National Eating Disorders Association

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my husband has an eating disorder and wants to buy a business

I don't know where to start because everything is such a mess, but here it goes.

My husband and I have been together a long time. 12 years in total, 4 of those married. I've known for a long time that something wasn't quite right, but I couldn't ever figure it out. Over time our entire life had come to revolve around food and exercise. Every night we had to be home by a certain time so that the food routine could start, we would never eat out and if I begged he would go but he wouldn't eat anything, I would get yelled at for being in the kitchen while he was in there, and then there was the exercising. He vigorously exercised every day. He would do a beach body insanity dvd and then go running. He never skipped a day despite injuries or illness. After he had his wisdom teeth removed they said no exercise - he ran that same day. He broke a toe and ran on it. Truely, this feels like the tip of the iceberg.

I never really understood what was going on. I thought he was just particular about his routine. Many times over the years I asked him to talk to a doctor or go see a therapist.
He refused and insisted that I just didn't like him until about a year ago. I finally convinced him to go to marriage counseling with me and upon our first visit, without any prompting from me the therapist requested to see my husband alone. That continued for awhile and it seemed like it might be OCD.

This is where the story takes a weird twist. Fast forward to this summer. My husband wants nothing more in his life than to own a brewery. A brewery goes up for sale at a price point that we could stretch and make. He is still going to therapy and it's at this point that I re-join him primarily because the idea of owning a business makes me anxious as there is a lot of risk involved. It's at this point that I come to discover that my husband has not ever brought up the topic of his eating or exercising. When I first start joining him I'm still thinking that it's OCD, but about 2 weeks ago after some research it dawns on me that this is an eating disorder and I bring it up at our session together. At this very moment we are in the midst of purchasing this brewery and I am very stressed about it. Frankly, I don't want to buy the brewery, but I love my husband and I want him to be happy so I've been trying to push through this for him. At the initial session when I brought it up, I told him that I would feel much more comfortable about the brewery if he would agree to continue getting help after we move. I get a rather non-committal "if I have time" response. I've been trying to cut him some slack because this was the first time I had brought it up in our sessions and I thought maybe he was just really upset.

Fast forward to this week. I decide to go see a counselor myself because frankly I've been struggling with the stress of the purchase and the stress of my marriage. She recommends that he immediately go to a specialist for an assessment appointment, so that evening when we go to our counseling session together I request that we do that prior to closing on the brewery. He says that the timing is really inconvenient. I understand the comment because the brewery will be closing soon - we don't have a date, but the bank says it's getting close, but this is very upsetting to me. All I want is for my husband to get better and I'll do this brewery with him. After a rather emotional session he agrees that he needs help and that he'll get it. I told him that I had a list of specialists already and the therapist suggests that he should make the appointment himself rather than me. This session was 2 days ago.

Yesterday my husband was off from work. I didn't ask him if he called to try and make an appointment because he was clearly in a bad mood, but I'm fairly certain the answer is no. I told him I wanted to go to the appointment with him and so I would have expected him to reach out to me to ask about time slots. And this is why I am so lost. I love my husband and I want to be with him, but our marriage has not been great. The eating disorder started before we got married, but seems to gotten worse after. Our entire life has revolved around this. Now my husband is asking me to uproot my entire life - move, sell our home, and put us in debt to purchase this place. I just want him to get better, but I fear that he isn't committed. He knows that I want treatment to start and that we don't have a lot of time before closing and yet he didn't make any phone calls despite being home with no other obligations. Everything looks to me like he doesn't want help.

So I'm now left with a dilemma. I never really wanted to purchase this business, but I wanted my marriage to work so I continued. I think I could deal with the business, but I don't know that I can deal with my marriage if he doesn't get help. Businesses are stressful and our life was already a mess before this. I don't really want to leave my husband, but I also don't think it's fair to ask me to continue in this way. So what do I do? I don't want to continue this way for another 10+ years before he bottoms out and decides it really is a problem, but I don't want to leave either. I feel like the brewery is pushing the issue because I don't know that I want to make this sacrifice for him if he isn't getting help.

