What do I do about my food-addicted boyfriend?
December 16, 2005 8:55 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of three years has an eating disorder. It's getting worse, and I need help (advice, emotional support, AskMeFi words of wisdom).

About a year and a half ago, he broke down and told me all about it. How he is a compulsive overeater, how when our relationship went through a long-distance period and I was living a few hundred miles away he would go to three different restaurants for three different meals before going out to eat with friends, or he'd get a few frozen pizzas and eat them all at home, all the while lying and telling me he had "a burrito" or something normal for dinner. We had a long heart to heart about it at that point, and I expressed how hurt and upset I was that he had been lying to me, but I would try to be supportive and understanding, with the caveat that he never keep things from me again. I promised not to judge him, in exchange for his promise that he would be open with me about it and work on it.

Since then we've moved in together and been living together for over a year. He started going to Weight Watchers meetings earlier this year and lost over 50 pounds. He took a little bit of a slide when he lost his job a month ago and stopped going to the meetings for a few weeks and gained a few pounds back, but it didn't seem like a huge deal.

Last night I stumbled on his bank statement, accidentally thinking it was mine (we have the same bank). When I saw three consecutive McDonald's charges, I got curious. I'm vegetarian, and was vegan when we began dating. I made it clear from the get go that I have no interest in dating someone who eats meat, and we don't live a "fast food" lifestyle. I don't eat fast food, and I despise it. His whole bank statement was full of charges at KFC, Carl's Jr., JITB, McDonalds. Keep in mind, this is a guy who couldn't afford to pay his bills this month, has maxed out credit cards, and sold some of his guitar equipment to take me out for my birthday last month. There are hundreds of dollars in fast food charges on his statement.

Of course I freaked out. I freaked out a lot, I yelled, screamed, sobbed, called my best friend, and took a bath. Luckily he wasn't home at the time and I had a chance to get my wits about me before sitting down to a calm, rational talk. He agreed to go to therapy weekly (he was previously really resistant), agreed to go back to Weight Watchers and stick with it, and we worked out a few others things that may help. At this point, I'm just taking a "wait and see" kind of stance. What I really need is advice from people who've dealt with this, mental health professionals, words of wisdom that can help me get over the hurt and frustration of being lied to. Is it possible for someone who's been doing this to themselves and lying about it for the last 15 years to beat an eating disorder? What can I do to help myself, other than seeing a therapist?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A couple of things that stick out at me from your story:
- Weight Watchers is probably not a proper remedy for an eating disorder, or even a proper band-aid. People with serious disorders shouldn't be hanging around people who want to lose ten vanity pounds. I'm not saying that only flaky types go to WW, but a good program should be more specifically aimed at his particular problem.
- He needs to go to a doctor, and to OA. This is not the prototypical Ben & Jerry's pint-binge; this is extraordinarily compulsive overeating.
- As with any addiction, financial resources are being drained in pursuit of his fix. Have you been helping him out with household expenses on account of his unemployment and debt problems? If so, he is indirectly stealing from you. Keep that in mind.
- You didn't say whether losing 50 pounds brought him to healthy weight, or whether it was the initial step towards a much larger weight loss goal. If the former, look for signs of purging.
- He's clearly not a vegetarian. Accordingly, if you truly "have no interest in dating someone who eats meat," you shouldn't be with him. If that's not entirely accurate, make sure he knows that, or he will continue to consume more and more food outside of your presence and knowledge.
- As for you, contact OA to get their advice and for referrals to support groups for loved ones.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:22 PM on December 16, 2005

I made it clear from the get go that I have no interest in dating someone who eats meat, and we don't live a "fast food" lifestyle. I don't eat fast food, and I despise it.

Have you given any consideration to the possibility that he may be eating meat and fast food behind your back and lying about it because A) he has an eating disorder and B) he cares about you and believes you'll abandon him if you learn the truth? That knowing you'll persecute him for a psychological problem gone out of control probably breeds fear and guilt within him, thus creating an emotional feedback loop and exacerbating the problem?

The person with whom you have spent three years is suffering and needs your support in a time of crisis. Taking a "wait and see" stance means you have set an axe over his head; one which may drop at any moment if he fails to live up to your expectations. This is not an environment conducive to defeating addiction.

