National Eating Disorders Association

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Husband needs help

I'm having a hard time approaching the subject of ED with my husband. We have been married for 4 years and I knew he always struggled with OCD but he has never gotten professional help. In the last few years his exercise regimen has gotten more and more intense and now for the last year or so he has implemented an extremely restricted diet. He goes to the gym for hours and exercises at home on the days he doesnt. He only eats a few different foods and has made himself ill because of it but won't go to the doctor/treats himself. His OCD is getting progressively worse as well and I notice my 4 year old picking up on his behaviors. I have brought up getting help for his OCD in he past but he refuses and believes he is getting better not worse. I have not brought up ED directly but every time I bring up food he gets very defensive and makes me feel bad for what I eat and for not having an exercise routine. He thinks everything about standard nutrition is wrong and that his alternatives are making him better including helping his GERD. Occasionally he will binge on junk food and it will make him feel "like crap" which I think reinforces his habits. His whole life is the gym and food and it is straining our relationship to the point where I think about leaving every day but I just want to help instead of breaking up our family. I am also worried about our 4 year old as she is so impressionable and has been having some behavior issues including resistance to change and knows more about food than any other kid her age I know. I am afraid bringing up ED directly will make things even worse but I know it has to happen. I am also afraid that since he has become more angry/easily irritated in correlation to these things how he will react and part of me fears for safety though he has never given me a reason to feel that way. He seems like a different person. I'm just not sure where to start.


I believe you are right in thinking that obsessive excercise is an emotional sibling of eating disorders. Even without the food issues that your husband has. And you are right in thinking that it's mental illness.

It's also the same as EDs from the standpoint that, at least in it's early stages, it can be hard to convince the person that there's "a problem". After all, aren't we all supposed to watch our weight, "eat healthy" and get plenty of exercise ? Sure it takes commitment, but commitment is a socially valued quality too. So really, why are you constantly irritating him with your ideas that something might be wrong ? Wouldn't anyone begin to feel crabby with their partner bugging them like that ?

But here's the thing - Just as an experiment, could he give up the gym, and eat "normally" for say…3 days in a row, without suffering terrific anxiety?

I suspect you know the answer to that, and perhaps that's a question he could think about too ?

Just like people with eating disorders, he may feel he's on the road to becoming perfect. And heck, if we were perfect, then we'd never have to worry or struggle with self-doubt anymore. And no-one would ever criticize us either. Because we were perfect. This idea can be big part of the lure of all this.

And yet how perfect is it to have one's mind filled with nothing but anxieties about your next workout, and when you'll be eating your next "safe foods" ? How perfect is it to find your partner thinking about leaving you, because you're compulsions have caused you to emotionally detach from your relationship ?

Not very perfect at all.

So yes - He's going to have to come to the conclusion that there's a problem, and given all the energy and commitment he's devoting to this, that could be a difficult conclusion to come to.

Even so, you've seen his growing anger and irritation. I'm willing to bet that it's not simply because you are questioning him. Some of it may be because he's beginning to question himself.

I can't really tell you what the answer is, as these are conclusions he'll need to come to on his own. But it may not hurt for you to let him know that the direction things are going is having a significant impact on the relationship you once shared.

Usually it's things like that which help people see the light - The ever-growing list of negative consequences that begin to pile up to a point where they become harder and harder for the person to ignore.

So yes, could he quit for a few days without getting super-anxious ?

Like most emotionally healthy people could ?

I wonder what his answer to that might be ?

Bob J.

Hi Linda13

I am so very sorry you and your daughter are having to go through this. ED is not something that is usually quick to resolve. My suggestion would be that you and your daughter seek therapy first. Your daughter is so young, she doesn't have the coping skills or the life experience to deal with this on her own. You will also need a lot of emotional support and to learn healthy coping skills because you are being presented with something that defies reason.

First and foremost, I would concentrate on my daughter and myself. That will give you the strength to deal with this.

Sending best wishes in your journey.