National Eating Disorders Association

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My boyfriend has bulimia and I'm scared

I’m so glad that I found this forum and I’m hoping that I can get some great advice here. I recently discovered in March that my boyfriend has bulimia. I only found out because he ended up in ICU after having seizures due to electrolyte and other levels being out of whack.

He decided to commit to treatment, and finally started an intensive outpatient program this week. I was beyond thrilled. This week, out of the blue, he told me that he was totally overwhelmed and that he needed some space and that he felt that he wanted to go through the treatment alone, as he felt guilty that he couldn’t really handle being in a relationship with all that was going on. I guess the treatment facility told him that he needed to simplify his life so that he could focus on his recovery. For all the support and encouragement that I gave him about treatment, I was so proud of him for going, but never dreamed that it would mean that he would decide to go it alone.

So, while I am over the moon happy that he is getting the help he needs, he felt that it was not fair to ask me to wait 1-2 mos. for him to complete treatment and that he didn’t know how long it would really take. We had a great relationship, and he told me that he does love me and that he enjoys being with me, but he just needs to go it alone for this. So, now I’m heartbroken and at a loss at what to do.

I don’t want to move on, but know that there’s no guarantees that he will be able to and/or want to be in any relationship when he completes treatment. I'm just wondering whether the treatment programs encourage people not to be in relationships during treatment and/or during recovery phase? Or is it based on the person and the triggers? I have been trying to educate myself about his disease in hopes that I will be able to better understand what he is going through

Welcome to the forum!

Hi cldaum,
Welcome to the forums! I'm happy to hear that your boyfriend is getting help! I understand that you are in a difficult position though. I'm not sure what his treatment center most likely advised him to do, but he may just need some time to focus on his ED and his own feelings since EDs are so consuming. Hopefully you two will be able to see each other again soon! You sound very supportive. Perhaps he feels like a burden; by staying informed on how to best help him you are already doing a lot. You may want to check out these sites for tips on how to support him: The NEDA Helpline, at 1-800-931-2237 (M-R 9-9, F 9-5 EST), can also provide you with resources in your area such as support groups.

Please keep us updated!

Thank you, I really

Thank you, I really appreciate the response and the information. I will for sure provide updates.

Confused state....

I felt like it was time to post an update, in hopes that someone may have some good advice. My ex-boyfriend started an intensive outpatient treatment about 6 weeks ago. We haven't spoken in 5 weeks now. Even though we are broken up (see story above), things are in this kind of weird holding pattern. He was the one who initially just mentioned needing time and space yet also said that it wasn't fair for him to ask me to wait a month or two (which is essentially the intensive treatment period time). Yet I have been met with total silence in the last 5 weeks which is difficult to handle. He knows that my personal stuff is still at his house, and yet he hasn't said anything about me coming to get it. He is still is Facebook friends with me and all of my friends, even going so far as to consistently "like" my friends pictures on FB, etc. (but not my stuff), and sent friends of mine happy birthday messages. I know it all sounds so trivial talking about FB stuff but it's very frustrating for me - he broke up with me to deal with treatment. Yet, he continues to maintain some type of connection to my friends (who he maybe has hung out with 5-6 times total), yet has shunned me in a sense. At this point, I can't tell whether he truly is only needing some space and time and that is why he is maintaining some connection to my friends or whether he is completely done with this relationship. One would hope if he was done, he would do the right thing and offer time for me to come get my stuff.

I broke down and called him about 10 days after we broke up, just saying very friendly that I called to say Hi and we would talk whenever. (No response). With the exception of that one time, I have avoided reaching out to him as a way of respecting his request for space, and I have also avoided asking for my stuff back because I feel like that's drawing the line in the sand with him that I'm done (which I'm clearly not).

I was thinking of sending him a card that says "thinking of you" and nothing else so that he knows I'm here, yet I'm also afraid that he will see that as "pressure". I'm so cognizant of what I do or what I might say, as I'm afraid that I'll do or say the wrong thing. Sometimes I think the best course is to just do nothing.

I get that he has a long way to go, but his mixed messages in the break up process have left me confused and unsure about what to do.... I'm still not sure if this is a temporary situation or permanent. My counselor says I should ask him that, but I haven't reached out after that one time because I want to respect his request for space...

Feel like I'm in an impossible situation...