Be a little less judgemental and a little more forgiving, and find a professional with whom you can express your frustrations constructively.
posted by Danelope at 9:38 PM on December 16, 2005

To emphasize: Weight Watchers is not the place for someone with a serious medical problem who has (as far as we know from your post) not yet sought professional medical advice. It may be the place you end up, but it isn't the place you start.

Second, you may be contributing to the problem with your aggressive anti-meat stance. The guy is clearly not vegetarian and already having to sneak in meals where he can have meat is nothing but an invitation to binging. You're going to have to decide if you want to stick around and help him with his problem. If you do, you're going to have to deal with him eating meat out in the open.

If that's not acceptable, you should break up. And I say that as someone who rolls his eyes at the typical "just break up" advice given to every single person who asks a relationship question. But it is true. He clearly craves some sort of meat in his diet, and having to hide that from you is not going to help him get over his addiction.
posted by Justinian at 9:48 PM on December 16, 2005

He's not "lying to you" out of spite, he has an addiction and disorder. The lying comes about *because* of the problem, not the other way around. Weight Watchers is not the appropriate venue for him to get help; a psychiatrist with specific experience and interest in eating disorders is the proper course at this moment. This is not a one-month issue, one-year issue, or probably even just as long as you've known him. Also, this would be a good time for you to find your own therapist; not because you're 'driving' him to this or anything of that sort, but because a) it's affected you in a clear way, b) you need to know how to respond to this in a way that will be both true to your own feelings as WELL as take his current situation into consideration and c) how to move forward from here. He's not charging that stuff to piss you off; he's charging that stuff because he has a problem. And he knows you'd flip out if he told you, and it sounds like he kind was right. Good for you for relaxing first, but take it to the next step and put it all in perspective; he clearly needs you the most at this very moment, to be the best person you can be. It won't be easy for you OR for him, but whatever the future may hold, it'll be the right thing to help him through the immediate decisions.
posted by fionab at 10:01 PM on December 16, 2005

The problem isn't that Weight Watchers isn't a good weight-loss program; it is. But it really sounds like he needs more help than they can give him. Weight Watchers is set up to deal with only minor cases of food addiction (although it can help people lose huge amounts of weight, it mostly deals with weight from other causes, IMHO), and it sounds like absent significant other support, WW will not be effective for him (since his addiction certainly doesn't seem to be minor).

A therapist is good. A dietician is better. A serious food-addiction support group is probably going to be very good as well. Note that I'm recommending these together, not separately -- just one of these resources is probably not going to be enough for him.

That said, although I obviously don't endorse what this guy is doing, I can understand at least a little of why he's doing it. He likes fast food, and meat in particular seems to be part of his lifestyle. Since you are so vehemently against both, he knows that you can't deal with this behavior and will leave him if he continues to eat meat. Torn between his instincts and his love for you, he is -- it seems fairly obvious -- going to eat meat occasionally when he can't control himself for whatever reason, and then he is going to hide this binging from you for fear you will hate him and/or leave him if you find out. If a therapist is in the picture (as one should be), I think it should be for both of you.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:01 PM on December 16, 2005

There's a listserv for OA-Anon. I don't know anything about it, but I'd imagine it contains people who have a wealth of experience that might be of assistance to you.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:31 PM on December 16, 2005

OA looks 12-steppy, which is great if you want a "power greater than yourself" to be solving your problems. A support group sounds nice, though. :)
posted by trevyn at 10:58 PM on December 16, 2005

If he's eating meat in secret because he fears your reaction, then fast food meat is probably the worst thing he could be over-indulging on. Put aside your staunch anti-meat stance and at least care that he's eating very unhealthily, heart-attack unhealthily. Chicken, fish, beef can all be prepared nutritiously and particularly asian (though not Americanized chinese for example) restaurants would be a better alternative than McDonalds.

And since it's obvious he has a serious eating disorder, you have to prepare to be as non-judgmental as possible regarding his omnivore lifestyle or contemplate ending the relationship.
posted by lychee at 12:02 AM on December 17, 2005

Persons with eating disorders have been shown to improve with both traditional therapy as well a psychopharmacology.

Complsive behaviour of this kind is no failing of a persons charactor or will-power. There is clear data available showing that neuro-chemical imbalance plays a significant part. While inside the disorder, it can be near impossible, without the right kind of help to even see that there is a probem.

