National Eating Disorders Association

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Selective eating disorder spouse

My spouse has selective eating disorders. He is trying to make small adjustments to his diet and increase his exercise but also had a frequent habit of mocking healthy food and minimizing his illness. I’m never sure how to respond when he makes these comments. He will look at a healthy meal and state “that looks gross” he will get defensive on occasion and state “I’m taking care of myself, I take a multivitamin, this disorder isn’t like anorexia or bulemia which are serious”
I don’t know how to deal with these comments or what an appropriate response is.

Personal flexibility.

Oh brother, I can see where this could be unsettling alright. And it's nothing that I'm an expert in I'll admit.

But when it comes to disorders, generally the way that they get assessed is if they are having an effect on the way that a person gets through life. Which it kind of sounds like he's having a problem with, if his behaviors are restricted like this.

Most people would like to believe that they are flexible. That they can adjust to what comes at them, you know ? It's a thing that most people have a certain amount of pride about. Guys in particular, I think.

Not that you should be taunting him about this, but even so, I imagine that he would like to see himself as flexible too, and not constrained in the ways that he finds himself now. Not…obsessed, even, you know ? Which things like this are kind of related to.

But you are right : If things are to change he'll need to see this as a problem himself.

Which, if it is causing his wife distress…then it is.

While he may act defensive at times, if he actually is trying to make adjustments, then that's something you'll want to have sympathy with, as It may be more of a struggle for him than he's letting on. So see if you can put yourself in his shoes about that part ? It's reasonable to be cranky about the parts that we don't like, but we need to balance that out with supportive stuff too.

I've been working to

I've been working to encourage him in the small changes he is making. I am starting to understand that he does not believe that lifestyle changes such as incorporating new foods are something that he will ever be able to do and he is trying to change the things that he can. I have stopped him when he talks about how "gross" some food is and told him that it makes me feel like he is pushing the idea of change as far away as he can and that the message makes me uncomfortable. He uses humor to navigate his illness and explain it to others and is a little taken aback by having someone state that it makes them uncomfortable. I just have realized that I have to navigate this discussion about two/three times a week (happened again an hour ago). It has become a source of frustration for me because he knows how I feel but continues to say the same things. Tonight I was straightforward and stated "that is the eating disorder talking" he stepped back and started to point to the progress he has made in trying some new variations of his acceptable foods and I praised him for his courage and the hard work he was putting in. Things ended positive but I am really not sure that I am doing the right thing or the wrong- just feeling my way through things and this particular conversation is so common that I feel like I need a game plan.


If he can use humor about this, then that's probably progress, in that humor often hinges on our understanding of absurdity. So it sounds like he understands that a lot of this is unreasonable. And that may make a difference I think. That his behaviors make other people uncomfortable, I'm not sure how much he should worry about that, in that lots of things that are unusual make people uncomfortable. And just because they are unusual is probably not a reason to be upset. Like our getting upset by handicapped people for example.

But what you said about how some of his statements make you feel like he is pushing change away, thats' a whole different matter, and you have reason to be discomfited by that. And it's possible that you've interpreted that in a way that will give him something to think about, the next time he says things like that to you? Like "that food is gross"…statements like that might be "code talk" for other things he might be trying to express but he can't ?

You may have figured out that eating disorders are about control. All the folks on the ED boards are pretty much in agreement about that. While your husbands disorder may seem different than anorexia, it's likely there is a control element to it as well. "Safe foods" are safe because they represent control. Gross foods are dangerous because they may be a symbol of being our of control. And who feels safe being out of control ? Not too many people that I know.

"...Tonight I was straightforward and stated "that is the eating disorder talking" he stepped back and started to point to the progress he has made in trying some new variations of his acceptable foods and I praised him for his courage and the hard work he was putting in. Things ended positive…"

If things ended on a positive note, then what you said to help bring that about is worth paying attention to I think. Just as when things end negatively…there's not much good in that.

And it really does sound like he's trying, so things you can say that will feel genuinely supportive to him will always be a good thing I think.

I was in a theater class once, and as part of the class we were required to be critical of each others performances. Our teacher said the most obvious thing, but it was something I've never forgotten : When you must be critical of someone, make sure you include the good things you've noticed as well. And it sounds like you did a pretty good job of that this evening.

Yes and thanks! I felt like

Yes and thanks! I felt like things ended well and as much as I feel like I am blundering through this I love the guy and his heart so I'm all in.