National Eating Disorders Association

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kcaj123
Girlfriend has Bulimia

Hi,

My girlfriend recently disclosed to me that she has been quite bulimic for sometime. Being quite ignorant on the topic, I did much research on it and can see the physical effects on her face and body now. She told me that she has happier ignoring the issues and the damage it can do, preferring to joke around with her friends about it (they've since put a stop to this annoying and tasteless joke, but didn't get her help). Now that I have made the connection it will be a obsessive to me and I don't think I can take it.

I put together a long email, containing:
1) How a bulimic girl has cheated on me in the past (due to body issues). I was under the impression I could make her better, didn't and it really hurt me.
2) How I am more comfortable with myself now and refuse to try to change someone with disease or addiction (she has done nothing to help herself to this point) because I know it won't work.
3) Why I think people NEED to be willing to help themselves.
4) How she is so lucky previous recreational drug use to suppress appetite didn't turn into something way, way worse. (or did it/would it?)
5) A frank discussion of the physical effects I can see on her face, body, and mind.
6) Ultimately I'm doing this out of love and if she doesn't get the help to fix it, I will leave. I want and deserve the best her since I've given her my best.
7) Links to about 25 articles on the effects of bulimia and drug use.

I needed to get this off my chest, so it felt good to write, but I'm not sure I should send it. She knows shes a really good looking girl (tells me quite often) but #5 is quite harsh and even though none of it overlaps with body issues, I'm afraid of inflicting more psychological damage.

I will not be able to with this girl if this continues, no matter my feelings. But I also know she needs my support, we are extremely good friends, & nobody else has pushed her to stop. We also both acknowledge that it will be difficult to stop and even then she can slip back at any time. Trust will be an issue. But in the email I told her I will be able to see it in her face. It is a calculated risk to leave her now, or attempt to stay and help, and potentially be deceived and hurt again. I know if I tell her to chose between the addiction and me, I will lose no matter what she says. I have my own trust/security/self-centeredness issues, I cannot let this drag me down.

Sending the email is also a risk. Are the things I mention (1-7) strictly off limits for bulimics? I am very, very direct in what I want and I communicate that to her, but perhaps this is too much. I also know that with this knowledge I will eventually make her feel terrible about it, so maybe its best to breakup and tell her parents? They do not know and I think this would be more honorable, since they could love her unconditionally through this, I am afraid of faltering since this is such 'new love.' Should I not send the email, or just select parts? I was planning on sending it after the vacation was over, but my research has revealed the urgency of the situation.

Thanks.

eghall
Don't send the email

As you both seem to realize, your girlfriend needs professional help. This is easier for your girlfriend to admit to than to take action on, so have some patience with her here. Although it is very common for people to react negatively or harshly towards someone with an eating disorder, what she really needs is a soft, loving, supportive approach.

Try to remember that she did not choose to have an ED. It is not her fault. She needs her support system to tell her that they love her no matter what, support her and want to see her get help. She cannot fight this alone. I can only hope you want to be part of this positive support system for her. People suffer from eating disorders not because they are vain, but because there is a larger issue buried deep inside. Feelings of failure can usually be a big part of it and I'm afraid your email will just contribute to those feelings. I urge you not to send it.

Your best bet is to sit down with her face-to-face. She trusted you enough to tell you about her ED and it says a lot about how she feels about you. Here are some tips on how to have a positive conversation with her:
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/treating-eating-disorder
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sharing-eeease

I realize that you were burned by a bulimic in the past, but that woman's behavior shouldn't be reflected on to your current girlfriend. I am not here to give you relationship advice, but I ask that you think about how much you want to help her get better. A hard, unsupportive approach will not help her. What she needs most right now is to know that someone loves her no matter what and will love her through this struggle. Again, this is not her fault so it won’t help to treat her as if it is.

kcaj123
Thank you

Thank you so much for the quick reply. As you can imagine this has been a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts and I'm glad I didn't do anything hasty. As you can probably tell, some of this is my own trust issues, self-centered nature, conscientiousness , and neuroticism. But it did feel good to write, especially since we can't talk face-to-face this week. I obviously can't send it.

My main fear has been the lack of research and assertiveness on her part (ignorance is bliss approach). She complains about so many problems with her body functions and face and I'm not even sure she knows that there is a link between them and the disease. It just scares me to think that she will never be able to change and the trust issues.