As a person who both struggles with mental illness and whose family is not unfamiliar with obsessive compulsive behavior, my advise would be to seek the help of a psycologist specialising in eating disorders to learn the best course of action, for you. You love him and want the best for him and learing about his expirence, and yourself, will go a long way in keeping your relationship strong while he is in recovery.

It goes without saying that this is going to be a hard road for him and he is very lucky to have your love on his side. Take care of yourself. His sucsesses and setbacks are not your resposability. Learn all you can about eating disorders, seek out your own therapist, keep healthy all of your own social and behavural anchors that help keep you steady and strong. Listen and hear, and try not to stress over what you have no control over.

Remember that even if you and your guy where the most healthy persons on Earth, you would still have your own lives, own interests, own social, familial and, professional interests and responsabilities. Understand and learn about your own weeknesses. And don't forget to hold each other and laugh about it. It may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it is only part of your lives. NEVER think that you are alone!
posted by johnj at 12:32 AM on December 17, 2005

I'm very curious to know about the beginning of the relationship; specifically, if you knew he ate meat. Was his eating style the same as it is now - obviously not the eating disorder, but did he still eat fast food and meat? Did he lie about his eating habits?

I can understand where you're coming from - not only has he lied to you about his addiction, but he didn't tell you immediately. That has to hurt. But with any harmful addiction like alcoholism or food disorders, it requires professional help to get over it. Weight Watchers WILL help him along the way... but you need to think of Weight Watchers as additional help, not solo help.

Speaking as someone with a food disorder (compulsive overeating, to be exact), I can say without a doubt that it's exactly like all of those movies and tv shows about people with drug and alcohol addictions. I have days when all I think about is eating.

Most, if not all, food addictions involve some sort of motivation. Personally, I eat to substitute a lack of love and human contact. Food makes me feel better about myself. I can be on the verge of a panic attack, but if I eat something, I always feel better. But now, the days that I overeat are rare. Because I know the reason WHY I overeat, I can keep myself in check. An excellent reason for him to see a professional is to find out WHY he overeats. Find out what his trigger is - it could be an even bigger problem that may need additional help on it's own.

Finally... I think you need to decide what you see happening between the two of you. You've been together for 3 years... you need to figure out if you can stay with someone that eats meat. Don't assume that he will change his eating habits - even if he swears up and down that he'll do it one day. If you think you can be with a meat-eater/junkfood eater, then you need to stand by him. You're already doing that now, and I'm sure he appreciates it.

But if you can't get over the meat thing, and you can't get over the junk food thing, then you need to move on ASAP. Don't stay with someone because you think possibly that maybe down the road he might decide to eventually give up "the bad stuff". And don't stay JUST because you want to be supportive or because you feel guilty or whatever other reason. Stay because you love him and want to be with him, regardless of what he puts in his stomach.
posted by damnjezebel at 1:57 AM on December 17, 2005

To be honest you don't sound like the kind of partner who is a help to him. Someone with a healthy diet who is understanding and tolerant can give him the support, love, and tolerance he needs to overcome a major addiction. We're not talking kid stuff here. He has a problem and needs overtime care. I just don't think that a vegan who freaks out when he eats meat is really the healthiest thing. You might think otherwise, assuming that the further you are from the way he is the better, but in fact your wide variance seems only to have led to lying to cover the gap. I just don't think that zero tolerance policies work. You should seriously consider the reality that he will have to move heaven and earth to meet your standards, and that you are so far from where he is that you cannot reach to offer him a hand.
posted by scarabic at 2:45 AM on December 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Besides his food addiction, he clearly likes both meat and you. Maybe that topic has a middle-ground that doesn't involve Carl's Jr.

Would you react horribly if he grilled up some free-range organic chicken?

I don't think this relationship will go well if there's no reasonable compromise available.

(also, insert the well-beaten dead horse about him having a very real disease that needs more than Weight Watchers here.)
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:54 AM on December 17, 2005

(Full disclosure: Male, history of eating disorders, experience with coersion in relationships, also prior boyfriends with addictive disorders. One man's perspective, etc.)

This rings so many bells.

Let's separate the ideology from the relationship issues, first of all. It is clear that your commitment to living a vegetarian lifestyle cannot be overstated. This is your own decision and one that is eminently respectable. The problem isn't your belief system, or even necessarily your personal application of it: it's the deep conflict of interests at the heart of your relationship.

