National Eating Disorders Association

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Breaking through denial

Hi, My wife has been a long term sufferer of an eating disorder that is consistent with the signs/symptoms of a "low-grade," or borderline form of anorexia, and it has frequently been a source of problems in our marriage. She has always had problems with her self image and feelings of looking "dysmorphic" (her words). She was restrictive of calories in her diet, and exercised obsessively for years; however, she was never an unhealthy weight (< 18.5 BMI) before last year. Getting to this point was a great concern for me, and I have recently learned many people in her life have shared in these concerns for many years. Since this time, last year, I addressed my concerns with our primary physician, who has also had concerns about her disorder eating for some years now. My wife received referrals to ED specialists for a proper evaluation as a result, and she agreed, and claimed to call one at the end of the year (2013) and they just never returned her call.

Because of the problems in our marriage we were seriously considering a divorce, but I wanted to be a supportive partner for her and for our preteen daughter. We took our rings off, and decided to focus on our friendship and family. I gave her space to deal with her problems, knowing that the odds for her to have a successful recovery were better for her if she was not pressured to seek treatment. Recently, she decided that our marriage was important to her and she wanted to put her ring back on. Still having my concerns, I could not, in good conscious, agree with her with out her addressing the health concerns presented to her by myself and her physician. Now, she as back in the "healthy" weight range (18.5 BMI on the nose), and feels that there is no longer a problem. She has also decided that she was delusional when feeling we should put our rings back on and regrets expressing that feeling. She believes I am reaching for for answers to our marital problems by focusing on her health, and it is all in my head. Things are deteriorating at a rapid rate and I am not sure how much more of this I can take. Friends are preparing to stage an intervention. As much as I hope it is effective, I can't help but think she is only going to push them away as well.

For anyone that has had experience with a personal ED, or experience with a significant other that has had their struggles with an ED, can you help explain what it takes for a person to have that breakthrough experience? What was that eye opening moment that helped denial fall to the way side? I am feeling so lost on what to do, any help, or ideas would be greatly appreciated.


Hi FH,

Hi FH,
I'm so sorry to hear that you and your wife are struggling through this experience with her ED, but it is clear that she is a lucky person to have someone care about her as much as you do, and you are truly an inspiration for trying to combat these problems from different angles for so long!

As someone on the other side of the coin (I personally struggled with an ED in high school and college) I know that it can be difficult to get past that denial stage, but for me my breakthrough point when I really found ways to overcome my ED came when I started receiving professional help. I think you're on the right track in seeking help from your doctor, and I would encourage you to urge your wife to re-contact an ED specialist for a formal evaluation. I know it can be hard to find a balance between wanting to be supportive without being too pushy, but expressing your concerns consistently can still show her that you are thinking about her overall wellbeing in the long run.

Something I've learned that helps in open communication is using "I" statements, such as "I feel concerned when you..." or "I am worried about..." It can be a good way to express how you feel with specific examples, without feeling like you're attacking the person with more forceful statements such as "you SHOULD do so and so." Something else that could help is seeing a therapist together who might be able to work with you on her resistance to your attempts to help. It may provide a safe environment where you can deal with some of the underlying issues in working together for her health, which can lead to her accepting more concrete medical care for her anorexia. Also, remember that your emotional health is important too, since relationships are two-way streets, and having a mediator there may help the both of you.

The NEDA Helpline (1-800-931-2237 M-R 9-9, F 9-5 EST) is a good resource to call for more advice or information, and here are some links that might be useful too:
Family/friends info:
How to help someone:
From a spouse's perspective:
Stories of hope:

I hope this helps - sending positive thoughts your way!