This next week is going to be difficult for me to keep my emotions in check, just knowing the poor girl is going to be going to the beach every day. I think that I need to thank her for telling me (trusting me). Then directing her to find the necessary information so she knows what it is doing to her (this will be tricky, she seems to like avoiding difficult truths, so I have a terrible urge to explicitly tell her what it is doing to her beautiful face and body). Then finding professional help and continue to support.

Hopefully it will get easier as the week, month, year goes on. I'm also curious if you think I should tell her about the previous relationship? She feels so bad about 'burdening our relationship' with her problems, I don't want her to feel worse about herself or think that I assume she would do that as well. But it would feel good to communicate to her why I will be untrusting at times. Every bathroom trip will bother me on some level.

eghall
She's lucky to have you

I'm really proud of you opening up on here. The way you feel and any anger towards her you may have is very normal, so don't beat yourself up about that. We just need to make sure that part isn't expressed towards her. Those of you in support roles need support too. It isn't an easy position to be in. Since writing is cathartic for you, you can always journal or email yourself as though you are writing to her. Another suggestion for you is to go to a support group. It is very helpful, as you find you are not alone and you gain coping mechanisms from others who've been in your position. You can find one here:
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-treatment/support-groups-res...

I can tell you are going to be an amazing support for her. Her lack of action is extremely typical. People with ED rarely take an initiative to get well. It's usually through the help of loved ones. I refused to help myself. It was my husband that finally got me into treatment. It may be a bit of a battle to get her to get help, but don't give up on her. It doesn't mean she never will. My husband, not knowing any better like most, took the hard approach at first. That was 5 months before he took the loving approach that got me to get moving. It's very hard and scary to imagine a life without an ED if you have one, so that contributes to her lack of assertiveness.

It is definitely ok to let her know how her ED is damaging her body. The focus, however, should try to remain what's going on internally. Here is some information you can talk to her about:
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorder-health-concerns

I think a big help would be to do what you said - thank her for trusting you with her "secret". You can tell her that you will do all the "work" to find a therapist, doctor, treatment center or whichever route you take. (I say "work" because NEDA will make this very easy for you and can give you all this info).

As for the previous relationship, I think it's ok to mention that you have known someone in the past that suffered from bulimia, but I would avoid any negative mentions about trust, etc. She may feel that's how you now feel about her and right now she needs no more burdens.

Again, thanks for coming on here to express yourself! That's what these forums are for. You can vent to us anytime. She is lucky to have you.

kcaj123
Your perspective is amazingly

Your perspective is amazingly helpful in changing how I think about this and in turn how I express my thoughts and feelings to her. I cannot hide how I feel, so understanding why she might be so neglectful of the damage she is inflicting on herself is helpful. Understanding the optimal way to go about this is obviously tricky, she demonstrates no self-confidence issues except the body image. She knows shes pretty, funny, smart, etc. But I cannot compliment her body, like at all, even though she is completely fine naked. So it is good to know the completely honest approach that works in every other part of our relationship (because we are generally assertive, sure, and confident) will not work here.

I am just afraid of chasing a ghost of something that is never going to change. This is an infliction point of our relationship , and I while I know I need to stick by her, I don't think I can make it through multiple relapses and would be better off getting out at 2 months than 2 years. I'm not saying the calculated risk isn't worth it, but failure would damage me.

Thanks again, for letting me vent. I have been able to approach this 1000x better than I would have, thanks to your understanding what she is going through. I know I cannot relate.

michael26
Hey

Hey man,

I just wanted to say that you clearly care deeply for your girlfriend. I don't know how much it would help, but I can throw my perspective in and hope that it will help.

I'm a guy who struggled with an ED for 10 years. I can relate how your girlfriend reacts to treatment. You mentioned in your last post that you were afraid of failing. In my eyes, although I can't change how you feel, you can still provide support for this woman whether she is your girlfriend or not. Before I sought treatment, I wasn't thinking straight. Trust me, I was bulimic too and the ED takes over and takes away who you are as a person. I guess what I am trying to say is that your girlfriend is not her ED. Whether or not you continue as her boyfriend, I would encourage you to help point that out to her.

