National Eating Disorders Association

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16 year rollercoaster ride with my 55+ yr old wife with ED

First time posting here after reading some very helpful posts from guys in similar situations.

Can you believe a grandmother of 9 is still struggling with ED? That's my wife.
We've been happily married for almost 35+ years and at age 40 she bought into the lie of EDs.

That's when she started dieting and exercising a lot. It was a slow process until one day I realized it was getting extreme. I confronted her about it and she got real defensive. I gave her some literature about ED and she angrily gave it right back to me. Her exercising increased. She withdrew from social and family events because there was food. Thankfully our daughters never went down that path.

At one point her wrists and ankles started to swell. She was knocking on death's door. I should have taken her to the hospital right then. She put some weight on for a while but not for long. When I told my wife that other people were asking me if she's okay, that hit her between the eyes, and she started to put on a little weight again. (Probably to hide the obvious from others.) She rode that fine line for many years. Sometimes a little above or below. She became more controlling about simple stuff.

She's got hundreds of cookbooks, bakes cookies and bars for me to share at work, and won't ever eat a single one herself. When our whole family goes out to dinner together, she does not eat much. We have never had dinner or lunch at our kid's houses because they know she won't eat what they make. She hasn't seen a doctor in over 8 yrs when she had a bike accident that almost killed her with head injuries. While she was semi-conscious in the hospital, she told me she hated my guts. She doesn't remember anything about her hospital stay.

Our grown kids are losing patience with me that I can't get her to seek help. She refuses since her family used to ridicule people who got counseling. A few years ago our pastor asked my wife if she needed help with ED. She has hated him for it ever since.

I confronted her 4 weeks ago about losing weight again and pleaded with her to get help or at least get a check up which she hasn't had since her accident. SHE WILL NOT GO! We argued until she didn't have a leg to stand on. I kept the conversation focused on her health. She kept trying to drag in my shortcomings from the past. Finally I wrote her a couple letters since I can get my points across better that way. Since the letters, she has gained XX pounds. And it shows. She has stopped exercising cold turkey! She's reading books instead. Novels.

She hasn't talked to me in the last 4 weeks. She is hopping mad at me. If looks could kill.
So today I broke the ice and told her to get it off her chest. She blew up at me and pointed out all my faults to control the conversation, and told me she recovered by herself without help, and said she hated me. Ouch!

The gained weight and no exercise for a month is the biggest change she has ever made. She told our daughter she doesn't ever want to go back to that low weight. Now I finally realize why she hates me so much. I'm the biggest threat to the secret lie of ED that hides inside her!! Just like our pastor a few years ago.

I want my wife back...and without the lie of ED sitting on her shoulder everyday. It's like a little demon took control of her 16 years ago and she doesn't see it.
I have talked to a great ED counselor a couple times in the last few years but she said my wife needs to make that decision. Well my wife won't listen to me. Is it up to our kids to tell her? Don't know how to proceed from here.

Hello! Welcome to NEDA forums

Hello! Welcome to NEDA forums! We would like to inform you that we slightly edited your post to remove language about eating disorder behaviors, which is not allowed on the forums. You can read more about our community guidelines here. Thanks for your understanding and please continue posting! 

Worn Out

Welcome to the club. My husband's ED wears me out too. The very sad thing is that unless someone wants to change, no one can force them to change. The only one you can force to change is yourself. Your children will not be able to force the change either.

My FIL died from Anorexia. Nothing got him to eat. The more people starve themselves, the more it affects their thinking. They are killing their brains along with every other organ in their body through starvation.

I wish I had an answer for us both. Therapy for you might be helpful. Sometimes al-anon is helpful because people dealing with alcoholics face the same type of issues. We all need to learn that we cannot control this demon, we did not cause this demon, we cannot cure this demon. I think this is the very hardest lesson we have to learn. Once we can accept this simple fact, we can begin to concentrate on our recovery from this... which in part involves letting go and letting God.

You sound like a wonderful husband. Sending best wishes for you on this journey.

Thanks Ditto. Sorry to hear

Thanks Ditto. Sorry to hear about your FIL.

You're right about EDs killing brains along with every organ in their body. My wife has had almost all her teeth replaced, I notice more of her hair lying around, she's usually constipated, she's always cold even in the summer, she's very slow at going up any stairs because her muscle mass is practically gone, her heart rate has been very slow since her ED started. And these are just the few things that are noticeable on the outside. Can't imagine all the things going wrong on the inside.