Your eating habits are an ideal that he clearly finds insurmountable, for a number of reasons. One, although it sounds laughable to reiterate the obvious, let's just do it. The guy is not a vegetarian. However extensive his eating disorder clearly is, there is a double-layer of shame and humiliation in knowing not only that he's hiding his self-torture from you, but that he's doing so with "forbidden food." It isn't a failing in and of itself for one person to be vegetarian and another not, but if he's constantly trying to force himself down a path in which he clearly has no investment except to please you, that's never going to work. Maybe for a few weeks, months, even years, but that principal motivation has to be his, not just something he's doing to keep you together.

The same goes for getting help. The way you tell the story, it sounds like he only enrolled in the programs because he was cowed into doing so by your confrontation, although he obviously knows the precarious mental condition he's in. Making the leap from recognizing a problem and actively working to help oneself can be Grand Canyon-esque. It's very easy to say "get with the program," but another to make the 'round-the-clock commitments involved. I say this in the most serious way possible: He's going to have to tap into resources of self-will that he doesn't even know he has.

Even the strongest of relationships are at risk in situations like this. The person with the disorder has to face self-reinvention that can involve even greater lifestyle changes. There will be physical, psychological, and emotional artifacts that he'll have to ride out. And in order for it to work, he'll have to feel that he's in the most comfortable and secure place possible otherwise: that, no matter how dark it gets, you're there, no exceptions.

Aside from the psychological argument, there is a physiological element to consider here as well. Whatever the true "necessity" of his eating meat may be (and that's not a topic for me to address), it's something he enjoys as a matter of routine. Depriving himself of this natural food staple has probably exacerbated the eating disorder to a large extent. By trying to live up to the standards of the relationship, he may only be harming himself further.

The odds are, even if he succeeds in coming to terms with his relationship to food, he will probably return to a well-balanced eating regimen that includes meat, because he wants it to. The odds are likewise very high that his dietician will prescribe him an omnivorous diet in order to set the physiological balance right anyway - in which case, the tenets of your relationship stand directly in the way of his self-healing.

A deadly serious and honest evaluation of where you two are at is in order. If being with a strictly vegetarian partner is essential to your self-conception, then you've got the wrong man. Period. If it's going to be as much hard work for you to accept an omnivorous partner as it clearly has been for him to forsake meat, then you need to be honest with yourself. Staying together through falsely held or insurmountable principles isn't noble and character-building, it's self-denying and self-destructive.
posted by mykescipark at 4:29 AM on December 17, 2005

I made it clear from the get go that I have no interest in dating someone who eats meat, and we don't live a "fast food" lifestyle.

No, YOU have no interest in eating meat or fast food. And YOU do not have to.

Why do you think you can dictate this to your boyfriend? I don't dig frozen waffles, but if my boyfriend wants to buy them, that's his decision. I don't tell him that consuming frozen breakfast eatables is a severe character flaw that I just can't tolerate. There is a lot of food out there, girlfriend, which means there's something for everyone to like and everyone can pick and choose what they want to eat and can make their own decisions on if they want to go healthy, fatty, Atkins, raw foodist, butter eater, whatever.

Worry about yourself, busybody. Or find some other self-righteous vegan to run off into the sunset with you.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:28 AM on December 17, 2005 [3 favorites]

To summarize: Dude likes meat. Dude likes you. Dude has food issues. You like dude. You have food issues (i.e. you hate meat and everyone who eats it).
What we have here is an impasse. You have two courses of action:
  1. Get the hell over it and help the dude you ostensibly love with his food issues (step 1 in this process is not being a meat fascist).
  2. Break up and find yourself a nice vegan fella.
Y'see you and the dude in question are what we call incompatible. You can endeavor to make yourself compatible with him (see option 1) or not (option 2), but at the end of the day, those are your choices. He's too damaged to be the one doing the accommodating wrt to food right now, and probably ever.
posted by willpie at 8:29 AM on December 17, 2005

it's possible people are over-emphasizing the meat thing here. i agree that the "no interest in dating someone who eats meat" is pretty strong, and could well contribute to guilt, but i'm much less sure that he's eating fast food / mcdonalds because he craves meat. he could be simply craving comfort food, and if you're desperate for comfort food then mcdonalds is a pretty obvious solution in the states.