Ultimately, I do agree that sometimes we need to step back from a relationship to protect our emotions. Please remember that in this stage, your offering support and treatment ideas is the best way to show that you care for her, whether or not you remain with her.

Does she know about these forums? Maybe it would be of help to both of you.

Again, you're a special guy to think this through, and remember that she still has a choice on seeking treatment, and sometimes we just have to wait until that person is ready.

kcaj123
Your experience certainly

Your experience certainly helps clarify what she is going through. Thanks to your advice and other research I have successful engaged with her via text and she has been extremely receptive to getting help and thankful for my support. We are both in a much better spot than 24 hours ago. Thanks both.

Like most she has been in denial and was not aware of the severity of the issue. I have told her its not her fault, but it is a problem she needs to deal with. She agreed to get help--today was a real turning point thank you both again. A little personal perspective is a valuable thing, it made 2 lives better today.

Looking back at the letter I was considering sending, I absolutely did the right thing.

Question: Is it too much to use the words opportunity or excited in talking about chance to beat this and live a better life? Yes, I know I have done a 180 today, but she has been quite receptive. I just don't know if a mental disease that will linger for a while can represent an 'opportunity' to someone afflicted. For me it is, because I'd be gaining a happier, healthier girlfriend.

michael26
Definitely worth celebrating

That's great to hear that she has been receptive! Thank you for your kind words, but you and your girlfriend are the heroes!

Recovery is not just possible, it will happen when your girlfriend decides to separate herself from the ED. Check out this link:

www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/recovery

I would highly recommend that you or your girlfriend contact the NEDA Helpline. They can help direct you to therapists, doctors, and facilities for eating disorders. The number is 1-800-931-2237.

We would love to have your girlfriend use these forums too so we can support her as well.

Do you have any other questions?

eghall
So happy for you both

People like you and your girlfriend make me so proud! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that you are receptive to our suggestions and she is receptive to getting help. I completely agree with Michael26 in that you can support her and help her whether you are in a relationship with her or not.

You can absolutely use the words opportunity and excited when talking to her. Keep in mind she may be very afraid of her next steps so she may not be as positive as those words. However, seeing how she is open to recovery, she may be excited about getting her life back and be open to the positivity.

Again, I am so proud of you! I cannot thank you enough for being open to change and for your willingness to learn how to best support your girlfriend.

kcaj123
Cautiously Optimistic

Thanks again. I'm trying not to get too excited or hopeful, even though everything has gone as well as it possibly could have considering the circumstances.

I think I will be a little nervous and scared of failure for a long time, and somewhat untrustful. I know she's a great girl and wants to stop, but theres clearly something that goes on that I can't see or understand. That will scare me, not her and her intentions. I'm assuming that there is something about ED that compels people to lie about it, but not other aspects of life. But so far the opportunity/environment for honesty is there, I am certain it would not have been if I would have approached her in a harsher, more demanding way, which is usually my nature.'

We will certainly call the help line, then follow up with whatever resources are necessary/she is comfortable with. As for me, I really needed to get a grasp of what she was going through and how to approach her so this forum was perfect for me. Thanks again!

eghall
Thank YOU

I want to thank YOU for being there for your girlfriend, supporting her and believing in her. You have no idea how important that is to someone who has an ED. I'm so glad to hear the communication between you is going well so far. You are exactly right about how an ED causes one to lie about it, yet can be honest in other aspects of life. The hold an ED has can be a strong one. With your support and understanding, she can fight this. I believe in both of you. Thank you for coming on here and supporting her!

kcaj123
The bridge between now and getting real help..

Your support has helped out a lot. There's very few things in life I don't control and this is certainly one of them. Makes me feel so small and helpless. Thanks to your help I have largely said the right thing, gained trust, and encouraged her to gain professional help. All great things and all against my normal urges.

However despite all of this, she has said that thinking about it stresses her out (I brought it up cordially, asked her to put together an eating/drinking plan beforehand, and she basically said to stop she doesn't want to think about it on vacation) and that it causes her to revert back to old habits. It's only been 2 days, so clearly this is bad. This means that it has been a close to every day thing for years (shes 23 now), is it possible for her to recover mentally and physically? Not only is it worse and more out of control than I thought, she continues to ignore a problem that she has ignored for years. I get she is on vacation, but if not facing it now when? She does acknowledge that she needs professional help (she doesn't want me to think that I have to fix it, very good judgement on her part) I just can't believe that it is so out of control she can't stop for 2 days. As you can imagine this has been an up and down ride, and the last few days are going to be tough on me (which I cannot share with her, since it stresses her out).

