National Eating Disorders Association

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Emotionally Drained By This

Hi. As an introduction I have been married to my husband for 10 years. He has an ED. He is either starving himself or he is gluttonous. When I first met him, he was in the starvation mode and constantly exercising.

For a year his eating was normal, but then he was diagnosed with Diabetes and was very angry and also in denial. He began to consume huge amounts of food. I kept taking him to nutritionists and doctors but he refused to listen to what they had to say. Whenever I tried to have a conversation with him about his weight and eating he became angry and accused me of nagging him.

Eventually he grew obese. His heath deteriorated greatly. He stopped all exercise and watched TV 24/7 for the past 5 years. Three months ago we went to his cardiologist who offhandedly mentioned that it was only his medication keeping him alive. This seems to have had an impact.

Two months ago he had surgery on his sinuses. The surgery caused him to lose all sense of smell and taste. Two weeks after his surgery I had to travel for business. I was away for a month. I have returned home to find that he is starving himself and has lost a lot of weight.

Whenever I try to talk to him about his eating he starts a fight and claims I do nothing but nag him. I realize he has an eating disorder. I refuse to talk to the ED. I want to talk to my husband. I am emotionally exhausted by all of this.

I know that until he is willing to do something about it, I can only sit back a wait since I have, in the past, recruited his doctors' help to no avail. I am trying to prepare myself emotionally for the worst. He is 66 years old and I suspect he has been dealing with this for over 20 years.

His Niece is anorexic and we have searched for professional help for her, only to find there really isn't anything around here.

Thank you for letting me vent.


Dear DD,

Things like this are really difficult. And while it qualifies at the least as "disordered eating" there's also that old saying "It's not about food".

"Emotional eating" is another term for this, which encompasses the idea that people fall into things like this as a way to deal with emotions. Or inner fears, or existential anxieties. At age 66 he may be beginning to deal with the idea of mortality too. Many of these sorts of issues also have to do with the overall concept of control.

So really, the root of all this may not have much to do with food or eating - That's just the outer manifestation of other concerns. Which are being dealt with in an indirect manner. If you can restrict your eating, then you are exerting control, and if you see the numbers on the scale going down, that's proof that you're on top of things.

But honestly, it would be better if he could get a grasp on the deeper concerns, and find a way to address them more directly. Which is going to mean doing therapy. Which he may or may not be open to. And that can be a problem as well.

I'm sorry to hear about your niece's problems. You are right - in some areas it can be hard to find proper help. Plus it will be the same thing for her : How open is she to the idea of being helped at all ? If she's in the thick of it, then she might not be, but sooner or later she might be, as most people find themselves running out of steam, as far as their enthusiasm for their ED is concerned.

In any case, just some thoughts. If it helps, I hope you'll keep writing.

Bob J.

Thank You

Thank you, Bob. My husband is not the most emotionally healthy person. He comes from an alcoholic dysfunctional family. He does have control issues. He refuses to seek either therapy or medical care. His sister recently died. Another sister has Alz. I'm guessing his age and mortality is a factor in this.

This should not be my fight. I need to learn to let go and let God as AA says.


Well. I know that this should not be your fight, but what are we supposed to do or to feel, when it's someone who we are this close to ? But you are right; it's not your job to be his therapist, or to "fix" him.

We can be supportive, but they need to provide us with something substantial to support.

It really does sound like he's got things on his mind though. The issues with his siblings would be hard for anyone to ignore. As to therapy, it would not be odd if anyone in his situation got help to deal with their feelings about the sibling situation, so if you were to recommend that he get help, then that might be the issue to bring up, rather than framing it about him and his health and his eating concerns.

Bob J.

Thank you, Bob. I have given

Thank you, Bob. I have given what you said considerable thought. He will not go to therapy. He does not believe he needs it. He denies his behavior. He lies to me. He is sneaky. I understand that this is all part of his ED and probably learned behavior as a child. I also understand that healthy people set boundaries and that unacceptable behavior is unacceptable regardless of the marital connection.

First and foremost, I need to detach from this situation. My emotions cannot be abused. It is exhausting and unhealthy for me.


It is exhausting. At the same time, a person does not want to become cold and bitter.

It can be hard to find a balance I know.

Some people do get therapy of their own because of situations like this. Like how to deal with these things, without them turning us into someone we'd not want to be.


Thank you. I have been trying to find a therapist for myself. It is difficult when one has to leave the house for work by 7:00 AM and doesn't get home until 6:30 PM. What kind of therapist do I look for... someone who specializes in eating disorders? or marital problems? or addictions? Or should I just look for someone who works with stress?

One of the problems is that this is not new to me. I have seen what is to come. I am not sure how much of this journey I want to go through with him, only to have us end up in divorce anyway, or me widowed. This is a tough mental illness to beat and it only gets worse as he starves his brain.


Hey Ditto,

I might look for a therapist who works with eating disorders. The reason I say this is because they are likly to be familiar with the sorts of resistances and denials that your husband is struggling with. They've seen them in their own clients, you know ?

They would also be familiar with the sorts of frustrations that parents and partners might have. And perhaps could provide you with some strategies.

As you said, EDs are insidious things, and it can be really hard to get through to our loved ones. If it helps, I hope you'll keep writing.

Bob J.

Minor Progress

I convinced my husband to see his primary care doctor to make sure that with all this sudden weight loss he is not being over-medicated. I then called the doctor's office and told them what is going on with his eating. The doctor was very kind and had a discussion with my husband, giving him a recommended amount of calories to eat daily. In the office my husband agreed to eat 1500 calories daily, but whether or not he is really doing it is debatable.

But, I feel I have now gotten his doctor involved and that quiets my conscience as I continue to step back emotionally.

I have also found a group that meets quarterly for people impacted by ED and I will go to their next meeting. I need to find an attorney to get some answers in case the ED wins.

Minor Progress

Yeah, you'll have to see if he follows the doctor's recommendation or not. Plenty of people with EDs are quite aware of what they should be doing, but their emotional associations, as they pertain to eating, continue to cause them to do differently.

Good that the doctor was kindly, and took the time to listen to your concerns though. It can be good to feel as though someone is on your side in situations like this.

Interesting to hear about the support group you mentioned. I'm guessing you'll meet a lot of folks who've had many of the same feelings that you are having. It will be informative to hear how they go about emotionally navigating all the various frustrations that accompany things like this. If you should go, let us know how it was.


Yes, I will let you know how the group is, but it is not for another month. I suspect it is very much like Al-anon as the facilitator was giving me the opening lecture of the 3 C's... I did not cause it, I can not control it, I cannot cure it.

I remember sitting in Al-anon years ago when I was married to my alcoholic prior husband. I heard the 3 C lecture then too, and my thought was that I can control it: I can divorce him and end the problem. That is what I wound up doing and never regretted that decision. My current husband has not been a model husband either.