maybe because i come from the uk, where being veggie is pretty common (and was myself a veggie for a decade or so), but the idea that you don't eat meat doesn't seem that big a deal to me. if what i suggest above is true (that it's comfort food rather than meat that he is craving) then i'd be suurprised if you couldn't find a nutritionist/psychologist/whatever that - providing the guy was happy with the idea - used a vegetarian diet.

so i don't think "no meat" is needed to explain, for example, hiding the bills. it could equally well be that he is just ashamed of his illness.

so yes, there's no getting round the fact that it doesn't help. but i don't know any relationship that doesn't have "issues" and arguments. and depite this issue here being food-related, it doesn't need to be directly related to the illness. you could imagine, for example, an anonymous that hated cars fucking up the environment, and was upset that her partner was driving to restaurants for his food binges. the relationship between the two may be no more than that.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:47 AM on December 17, 2005

i also think answers are way too agressive. how many of you have faced someone whose life was suddenly in a complete mess? it's really scary - the loss of trust; the uncertainty; the worry that someone you love has serious problems that you are apparently unable to help. it can be a really hard time, and i think answers here are not taking that into account.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:49 AM on December 17, 2005

It's my personal opinion that he'd probably still be hiding this from you even if you weren't so weird about fast food and meat. At any rate, the point is not WHY he hid it from you but THAT he hid it from you.

This is a hard one--the truth is that you have no power over someone else's addiction. They have to decide they want to stop on their own, and even then they'll probably fail several times before entering some kind of long-term functioning recovery. Even if you're trying to be supportive (and focusing on stopping the overeating rather than expecting him to go totally vegan cold turkey), it will be hard for him to admit the failures to you, no matter how small or big. If you have stock in his recovery, he won't want to disappoint you. And if he's gotten into the habit of lying to everyone about this, it will be so easy and comfortable for him to continue doing that.

Full disclosure: I dated a bullemic guy for two years, who hid it from everyone for many years. And I suspect he relapsed during our relationship and hid it from me. But his eating disorder isn't the only thing he found so easy to lie to me about--that's why we're no longer together.
posted by lampoil at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2005

If I had a girlfriend who wigged out at me for eating meat, I'd probably have food issues, too. There are few things more delicious than the forbidden. Reread this.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2005

FWIW, I enjoy vegetarian cuisine (cook it quite eagerly too) but am essentially omnivorous. I lived with a vegan partner for a couple of years. We were not that far off of each other but still it took real effort to make it come together, and every now and again there was a deep sigh of "boy - this is a lot of work." I admired her values, she enjoyed my cooking, yet still she was a pain to take places, and I'm sure I lost respect in her eyes for never choosing to follow the same principles as she (even though I admired them). Food is not the reason we're no longer together, but it is a big relief to have it out of my mind. And I'm sure she welcomed her freedom to find a vegan partner. Food is important. Food is life. A lot of our personal values are bound up in it. It's not just a superficial matter of what we think tastes good. If you have principles about food, they matter.

The couple in question here is less closely aligned - by far. It's unfortunately apparent that lying is now making up the difference. That is a bad, bad sign.

To take stock of the whole problem: the guy has lied, he has way overeaten, he has eaten stuff of a quality and nature which is abhorrent to his partner AND he has gone into debt to do it. I think it's fair to say that the vegetarian issue is only one dimension here.

He has promised to turn it around, now. I don't know about y'all, but I have never known anyone who is this far down the hole with an addiction to perform well under pressure. Change comes from within, as they say. You don't transform yourself and transcend your flaws when you're under the gun. What happens is you make some short-term progress, but you internalize resentment toward the person who's pressuring you. You associate them as the "cop" in your long, uphill battle against addiction. This is not a good setting for a relationship, and it is ripe with temptation to simply lie and get away with it.

If the guy hadn't exhausted his cash, he would have gotten away with this. It was only the credit card bill that got him.
posted by scarabic at 12:21 PM on December 17, 2005

I'll be honest: I think he would be lucky to get away from you.

If you care at all about him (which is far from clear, based on your little story), you'd break up with the poor guy and give him a chance to be with someone who loves him as much as they love themselves.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:43 PM on December 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

As a male with a history of overeating problems (and a past member of OA, as well as a former vegan) I will make this little contribution. There is a direct relationship between the fact that meat is forbidden in your relationship, and that fast food with meat is what he's eating when he binges. When you're in binge-time, you often say to yourself "Okay, so I'm binging. Now is my chance to go crazy. What else can I stuff my face with that I normally wouldn't eat?" and also "I hate myself and I'm going to prove it right now by consuming exactly the stuff that I definitely should not consume."