How do you think I should approach her return Monday? I want to see her badly, but the last week has sucked the life from me. Should I request she she get help first or at least READ what she is doing to herself? I am afraid that in her presence I will be too harsh and ultimately make her feel bad, this still really 'angers' me (not at her, just the situation). It might be easier to stay at home but that sends a terrible message. I am likely going to have to suck it up and be strong for at least a few more weeks and bite my lip, so thank for letting me get that out. As you can guess I don't like to internalize my emotions too much, again this is great for me. Thanks.

eghall
You are doing wonderful

She absolutely can recover at 23! I recovered at 29, after a lifetime battle that controlled my life. And my recovery was due to my husband and his loving approach and support, like you are giving your girlfriend now. You have every right to feel angry at the situation. An ED not only steals from the one who has it, but from loved ones as well. That's why I'm glad you come on here to vent. One, because you need to be able to do that and you need support too, and 2) it helps you keep the anger away from your girlfriend. That's why I also suggest a support group for you. You will find that not only are you not alone in your anger, but you are not alone in the frustration on biting your tongue. It's hard!

As for her wanting to put it off until her return, this too is very normal. She may try to push it off when she gets back. This is normal as well. She is being forced to envision her life without something she 'loves' and to make the choice to do it. The idea of ridding herself of her ED is going to scare her immensely. That's why it's important for you to educate yourself on how to handle these things in a positive manner, which you have done wonderfully so far. I say, let her have the rest of her vacation if she commits to talking about it when she gets back.

If you are afraid of how you may react in person upon her return, then maybe another approach is best. You can email her the attachments I previously included about health and treatment or you can print them up and sit down with her and ask her to read them with you. I would avoid asking her to get help in order to see you, as that sends a punishing message and trust me, she is already punishing herself for a lot of things. That's what an ED does. It tells us we are failures, we don't deserve happiness and that no one should care about us because we are worthless. That's why the positive approach works so well - it's the opposite of what our EDs say to us. Try to remember that she is not her ED.

You are doing so great. I know it's hard on you, and that's ok. You have every right to feel that way. So come on here and vent anytime and let us know what you decide upon her return. Good luck.

kcaj123
The timely responses are

The timely responses are great, thanks again. Two follow-ups:

1) Is there an information out there how one can 'love' it, while hating themselves for doing it? Is it like a drug addiction except the 'good' feeling is the thinner feeling from expelling? She has mentioned the word 'addiction' before, but most people would like to get rid of their addiction. You describe it as something she will fear being without. Weren't you more afraid of what you were doing to your body and looked forward to getting rid of it, just couldn't control the habit? Again, tricky topic and I will never understand, but I would like to further understand the love/hate dynamic so I can better interpret her language.

2) While I understand she can absolutely beat this, I am wondering if some of the physically compromising things will reverse completely and how long it might take after being malnourished for potentially a decade? Not only aesthetic things like a mentioned in my first post (those were dark angry times) but the ability to have healthy children. Then of course I feel like the disease might be a ticking time bomb too, ready to come back at any time. These complications, plus the stress it has caused me, have facilitated some flight urges, which I'm not going to act on but are largely unhealthy.

Thanks,

Jack

eghall
Great questions

Jack -

These are all great questions, which will probably help other partners/spouses, etc who read the forum as well. To answer your first question, I absolutely did not want to get rid of my Ed, even though it tortured me in my head. We don't think about the damage it does to our bodies, just like alcoholics don't think about their livers. Most people with any type of addiction my know in the back of their head it's best to get help but the fear of living without the addiction is stronger than the need to get better. I know this can be very hard to wrap your head around when you haven't experienced it yourself, and that is understandable. I never once, not even once, looked forward to getting rid of it. Not until I was a bit into treatment and could start to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don't want to speak for everyone, however, and I know there are some who get into treatment and immediately breathe a deep sigh of relief. I just don't want you to be surprised either way.