Is it unreasonable for me to feel this way? I feel like a traitor to my marriage. I don't know what to do. I want to help him, but I've had to come to terms with I can't make him get the help he needs. I've been pushing to get help. At what point do I say enough is enough - I can't make you help yourself but I won't let you drag me down with you. This all feels so wrong because I did vow for better or for worse and I do love him. I just don't know what to do.


Dear Bamoon,

I suspect your husband would complain about the timing of all this : Right in the middle of a big business deal. But to be honest, it's probably not unusual that things often come to a head in the face of stressful times. So I hope you won't feel to terrible about that part. As you said, even though he may be equally stressed, when the issue is something so central to your marriage, he really should be able to find time to fit an appointment in. And really, all he has to do to begin with is to show up for the thing.

That's the reasonable outlook though, but where things like this are involved, people's thought patterns aren't always that reasonable. Particularly when people have the feeling that their coping methods, healthy or otherwise, may be under attack.

One thing to remember in all this is that while he may tell himself that he's "just trying to stay heathy" with these habits, at their core, issues like this revolve around themes of personal control. If he eats well, and exercises, that symbolizes being in control to him. But as with most obsessive behaviors, soon things switch around, and the behaviors are controlling the person instead. One way he might check this out is to see if he actually could change his habits. Most people who exercise could take a few days off and emotionally it would not be that big of a deal. But for people in his position, that same proposition would probably fill them with terrific anxiety and unease. Which would probably be a message to him, you know ? One which he may be hearing already.

Remember though, since the psychological theme is control, the thought of getting treatment can set off a lot of inner alarm bells for him. Because if what he is doing signifies being in control, on a primal level, *not* doing those things signifies being out of control. Which for people in his situation is a very unsettling idea. Even if they understand that they may be in trouble, and how unreasonable those feelings might be.

Are you right to put your foot down about this, and start drawing some lines in the sand ? Personally I don't think so. First, his obsessional behaviors are unhealthy. Second, they are having a real impact on your marriage. Third, as an equal partner in the marriage, if you feel there's a problem, then there is a problem. No matter what he may choose to say.

Also, good on you for seeing a therapist of your own. Sometimes we can worry that we might not have a proper perspective on things, and from what you've said, it seems like she's helping you with that end of things. So I hope you'll continue to see her, for as long as you guys are in town.

On the positive side, my sense is that he knows that he has a problem, no matter much he seems to be ignoring it. He probably would not deny the rigidness of his behaviors, or tell you that he could quit any time that he wanted. Plus look at the effects it's having on you and the marriage.

So no, I'm not seeing anything unreasonable about how you are feeling. Aside from worrying that you're the bad guy in all this. In fact you would rather see things get better. And I'll bet he would tell you that he would like to see things get better too.

Which…is unlikely to happen unless he makes an open commitment to both you and himself to begin the process of getting a grip on all this.

The brewery issue is probably another matter, but still, he's asking you to take some big chances with this, so as far as recovery goes, shouldn't he be willing to take some chances himself ?

In any case, this note is getting pretty long, but I hope it helped a little. Things like this rarely clear themselves up quickly, so I do hope that you can keep posting.


I think you are in correct in that these things came to a head at the same time for a reason and also for thinking that my husband thinks the timing stinks because frankly it does. They ended up coinciding because of me and our marriage. Our marriage has not been stellar, although it has had some great moments. This has largely been because of the eating disorder. Prior to the brewery our lives very much revolved around the eating and exercising routine. He was extremely rigid with his eating and exercising. We always had to be home by 6pm so that he could start his eating routine which included eating the same foods in the same order each evening. To exacerbate that, he didn't like for anyone to see this routine and so I would frequently get yelled at for being in the kitchen in the evening. He also later came to admit that he was basically starving himself all day long until the evening routine started. Basically only allowing himself to have pre-measured 100 calorie portions every couple of hours. In addition, he was exercising extreme amounts and would never take a day off. As you can imagine these things became very disruptive in our lives. Visiting people, having anyone visit us, or spending any time together past 6PM basically didn't happen and if they did it was very stressful.