I'm not saying that you should be okay with your boyfriend eating meat. We all have our values and our standards. But it's all of a piece.
posted by bingo at 6:30 PM on December 17, 2005

I'm not. That was really critical, presumptuous, and accusatory, WCityMike.
posted by scarabic at 9:01 PM on December 17, 2005

She asked for our opinion of the situation

No, she asked for help, not to have herself and even the basic details of her posting called into question. I think at the very least you have to work on the assumption that the questioner isn't lying to you. Be helpful. Not all-knowing.

We're well on our way to a derail here but I think your post was just a little over the top. And FWIW, I've never noticed you before so it's nothing personal. You just went too far.
posted by scarabic at 9:14 PM on December 17, 2005

I'm not. That was really critical, presumptuous, and accusatory, WCityMike.
posted by scarabic at 9:01 PM PST on December 17

Uhhhh . . .

To be honest you don't sound like the kind of partner who is a help to him. [snip] You should seriously consider the reality that he will have to move heaven and earth to meet your standards, and that you are so far from where he is that you cannot reach to offer him a hand.
posted by scarabic at 2:45 AM PST on December 17

What he said isn't that far off from what you said. He made some reasonable deductions based on the fact that anonymous's contempt for her boyfriend is emphasized way more than her love for him.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:51 PM on December 17, 2005

What he said isn't that far off from what you said.

Yes indeed. I simply didn't attack the poster's honesty outright. I have no good news to give this poster either, but I'm not going to insult the premise of her coming here and judge her based on "linguistic" nitpicks. Anyway, WCityMike thinks he's bringing truth to the unwashed, so I'll have to let it be. But that little diatribe was way too heavy on judgments and made little prestense at helpfulness. Pretty poor showing - but hey, we need to hear what WCityMike thinks we need to hear. Who am I to argue with that?
posted by scarabic at 10:09 PM on December 17, 2005

Pretty poor showing - but hey, we need to hear what WCityMike thinks we need to hear. Who am I to argue with that?
posted by scarabic at 10:09 PM PST on December 17

Did you know that you sound like the biggest bitch in the world when you talk like that?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:18 PM on December 17, 2005

Look WCityMike, if you had 2mm of latitude to accept some criticism about what you said, this would have been over a long time ago. Don't feel the need to defend yourself.

Senor Chyme - other than playing an incredibly biased referee, what are you doing here? Don't you have more important threads to not participate in?
posted by scarabic at 11:47 PM on December 17, 2005

Did you know that you sound like the biggest bitch in the world when you talk like that?

No, the original thread poster sounds like that. scarabic is coming in a very close second, though.

And since the thread has been totally derailed into Bitch City Arizona: I agree, for what it's worth, with everything WCityMike has said so far in this thread, and think it absolutely needed to be said.

But I wouldn't have been able to do it as politely.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:23 AM on December 18, 2005

I think that even just taking the you-don't-want-to-be-with-someone-who-eats-meat-and-he-likes-meat thing separately, there is really no way for him to win. If he deprives himself to please you, he's only going to end up resenting you and desperately wanting to "cheat" and have what he wants - and that's if he's able to combat it to the point where he doesn't actually go out and do it.

And I mean, if he's a lovable guy, and obviously he's got some things about him that you find greatly appealing... why would the meat thing suddenly render him unlovable to you? Is it really that evil to you?

I just don't see how this is going to result in two happy partners with your level of judgment of his diet. (The meat aspect, not the unhealthy-compulsion aspect).
posted by beth at 4:21 AM on December 18, 2005

Mod note: please take any further derails on this topic to MetaTalk or email, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:58 AM on December 18, 2005

posted by orthogonality at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2005