As for the health repercussions, that is something that is best answered by a doctor who examines her physically. Once she is in with a primary care doctor and told what is going on, they can talk to you further about that. I'm sorry I can't help you more with that. I can tell you that a lot of the physical damage can be repaired, but again, this is a discussion for you and the doctor.

Here are some more helpful resources for you to read and hopefully try to understand what EDs are all about (any place there is the word 'child' just replace with 'loved one'):
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/understanding-stages-change-recov...
http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/treatment-basics

I have no doubt you are not alone in the urge to run. It can be very scary for all involved. I'm so glad to hear you don't plan to act on them, as she needs you now more than ever and you had previously written how much you both loved each other. You can get through this together!

Gumer
Help

I am new to this, world of ED. I am due to be married in July, and I have made it a point to have no secrets in the closet, trust is huge for me as I have been married and cheated on before. I promised myself that if I married again I would be sure that i knew what who they were as well as they knew who I was. Then I meet my soon-to-be-wife. She has a smile that can brighten up a room, a laugh that is contagious, and a heart of gold. She has been dealing with ED since she was 18. She has gotten help intermittently and treatment worked. She then lost her job, and the ability to get treatment and have the ability to pay for help. She has a great support team, but she fails to let them help. She finally has opened up to me about a week ago that ED has re-appeared with a glem in his eye to bring her down again. I must also point out, that one of my fiancee's better friends who was also battling with ED, committed suicide 3 weeks ago. She was to be in out wedding......that was the stressor. JH (fiancee) attended the wake and also a memorial service and those feeling mixed with feelings of guilt and sadness I think gave ED the opportunity to re-appear. While my fiancee was at the memorial service she helped clean her friends apartment, where she found a book, Living with ED. I have read this book and have made notes, provided daily offerings and unconditional love. God, I love this woman, I tell her that everyday, however, she still is strugggling and I don't know what to do. I am or will be her rock, we have had conversations that she promises me to call me if she needs talked out hearing the voices, ED, Ms. Perfect, Workout instructor, Financial advisor, she hears them all. She calls or tells me after that fact, like today where she was going to go exercise because she wanted to, but stopped and binged on sandwich and chesse fries and then followed ED's instructions. I am like a sponge wanting to read and learn everything that I can so I can associate with her thoughts, feelings and desires. Thankfully, once our marriage is final I can add her onto my insurance and get her seeing a professional. I have also found support groups in our area for both her and for us as a couple battling with ED. I realize that this is not a sprint to the finish battle, this a long process to recovery, I am ok with that, I am in for the long haul. I am struggling on what is right to say or what is taboo to say to her. I also need to vent my anger when she relapses, and I don't want to express that to her, because she needs me to be stronger and support her. I am lost, confused and afraid that my wife may only be my wife for limited time, as the damage is starting to add up and her psychological outlook of herself is misguided. Thank you for reading and offering support.

eghall
You are amazing

Gumer,

I can't even tell you how impressed I am with you and your support level for your fiance. Let me begin by saying both congratulations on your upcoming wedding, and also my deep condolences at the loss of your friend. I can definitely see how in the guilt and sadness Ed can find a crack to slip back in. In your post, however, I hear a lot of good things: the communication is wide open, she will soon be covered by insurance and will be able to get help, and she has you, who is obviously an amazing support to her. It's also important to note that relapse can sometimes be a part of the recovery process and does not mean she is a failure or that full recovery is not possible. Many people relapse before going on to live an ED-free life.

You are a wonderful example of the kind of support a partner/spouse needs. The fact that you are educating yourself and finding/using resources is HUGE! You are going to be a big part of her getting through this and she is so very lucky to have you.

Here is a handout on things to say and not say. Most of these you will probably have already researched, but they are good reminders. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/what-should-i-say

Please come on here anytime to vent. It's important you have an outlet for yourself. You need support too! It's wonderful that you found those support groups, as I think they will be a great resource for you both. Keep up the great work! YOU are amazing!

Gumer
Sorry

I meant to add this as new topic.

f860211
God Bless you

I'm having the same situation!!! thank you for asking and thanks for the answers!!!

sj728
f860211

Hi f860211,

Welcome to the NEDA forums! I'm so happy that you found us, and that a older thread has helped you out. If you want to share your situation or have any other questions for us, feel free to do so here. You can also avail of the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237. Stay strong!

-sj728, NEDA volunteer