At this point I don't think I'll ever get my "real wife" back. I am preparing myself mentally to lose her. I pray everyday God will turn her around. It's in His hands.

Worn out

Situations like this are wearing alright, so the fact that you feel this way is understandable. Like Ditto said, they have to want to make changes, and you've seen how difficult that can be.

Not to try and put a happy face on the situation, but the fact that she actually *has* had periods of time when she actually did gain weight is significant I think. You've seen just how stubborn EDs can be, so the idea that (at least for a few times) she was able to push past the obsessions and actually eat, and somehow tolerate seeing the numbers on the scale go up….from an emotional standpoint, not that many people with EDs can manage to do that. Even if she did relapse later.

People with EDs often have this idea about being perfect. So yeah, when you criticize her for actually accomplishing what she considers perfection….she may find herself hating you for that. It's all nonsense of course, because a part of her is aware that it's all self-destructive, but at the same time she can feel *really* resentful for you daring to point that out to her. Even though she knows it herself.

But yes, she'll have to make her own decision. She already knows what you think, and understands that you have good reasons for feeling the way that you do. She may hate you for it, but EDs are strange that way.

Perhaps having the kids say something might help, if she is still on good terms with them. Having them understand how hard it can be for her to change, and letting her know that they understand that, might help her feel less resentful towards any concerns they might express.

Because yeah, no one likes the idea of having their nose rubbed in the fact that they've managed to box their own self into a corner. Particularly when they are well aware of that fact already.

Keep in touch ?

Thanks BobJ...

Thanks BobJ...
Last week our daughter was told by my wife that I wouldn't talk to her. My daughter knows that's not true because I previously told my daughter I've had to write letters to my wife just to communicate. My wife has never been a blatant liar like that before. Desperation?
I'm always the one who says bye in the morning and hi when I get home from work. All I get is a glorified grunt in return. But if I don't say hi or bye, then this whole lack of communication thing will end up being my fault from the start. I'm not giving her any scapegoats.

Last week I put a piece of tape on the bottomside her treadmill's track belt to see if she's using it when I'm not home. When I checked later I saw it had been used.

The more I understand this mental illness, the more I see how things she did in the past were about keeping control of her surroundings. That's why she fianlly started using a smart phone this year. She was intimidated by it.

I'll keep you posted so maybe my journey can help others.

The Lies and Distrust

Wornout, it seems to be common behavior. My FIL did not tell the truth about his behaviors and he was very distrustful of us. I thought that was very strange because he was the one eroding our trust, but he didn't see it that way. My husband is the same way. He will tell me he is eating. There is no food in the refrigerator. There is no smell of food when I come home from work. There are no food scraps in the garbage. Exactly what makes him think I am falling for his lies?

So, I am learning to not ask questions, to understand that I will not get a truthful answer, and to not upset myself by searching for the truth. Really, I already know the truth. He is exercising without eating. He is not eating. Proving this to myself just upsets me. My knowing what he is doing will not change his behavior any more than you knowing the treadmill was used will change your wife's behavior.

I am trying to take the al-anon approach of detaching with love. This means being responsible for my own welfare and making decisions without ulterior motives or the desire to control my husband's behavior. My sanity needs to be preserved. I cannot respond with anxiety. I cannot control. I am not responsible for the behavior of my husband. I am only responsible for my behavior.

I wish I had a husband who was not mentally ill, who treated me better, who put effort into the health of the marriage. I do not have a better marriage. Right now I am making the choice to continue with what I have. But every day, I make sure that I am aware it is my choice to stay and I have options. This helps me in the detach-with-love department.

It's now been 7 weeks since I

It's now been 7 weeks since I confronted my wife about her ED. She's still not talking to me.
She planted flowers in our front yard last week. I commented that they look nice. I got no response. A day later I asked her about the evening she spent with our married daughter. She grudgingly mumbled they had a good time. Her hatred and resentment toward me is off the charts. How dare I shine light on the secret lie she wants to keep hidden.

Our daughters tell me she's very upbeat when she goes to their house to see them. She brings home baked cookies and cupcakes for them and the grandkids. Of course she doesn't eat any herself. She's manipulating them like she did me for years. She's building up brownie points with them for the eventual day we get divorced. She doesn't know our 3 daughters are tired of her ED and they've been keeping me up to date on their conversations.