Hi cldaum,

That certainly is a tricky situation! I feel for you; things sound really tough.

I can't tell you what you "should" or "shouldn't" do, but I think the idea of sending him a "thinking of you" card and saying that you're there for him if he ever wants to talk might be a nice way to remind him that he's important to you and that you care. It's a very non-threatening, relaxed way to reach out. He may not respond to you, but he might appreciate the thought, and he might like having a visual/physical reminder that he has loved ones who care about him.

At the same time, I think your counselor's suggestion of reaching out and asking directly whether this situation is temporary or permanent could be a good idea. You could try the card first and see how that goes and then reach out further with a phone call to try and talk more openly.

I agree that it's hard to know how to proceed. EDs make things really complicated for the individual who is suffering, and for all those around them. Remember that recovery is possible, and that things can work out in the end. You sound like a thoughtful, caring person, and I think it's great that you're talking to a counselor and reaching out on the forums to try and work through this situation. Just take it one day at a time. <3

So difficult...


Thank you so much for the response on my thread. It kills me to hear that you're going through the same exact thing, but it also helps to know that maybe this is just the nature of the situation and there's nothing either of us can do about it. For the majority of the time that has passed since my girlfriend and I split up I kept trying to rationalize and make sense of where I went wrong. What did I do to cause her to leave me? Or what could I have done differently? Apparently nothing; hearing about other people in the same situation helps remind me of that.

I know exactly what you mean when you say you feel like it's an impossible situation. You don't want to reach out because you feel like that might push them away further, but you also don't want them to forget that you still love them and you're there for them. They tell you that they don't want you to wait around because that makes them feel guilty and pressured, but it's not like you can just walk away from someone you're in love with. You spend a good portion of your day thinking about them and wondering if they're thinking about you, but there's no way to know. You're constantly reminded of all the fun plans you made with them, and you wonder whether they will ever happen. Meanwhile, you feel like your heart was suddenly broken you had no idea was coming.

I don't mean to sound so negative and depressing, but I think it's safe to say that there aren't many people you come across in your daily routine who can really empathize, and it certainly helps to me to be able to share these feelings with those who can. The whole situation is just awful, for you, for him (in my case her), for everyone. Nobody deserves any of this.

I'm really interested to hear about what ends up happening in your situation. It almost kind of seems like him holding onto your things makes it more of a temporary thing, but it's so difficult to make that assumption. My ex girlfriend and I are going on four weeks without any contact. Things seemed to have ended without the possibility of us getting back together when she told me she would always be my friend and we should probably keep it that way (just writing those words and saying them in my head breaks my heart every time). While I really want to remind her that I still care about her and I'm here for her, I think it's probably better that I don't...mostly to protect myself from looking for signs that don't exist and ultimately getting hurt even more and/or again. I just don't know if I can handle *only* being her friend right now.

I really hope things work out for you! I spent a lot of time yesterday and this morning thinking about your situation, my situation, and some of the others I've read about. Please, please, please keep updating! I plan to do the same.


Thank you...

Thank you Sam for your response. I really appreciate it. You are certainly right, there is nothing that either of us can do about our situations.... Like you, I have spent countless hours and sleepless nights going over and over my last conversation with my ex-boyfriend, our entire relationship and am left wondering how we ended up in this situation. I finally broke down and messaged his sister asking her how he was doing. I need some kind of information one way or the other in hopes that it will help me decide what my next step (if any) should be. I haven't received a response yet, just sent it a few hours ago. She very well may not respond, and that's totally ok if she doesn't, I get it. She has struggled with her brother's situation her whole life and has just as much concern as I have.

He was so open to going to treatment and even in a warped sense of the way, him breaking up with me to focus on the treatment gave me hope that he really wants to get better and focus on his recovery. Some days I feel ok and say that I'm just going to go about my daily life and have confidence and faith that once the dust settles, he will allow himself to feel something and will realize that I was a positive force in his life and that he wants to continue to enjoy his life with me. I keep telling myself that I was the one who told him that I wanted a future with the healthy version of him, and try to remind myself that I need to be patient since he is at least taking steps in the right direction. But then the anxiety and stress of having absolutely no clue of how he is doing, how the treatment is going, or what his mind set is takes a grip over me and buries me in emotion.

