

It took me a long time to understand the difference between a teacher and an instructor. I found I loved the classes where I felt I was being taught something – not just instructed to follow along.  

Me: When you started teaching your own classes, were you able to incorporate what you had wished was different in classes you once took?

Caitlin: I struggle with this question everyday! It is so important that I continue to learn and grow as an instructor. I want to be better for my clients with every single class.

I tell myself every day to just be authentic. This was the hardest concept for me to understand when I first became an instructor, and it is one that is present in every aspect of my life. What makes me, ME, is amazing and pretty damn special. While I knew this, I still couldn’t fully accept it. Self-acceptance is SO difficult. I’ve learned that I can only be me, and that includes all the wonderful and not so wonderful things that make up who I am. And not everyone will love that, and that’s okay, too. As long as I always work hard, and stay true to who I am as a person and as a teacher, I’m doing okay. People will see that and respond positively. If they don’t, I’ve learned that it has nothing to do with me.

Me: What is your best advice for a woman who has never exercised and is too shy to come to a fitness class?

Caitlin: Honestly, I feel like this answer is exactly the same as the one that follows this. When people begin to think of doing anything outside of their comfort zone, they might feel scared or intimidated. This means that there isn’t much difference between someone who has worked out consistently and someone who never has, if they are both shy and intimidated by a new class. We all need to just accept that sometimes we won’t be the best, or the smartest, or the most fit, and that it is okay! Once we accept this, doing something new isn’t quite as scary. We might even find that we are more successful at the new endeavor, because we have more energy to observe all the new information being presented to us. 

Me: If a woman who is out of shape shows up for class and tells you she’s intimidated by the exercise, what is your response?

Caitlin: I get this all the time! Patience really is a virtue. We all want to do it perfectly on the first try and see the results NOW! However, the number one thing I tell my clients is to be patient. No one will walk into a class they have never taken before and be perfect (no such thing).

Often times, the hardest part is getting yourself to the workout. Once you are in the room, half the battle is over, and you deserve to give yourself a pat on the back for that.

I’m sorry, I just want to make sure we all read that one again.

The hardest part is getting yourself to the workout. Once you are in the room, half the battle is over, and you deserve to give yourself a pat on the back for that.

If we can both agree that you won’t totally know what’s going on every second, and you probably won’t do everything correctly, and that it is okay to possibly feel a little silly, then everything will be just fine. Breathe. Be patient with your mind and body. Learning new things can be scary, but again, I stress that it’s the challenges that change us. Don’t ever let something intimidate you just because it’s challenging. And DON’T GIVE UP!! 

Me: How can women help themselves when it comes to finding the best fitness classes for them?

Caitlin: Do your research and try different things! Search the internet for what is around you. If the company’s website doesn’t give you enough information, call the gym/studio and ask questions. Try as many different things as you can.

I love exploring new workouts. It keeps things interesting, and it also helps me realize what I hate and what I love. Once you’re at the class, do not hesitate to talk to the instructor!!! Tell them it is your first time, and about any injuries or issues – even if it’s just feeling nervous to be trying something new. I’m serious. I love to talk to new people and learn how they are feeling – it only helps me help you more! The more information I have, the better chance you will have a positive experience. 

Me: Can you speak on men? How is it when they come to your class, and should women feel intimidated when men take the same class as them?

Caitlin: I actually don’t treat men any differently than woman. I just see every single person as an athlete – there in my class to work. However, I definitely think there is a misconception that just because you are a man, you are comfortable in the gym. Or that men are wired to know how to use the free weight section in a gym. Men can be just as clueless, insecure, and shy as women, and they might even feel added pressure to perform better because “they are men” and they are “supposed to be stronger”. Again, try new things and find out what works for you, and let the assumptions roll off you shoulders – no matter what gender, age, or kind of athlete you are.

Me: Anything else you want people to know about fitness instructors?

Caitlin: Sure! I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that my favorite part about my job is watching people change. Whether it’s mentally, physically, or emotionally, watching the changes is the BEST part of my job!

I love my job, and I’m here to help you. I’m here to answer your questions. I’m here to challenge you. I’m here to teach you something new. I’m here to play the music and facilitate a fun class. Most instructors are here to do the same. Trust us – we love what we do and we want to share it with you – not judge you or intimidate you. Do your best and remember that the class is for YOU, not for me, not for your peers. It’s for YOUR body and YOUR spirit. You deserve to treat yourself!

Live in NYC and want to try out some of Caitlin’s amazing classes? She teaches Figure4* at Pure Yoga New York as well as Megaformer** at SLT Strengthen-Lengthen-Tone. If you don’t live in NYC, take Caitlin’s advice and search for classes that sound interesting to you in your area. Try googling “barre fitness”, “pilates reformer class”, “TRX”, “Urban Rebounding”, or simply “group fitness” followed by your zip code or town. You might just find the niche you’ve been looking for, and a whole new group of friends.
*Figure4: Pure Yoga’s exclusive barre class incorporating weight bearing exercise, dance technique, and strength training. This combines into a high energy and fast paced workout that produces a long, lean, and toned body. Through interval cardio and choreography, the metabolic rate stays high and the student remains energized and engaged while creating a sculpted physique.
**Megaformer: The innovative Megaformer/Lagree Fitness workout is specifically designed to strengthen, lengthen, and tone the body quickly and safely. This workout is largely based on the holistic principles of Pilates, but also emphasizes the strength training and cardio elements not inherent to Pilates to achieve muscle definition faster than traditional Pilates and or weight training alone all in as little as 50 minutes.)
And my loves – if you haven’t submitted your masking tape positive word picture to roarmovement@gmail.com, you only have a week and a half left to contribute a photo! Be sure to read all the guidelines here: And You’re Gonna Hear “Us” Roar. (if you’re short on time, skim the beginning and find the project guidelines mid-post).
Much mahalo to Caitlin Krause for offering her time and wisdom to this week’s post. Much mahalo to all of you for contributing to the next Roar video. Next week’s posting will be a good one – it’ll really make you think! Aloha and have a great week!