National Eating Disorders Association

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lowen05
Boyfriend Refuses Help

My boyfriend recently told me that he had been bulimic for 10 years, stopping just before we met 2 years ago. Learning about this has actually been a huge relief to me as it explains his moods and controlling tendencies. The issue I face now though is that he has never had treatment and refuses to go. He says he feels dark inside and that he can't see past the current day most of the time. I get nervous asking him to attend things with me (sporting events, parties, game nights), even just things with my family, because I know he will not want to go. He does sometimes, but other times he just can't handle it. He is wonderful and I love him more than anything, but I am terrified that this illness will cause our relationship to crumble. It takes a huge toll on me...never knowing what his mood will be, knowing I can't fix him, and it has also caused me to feel angry and defensive. He has a tendency to try and control MY food intake...asking every day what I had for lunch and dinner, and if he knows I've been at a party or at work event, he will immediately ask if I was good. This has in turn caused me a lot of anxiety, even though I know it's wrong and that I'm doing nothing bad. My counselor said that I am no longer to tell him what I've eaten. To explain to him that we can't discuss that, and to change the subject. That seems to help somewhat, but it doesn't stop it completely. I also feel extremely guilty by keeping that from him, like I'm being mean or insensitive.

I would love any advice you can offer. Should I continue to change the subject when he asks about what I've eaten? What else can I do to help? I'm trying my hardest to work through all of my feelings with my counselor, but I am terrified. I don't want to lose him but it's a very difficult relationship at times. It's so hard to see him suffer.

kelsey207
Hi Lowen05,

It sounds like you're a very caring, thoughtful person! Please know that asking these questions and being considerate of these things speaks well of you.

EDs are complicated disorders that can really affect the people who have them (and certainly the people around them.) It's no wonder that your boyfriend still fixates on food and exhibits other symptoms, since he says he was sick for so long. I'm sorry to hear that the ED is having such an effect on your day-to-day life, though. I think it's a good thing that you're seeing a counselor and talking about this. Since your counselor likely knows more about your specific situation than we do on these forums, it might be good to listen to the professional in regards to taking advice about changing the subject, not talking about food with your boyfriend, etc.

You said that if you evade his questions about what you've eaten, it makes you feel mean or insensitive. Have you considered that answering your boyfriend's questions about food and continuing conversations about what you've eaten might be "encouraging" (in a sense) his disordered thoughts about food and what "should" or "should not" be eaten? Please don't think I mean his ED is your fault. It's not your fault. I just mean that you don't have to feel guilty, because you might be helping your boyfriend in the long run if you can help to discourage him from such conversations about food and eating habits.

In terms of what else to do to help, you're taking a great first step by posting here on the forums! NEDA has a lot of great resources for those who have loved ones suffering from EDs. One of my favorite NEDA resources is the Parent Toolkit (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/parent-toolkit ). It's not just for parents! It's for anyone who wants to know more about their loved one's ED and about ED help and treatment. I think doing some research and trying to understand more about EDs will be really helpful for you. You might also continue to encourage your boyfriend to seek help. You said he refuses to go to treatment. If he won't do inpatient or outpatient treatment, would he consider speaking with a counselor or psychologist? What about a support group? The NEDA Helpline has listings of resources near you that might be worth looking into in case your boyfriend does come around to the idea of seeking help. You can call the Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (Mon-Thur 9am-9pm EST; Fri 9am-5pm EST).

I hope you find the help and support you're looking for here! Please keep us updated on your situation and good luck to you and to your boyfriend! :)

lillian05
kelsey207,

Thank you so very much for the reply and your kind words. It is so wonderful to know that I am not alone in this. Sometimes I feel crazy for being with someone with these issues because it is in turn dramatically taking a toll on my life. Am I foolish to stay with him? I love him and want to marry him but worry that this will never be able to happen because of his depression/ED. I really like what you said about not discussing food with him as it could be actually encouraging his behavior/addiction. Rather than feeling guilty about saying no to him, I will remind myself that I'm helping him by omitting those details.

I will look into the Toolkit and am going to try the chat feature as well. I have tried and tried to get him to see a counselor but he refuses. I have never tried getting him to see a counselor specializing in ED though, and that could be different, however I can already tell you he will be extremely resistant. And as we all know, I can't make him go...he has to want to get better. I cannot fathom living the way he does, so depressed and sad and in a struggle every day. I cannot imagine dealing with all of that and not seeking help immediately. I do take peace in knowing that he has more good days than bad, and that maybe with my own ED education and help, I can learn to better handle all of the emotions that come with it.

Thank you again.

kelsey207
Hi!

I'm glad I was able to help!

You aren't alone in this. Many of us on the forums can relate. I know that sometimes interacting with someone who is suffering from an eating disorder can make you feel like you're walking on eggshells. I was always afraid to say the wrong thing, and I was constantly questioning everything I did.

I don't think you're foolish to stay with your boyfriend. Mental illness can certainly interfere with relationships, but it doesn't necessarily prevent people from making meaningful connections with others. As long as your boyfriend is treating you lovingly and respectfully, then I think it's perfectly understandable to want to stay with him and try to help him. Just remember that your health and happiness matters, too, so make sure you're taking care of yourself!

Would your boyfriend perhaps consider couples/partners therapy? Maybe if you could find a professional who would see both of you together for at least the first session, then perhaps you could go together and that might get him in the door and help him be more open-minded. I know it can be tough if the person with an ED doesn't want treatment, though. Many people with EDs and other mental illnesses have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that they need help. Sometimes it's because of the stigma around mental illness, sometimes it's because they're in denial about how serious the issue is, sometimes it's because they feel like they're a failure for "admitting defeat", etc. It's often very complex. Try to remember to mentally separate the ED from your boyfriend. The ED makes him do, say, and think things because it wants him to stay sick. ED treatment and recovery is often a long, complicated process. But recovery is possible!

I hope you find the NEDA resources helpful! I wish you and your boyfriend health and happiness. Please keep us updated!! :)

nyk454
HI lillian05,

I'm glad you were able to get some resources as a place to start. It is incredibly talking to a loved one about this illness and it takes time. He is incredibly luck to have someone like you looking out for his health and happiness. Again, please don't hesitate to call the helpline for any other resources!