As unfortunate as our situations are, I agree, it is comforting to know that there are other people out there going through the same thing. It makes me feel a little less alone in my grief. And you are you right, I often feel that him not making any effort to return my stuff is a sign that this is only temporary, but it's hard to make that assumption. I often wonder if I'm just holding on to every little possibility of hope, when there very well may not be any since it is just as likely that he has just chosen not to deal with it, and may figure that if I want it, I can ask to come get it.

I really sympathize with your situation and how devastated you must feel at the concept of being "friends" with someone you love. I don't see that as a possibility for my ex and I either. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to get through each day and give yourself a pat on the back for each additional minute, then hour, then day that you start to feel better. I quickly and unexpectedly lost my mother to cancer a year and a half ago, she was also my best friend. Grief is a process. I survived the worst unimaginable pain with losing my mom, so I can assure you that it will get better in time. I keep reminding myself of that to.

I will continue to provide updates. My plan is to send a card next week to let him know that I'm thinking of him. Would be great if he reached out after getting it, but realize that he very well may not. Please keep me posted on your situation too.

Be well ---

Update - at the end of the road....

So, unfortunately, I've hit the end point with my ex-boyfriend. While it did appear that our breakup may be temporary while he was going through the intensive outpatient program, I have learned from his best friend two weeks ago that he is still drinking heavily and still engaging in his ED behavior, and wasn't being forthcoming with the treatment program about his alcohol abuse. It doesn't appear that he is taking to treatment well, but we know that he is at least still going, so that is good. Treatment will always have its ups and downs. He has had an ED for 35 years, so I don't expect that he will stabilize himself in 6 weeks. But considering that alcohol abuse (along with the ED) was a bit part of what landed him in ICU back in March, that is disappointing. I tried reaching out to him to talk and after being ignored for the second time, I finally sent one VERYYYY long heartfelt email about how confused I was, and how much I loved him, and all of the reasons why I fell in love with him in the first place (staying away from anything appearance related). I reminded him how great our relationship was, and how happy we were together. I ultimately asked if he was interested in sitting down and having one conversation before we both let the relationship go, or in the alternative, if he didn't see any reason to talk any further, then to just let me know.

I ended up getting a very stone cold response, that clearly looked like it was written from a denial mindset, basically not even mentioning the word "treatment" once in regard to why we broke up. Mainly blamed it on everything else except his ED. This reaction was a far cry from when we last talked 6 weeks ago, when he was very reflective and honest about his feelings and what was going on as far as his fear of what he was going to learn about himself in treatment, etc. He basically told me in his email to move on, and find someone else.

I know that this email was written from a place of his disordered mind, and not his true self. But unfortunately, he made it clear that he sees no future for us, so I have no choice but to move on. My heart is shattered. But I know he loved me and saw a future for us... but now, when he sees me, I'm just his mirror, and I just remind him of what he truly wants - to love and be loved - but he doesn't know how to. I hope nothing more than he stays in treatment and ultimately gets to a place of recovery.

But for now, the ED has taken another relationship casualty. It is truly heartbreaking to love someone more than they actually love themselves.

One very heartbroken and sad one

So sorry


I'm so so sorry to hear about what happened. The way you described his response email closely resembles the response I received from my ex when I asked for more closure. I know how devastated you must feel. It's so incredibly painful.

You did the very best you could for him. Take some time and treat yourself well. Know that I'm heartbroken for both of us.


Pushed away,

Dear Caryn,

I'm so sorry that things have turned out the way they did, but during my 10 years on Something Fishy, your story was pretty much the most common one we heard : Partner has ED, the situation is shared and revealed, and then rather than things getting better, once this intimacy has been shared, things get worse instead, and the person with the ED starts withdrawing and pushing their partner out of the relationship. I can't begin to tell you how many times this same scenario came up, so just to let you know that the pattern is not uncommon, and you're certainly not alone when it comes to things like this.

"While it did appear that our breakup may be temporary while he was going through the intensive outpatient program, I have learned from his best friend two weeks ago that he is still drinking heavily and still engaging in his ED behavior, and wasn't being forthcoming with the treatment program about his alcohol abuse. It doesn't appear that he is taking to treatment well…"

Well exactly. "Getting better" sounds like a reasonable thing to strive for, but once the person really begins to realize that getting better will mean giving up their most valued coping methods….they can kind of hit a wall. They can really begin questioning themselves, and as a result, sometimes their behaviors can get worse rather than better, because….well….they have a lot of new and unsettling ideas to try and cope with.