I don't want a divorce but evidently she does because she asked me last night if I want to file or if she should. I said neither, and she walked away.
This whole thing has escalated to new heights in her mind. She's willing to risk everything to keep her life with ED going. She doesn't work outside the how does she think she's going to support herself. She currently has a cushy lifestyle. She's willing to give all that up.

Our daughters don't like arguing with her face to face. My wife is able to think on her feet much more quickly during an argument. She'll lie and stretch the truth in order to win and get people to back off. So I think it's time to have my daughters get together to write and sign a letter to her. Two of them are ready to do it.
Is this the right next step?

The next step…


I know that I'm not in your situation, so I hope you'll forgive me, but one does have to wonder what she's angry about when she acts so sullen around you.

And yet is able to act cheerful around others.

Is your main sin that you know the truth about her ?

That hardly seems like a sin to me.

It's a gamble perhaps, but yes, you guys may need to go with the letter. What you decide to say in it, and the tone you guys take… that's something you'll need to give some though to.

You nailed it Bob!

My biggest sin or crime is that I know the truth about her and now she knows that I know. Ironically after reading some posts in this forum, I realized a different angle into what my wife is afraid of. That little demon inside her named ED is freaking out that someone is going to pull him out of her.

I updated my daughters yesterday about my wife's question to me whether I want to file for divorce. They were floored. One of my daughters contacted her pastor about how to handle getting help for my wife. He asked if we saw any spiritual fruit from my wife. My daughter said not lately. I don't see any either. She doesn't realize she's living in sin by hurting her body and being ungrateful for what she has. She thinks she doesn't deserve to be loved nor forgiven. So she has a hard time allowing others to love her. She keeps people at arms length and over time her world becomes a lonelier place.

My daughters agreed its time to write their mother a letter. The tone will be rooted in love. It will be based on what the Bible says without an accusatory message.
Yes there are a mountain of issues from the last 15 years that could be brought up. But that's not going to help achieve our goal of her accepting the fact she needs help.

The letter will be written by my daughters and reviewed with me. Next week Friday they are coming over with their husbands with the letter. Since my daughters won't be able to get through the letter without breaking down, I will be reading their letter to my wife in front of everyone. She will be told I didn't write it. I'm only reading it for them.

But a few days before this, I will be meeting with an eating disorder counselor to get some advice on do's and don'ts. I've met with her about a month ago.

I'll keep you updated on how this all goes down.

I hope your wife has gotten better..

Hi, I have read all your posts, and I am so sorry for what you went through. You wrote such a powerful story and it seems like you are a very strong-minded person, be there for your wife even though she doesn't respond positively trying to support her in many various ways. I just wanted to check how things have been with your wife and daughters. I see that your last post is in May.. I truly hope that she has gotten better over these few months.



This intervention plan sounds like the right step to take, although your wife may not feel that it is. So you'll want to make sure that you're sending the right message.

"She doesn't realize she's living in sin by hurting her body and being ungrateful for what she has." I might avoid statements like that. Like things that would make her feel guilty, you know ? I'm not sure she would agree she's ungrateful, but you might not want to go there I think.

" She thinks she doesn't deserve to be loved nor forgiven. So she has a hard time allowing others to love her. She keeps people at arms length and over time her world becomes a lonelier place"

You are right on the money with this. The whole "undeserving" thing can be a big part of EDs. Only if they show proper self-control, will they ever be "worthy", or become perfect enough that their self-doubts will finally disappear. This is the big lie that EDs tell them, at least in the beginning, that is. I suspect that she understands that things are considerably less than perfect now, though. Once the person realizes that they're in a trap of their own making, as you've seen, things can start feeling pretty unsettled for them.

It's likely she may say that "You just don't understand." Which…she may be right about that. This stuff rarely seems to make logical sense . If you were to ask her to explain it to you…she might not be able to do it. Sometimes it takes a whole lot of therapy for the person to figure the "whys" out for themselves, so you may not want to pressure her on that.

But yes, I'd definitely talk with the counselor you met with about this plan, and see what she says about the best way to go about this. Your wife may feel emotionally alone as it is, so you'll really want to be sensitive to that part.


I would also have it in the back of my mind that this is not an illness that promotes reason and rational thought. Therefore, the response to this letter could be anything, and might be something that you don't want.

I would suggest again that we cannot make someone want to get better. They must do it for themselves; because they want to get better. The emphasis is on "they".

Being in any relationship with a mentally ill person affects us in many ways. Our mental health can suffer too. I would suggest, also, that you make sure to care for yourself, and work on yourself too, because that is something you do have control over.

Sending best wishes.