National Eating Disorders Association

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Looking for guidance on how to help my boyfriend

Hi everyone. I have been with my 24 year old boyfriend for about two years now, and last year I learned he struggles with bulimia. He was bullied in middle school and missed months of class because he was sick but his parents and doctors never figured out it was bulimia (I understand that many people wrongly believe it to be a condition only women suffer from).

He told me this and for a long time we struggled because he has really hard times where he still feels the symptoms of his ED and even acts on them occasionally. I finally was able to get through to him about therapy, and now he sees an Therapist with specialty in dealing with EDs and he loves her. I know it’s helping him a lot.

However, I still have questions about how I can support him and help him through this hardship. He shares with me a lot of times that he feels unhappy with his weight or insecure about meeting new people because he’s gained a certain amount. I honestly and so truthfully don’t care at all what his weight is, I just want him to be happy. What should I say when he tells me these things? It really consumes him sometimes and I know he’s opening up by telling me but I always feel at a loss for words. I feel like if I say “no you’re so handsome!” That’s encouraging his obsessing on what he looks like, but that if I say “that’s not what matters, I care about you not what you look like” that I’m conceding I have noticed he’s gained weight even if I haven’t. I just want to say the right thing in these situations that won’t make him feel worse and might even help.

Another thing is exercise. My boyfriend used to be overweight before I knew him, but I guess a few years back he started going to the gym a lot and lost a bunch of weight, which made him feel a lot more secure in himself. However, when he stops going to the gym (he’s a busy person with a hectic job) he gets really down on himself and thinks he looks “fat” even though he’s not. The same thing happens when he orders delivery or eats unhealthy for a week or something. Sometimes he says “Help me remember to eat healthy this week” or “will you please make sure I don’t get lazy and not go to the gym tomorrow?” And I’m not sure what to do in those scenarios either. When he does things like go to the gym regularly and eat healthy he’s so happy and confident and feeling good about himself and everything else, so a part of me would like to encourage it mildly, and help him do the things that make him feel confident. Would this be feeding bad behavior? It’s so hard to know because going to the gym and eating healthy are good, normal things to do, but at the same time I don’t want to ever ever encourage unhealthy behavior that could only make his ED worse.

Sorry this was so long, but these questions have been building up for a long time. I really appreciate it if you’ve read this far.

Doing My Best .

Hey there DMB,
I Hope you end up seeing this. Posts can sit here for a while sometimes. But I do hope you see this

First off, good for your BF getting himself to therapy. While we want to help, we are their partners and not their therapists, and our job is to support our partners and not to "fix" them. Which it sounds like you've already figured out. It's good that you guys are able to talk too. That sort of communication is going to give you both an advantage when it comes to supporting him. One thing to keep in mind when you see him getting anxious is that EDs are about control.  He emotionally feels not quite as in control of things, so he goes to the gym. Working out helps him feel more in control.

"Feeling fat" is kind of the same thing. Feeling fat is code-talk feeling out of control..;Once you get the control thing figured out, and see the sorts of formats in which it gets played out ( restriction, purging, excercize and etc) ;you can kind of see how people get EDs in the first place. ;Because who likes feeling like they are out of control ? No one.

So how do people with EDs address that? Through various behaviors that can provide some sense of control, but which don't really get at the heart of the matter

Then there's the "good enough" thing. Are we good enough yet ? This can get played out in the arena of food and excersise too. When really it's an emotional thing. The problem with that, as far as we are concerned,, is that we can't reelly tell them that we think that they are "enough" - That needs to be something that they belive themselves But we can commiserate with them about the control issue in general. And let them know that we understand that a lot of their naxiety is related to that. Rather than "you don't really need to go to the gym so much" or comments like that.

In any case, you are right about the need to feel like we are crafting our responses in helpful ways.  If the person feels like someone else "gets it" they can feel less alone with their concerns, and that in itself can feel suppsotive to them.