So when the brewery came up I said enough. If you want this I want changes. Initially things appeared to get better. He stopped the evening routine almost cold turkey, but continued the exercising. I was happy, but somewhere between weary and confused. I mean if he knew this was making me happy why did he continue it for so long? Slowly as time progressed things had creeped back toward where they were. While the eating routine has returned, it has not returned with the same vigor. He has allowed some flexibility with the timing of it. I wanted us to meal plan and eat together and he has done that, however as time has gone on he has gotten much more particular about the meals we choose to eat together. The most concerning component of it all was the uptick in exercising. I thought things were going well for awhile and then I started noticing that he was gone much longer than usual on his runs. I wasn't paying attention at first, but after I noticed a pattern developing I really started to watch. He had started to run for 3 hours a day - I believe to compensate for the new eating patterns. I put up a fuss about it and it was ultimately what lead me to believe that he had an eating disorder and confront him about it. Frankly,
I can't help but feel stupid for not realizing sooner.

So while I wish I had confronted him sooner on all of this, I think the brewery is what really made me stop and push.

I'm trying to understand his perspective with the control, but frankly things are very stressful for the 2 of us at the moment. We aren't getting along well I think because a lot of trust has been lost between us. I don't trust much of what he says to me because there have been many lies relating to the eating disorder and he doesn't trust me because I haven't been supportive of his dream. I'm trying to persevere, but I'm very spent at the moment. Our priorities are clearly not lining up. I have asked him to have an assessment done and while he has agreed and has said he does think he has an eating disorder I can tell he doesn't want to deal with it. Conversations with him also lead me to believe that he really isn't convinced it's a problem. He told me this past weekend that he believed the exercising might be an issue, but he feels like he's just particular about his food and why does he have to eat what everyone else eats. I basically did the leg work for him and found a list of local specialists and he agreed to make an appointment. There was a specialist he contacted last week that had availability this Thursday and he didn't book the appointment because they would not accept our insurance. Which I could accept as a reason, but I asked him to contact the others on the list to see if anyone else would. When I asked him about it today he said he forgot about it.

All I want is for him to get help so that our marriage can get better. It just doesn't seem to me that he thinks this is a serious enough problem. I'm exhausted by being the bad guy. By the self doubt - I'm not crazy for thinking this is a problem and I'm really tired of being so worried that I'm being unfair. He needs this for himself as much as for my marriage.

Anyhow, thank you for responding to me. It helps to have someone explain what is going on in their heads a bit as I honestly can't understand. It also helps to have a place to vent.


Dear Bamoon,

One thing in all this : It does sound like at least someone is starting to confront all this. That person being you. Maybe this makes you the bad guy, but I don't think so. Because it is something that's really causing some problems in your marriage. So is it "the good guy" who just ignores it all, or is it the good guy who wants to see unhealthy things get resolved so that things can get better ?

Like you said, the timing may not be the greatest, and the overall stress of the brewery decision may cause his behaviors to get worse, but that's just how it goes sometimes. I don't think you can let that get in the way of wanting to see some movement on this matter.

And yes, the rigid and obsessional nature of his routines….it's true, we don't always have to be bound by what other people do, but when any sort of thing becomes obsessive to the point that it intrudes on the sort of happiness that comes with a flexible approach to life, then that's just not healthy.

So no, I don't really see you as being unfair about all of this. Granted, your husband may get defensive, and see you as trying to frame him as the bad guy, but in the larger picture it's clear to me that you'd like to see things become better for the both of you. Which hardly makes you the bad guy, you know ?

Hopefully he can get hooked up with a good person, when it comes to the assessment. Someone who he feels somewhat safe about being emotionally open with. Things can be a little too close to the bone in marriages sometimes, and I think you've seen the sort of lurking accusations and other extraneous matters that can pop up and get in the way of things. So it would be good if he had someone else to talk with these things with. Hopefully he'll feel the same way, once he talking with someone.

In the mean time, I hope you've had the chance to continue talking to the therapist you were seeing ? These are not minor matters, and it sounds to me like you are taking a responsible approach.

Because it really sounds like what you want is not selfish, but a life that's better for you and he the both.