"I ended up getting a very stone cold response, that clearly looked like it was written from a denial mindset, basically not even mentioning the word "treatment" once in regard to why we broke up. Mainly blamed it on everything else except his ED. This reaction was a far cry from when we last talked 6 weeks ago, when he was very reflective and honest…"

Yeah, it sounds like his ED is really fighting back - All this "reflectiveness" BS; what's the point, and where is it really going to get a person ? It sounds like he's really having a hard time with the idea of recovery, and what he knows it's going to involve. And then he gets your note, which is asking for even *more* reflectiveness, and…well…I think you saw how it went. Someone is probably not in the mood for a whole lot of reflectiveness right now.

But on the other side of the coin, from all reports he's still doing therapy, so a part of himself may still not be willing to give up. "Giving up" is not something guys are comfortable with, so I think it's still too early to say how things may or may not go.

But yeah, it's up to him now. As much as we would all like to be supportive, they have to provide us with that opportunity, and when they don't, it hurts us it's true, but maybe we just gotta leave them to it for a while, you know ?

And try not to fall into that place where you start second guessing everything you may or may not have said or done. Even if you had somehow been "perfect" in everything you did, I think you'll come to see that even then it may not have changed the outcome, so go light on yourself if you can.

Because you did try, and you did bring the best parts of your heart to this, and thats' what should count for you most.


Bob J.

Thank you

Bob (and Sam too!)

Thank you for your emails, I really appreciate it. You both have made me feel a little less alone going through this. Bob, I appreciate the perspective that you brought. Definitely appears that my heartfelt email ended up being everything that he may not have wanted to hear at this moment. At the end of the day, I can only hope that when he gets into a clearer state of mind someday down the road, however long that takes, he will look back at it and know that he was and is lovable for so many reasons, and that I loved him to the moon and back.

The hardest part is the feeling of being helpless, but I know I have to leave him be, close my heart to him, and figure out how I'm going to heal. I keep reminding myself that the harsh and cold email I received came from a place of pain. As I go through my fits of emotion, asking myself "how did we get to this point so quickly?", I keep trying to remind myself not to take it personally, but just wish that someone would send that memo to my heart which is shattered. But I will get there in time.

Like you said, it remains good news that he is still in treatment, that was and continues to be my only solace. He almost died in March from this when he landed in ICU for days. Had he not been in a public place, and instead, was at home which he normally would have been, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. So I'm so thankful that he is still fighting...

Thank you again for your help and advice...


Going through the same thing

You are not alone Caryn. I wish I could hug you. The love of my life has bulimia and a few weeks ago he relapsed. He has gone into a treatment program and is trying to make progress for himself, as I wait patiently. But yesterday he ended the relationship, even though he says I am the love of his life, because he does not know if he can find the peace and healing he needs and he is tired of hurting me. At least he was open and honest about it, but it sucks and it hurts, knowing he is in so much pain and fighting his battle against bulimia and I feel helpless. But I know I need to let him go and allow him the space to fight his fight. From everything I have learned about bulimia, a relationship can cause our loved ones to stumble and relapse and fall back into the darkness if they are not far enough along in their recovery. I know this is what has happened to us. I think the best thing I can do for the man I love is to watch him walk away, knowing he is in treatment and fighting for himself and he cannot be in a relationship no matter how much love there is. But it still sucks.

Sending you thoughts of hope and strength. You are not alone. Karina



Thank you for your note. I really appreciate it, and my heart goes out to you as well. I truly wish none of us had to go through this. I'm still struggling with the heartbreak, but it is getting a little bit better day by day. The simple fact that my actions with him have all been positive, yet, I've been met with a wall of anger and the "I don't ever want to talk to you again" response, I'm still having trouble getting beyond the hurt of all of this. I keep reminding myself it is because the ED is in the driver seat right now, but it still hurts nonetheless. Like you said, watching someone you love be in so much pain, while we feel so helpless, is the worst feeling in the world. At this point, the only remote hope I have left is that he will continue with treatment and maybe, just maybe... someday see how much I loved him. But in the end, they have to love themselves in order to really be able to love someone else.

Be well Karina, and hang in there... Know that you are not alone either.