Anonymous: Look, you've been called a bitch, you've been told to break up with the guy. You've had people essentially blame you for the problem. They're wrong and unhelpful. You should ignore them.
I'm a lifelong vegetarian who has dated both vegetarians and meat eaters. I can understand wanting to put down the "no meat" prohibition, and I've done it myself. However, when dating someone who really wants meat, the compromise I've gone with has been to say no meat in the house, and to not worry about it when they eat meat out. (Though I never liked kissing anyone with thescent of meat on their lips. Personal preference.)
I know, I know, the "red blooded" squad's already lining up to pitch a fit over the idea that someone can dictate their partner's eating habits in any way, and there' that whole aggressive meat-eating-as-tied-to-masculinity bullshit that comes up in the subtext. But ignore them.
So yeah, therapy is a good start. But at home, make sure that you let him know that you're doing this out of concern for him, and that the deal-breaker is lying. People slip up sometimes, and the important thing is being able to talk about it. If he feels like he has to hide from you every time he eats out or screws up, he's just gonna get into a loop of it. That's no good.
And don't worry about people calling you weird or whatever. You've had a pretty normal reaction to being lied to, and stating that it can't happen again is fair. Good luck.
posted by klangklangston at 9:37 AM on December 18, 2005

Get him to a real shrink.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 AM on December 18, 2005

People, this has nothing to do with diet or vegetarianism or McDs or even, really, about food. It has to do with an addiction. If the poster had written that her boyfriend had lied about being clean for the last few years, had charged hundreds of dollars in pot (now there's an idea), hasn't been able to talk about it with anyone and was doing it in isolation in some room *before* going out with friends to make sure he was 'high' enough, and didn't have the self-control to stop even when (or especially when) the girlfriend freaked out about it, we would have answered differently. Everyone here has really made this conversation about their own perspective/ideology on food. But it's not about food. It's about addiction, and as you can tell from these threads, issues about food are really, really hard to deal with because they are a part of who we are.

When anonymous wrote, "What I really need is advice from people who've dealt with this, mental health professionals, words of wisdom that can help me get over the hurt and frustration of being lied to" - she's focusing on how to get over being *lied to*. Of course he lied, pawned his musical equipement, couldn't pay the bills - he's an addict! If he was smoking pot excessively or anything else, he'd lie about that too! But the indignation of "being lied to about it" wouldn't be the same, I don't think; that would simply be a symptom of the problem, and we would focus on that problem, not the symptom.

Anonymous: your boyfriend has a problem far larger than WW AND you can handle. Help him to a real psychiatrist with explicit training and experience in food disorders. At the same time, get yourself into therapy so you can figure out what's going on with you too. Because I sense some other looming issues in your post, but I won't deign to extrapolate based on the MeTa thread as posted above. But you owe it to yourself and to your boyfriend to each talk about this and get help -- it doesn't have to be this way and you both sound like you're ready for a change.

But then again, I'm in the middle of finals, so we just went out and ate the best-ever NC chargrilled burgers and *real* milkshakes, so what the hell do I know.
posted by fionab at 10:12 PM on December 18, 2005

I know, I know, the "red blooded" squad's already lining up to pitch a fit over the idea that someone can dictate their partner's eating habits in any way, and there' that whole aggressive meat-eating-as-tied-to-masculinity bullshit that comes up in the subtext.

I think it's rather the dictate part that sets off alarms for most people in this thread, klang; that meat-as-masculinity notion is here by your bringing alone.

Frankly, the poster seems very caught-up in herself/himself and appears to view the overeater primarily as an object in her personal drama. His failures are stated in terms of how they impact her (e.g. he lied to her, he violated her food rules).

Personally, I feel sorry for the guy. He's got a problem and you're not helping him with your current orientation. My gut tells me that you may have as many control issues as he does, but that you project yours onto him.

My advice is to stop taking his addiction personally. Support him in whatever course of treatment he is ready for, or let him go. Above everything else, accept and love him as he is. Throwing guilt and controlling behavior on an addict is like dousing a fire with gasoline.
posted by squirrel at 10:42 PM on December 18, 2005

I agree with fionab on the lying being a side issue - anonymous, obviously it is not easy for you, and it's only normal you should feel frustrated, but you have to see the lying as an inevitable consequence of his problem, not something deliberately done to hurt you. If his overeating is as seriously compulsive as you describe it, then the bingeing and lying and feeling guilty about it, leading to more bingeing and more lying and so on, is just the screwed up mechanism of any compulsive/addictive behaviour. It's a vicious cycle and if you make the lying as big an issue as the eating disorder itself, you're providing fuel to that mechanism of guilt - even inadvertently, even with the best of intentions.

Again I second fionab and others on the suggestion to urge him to seek proper therapy and stay away from WW. Dieting will only exacerbate the obsession over food. That's the problem and, from your description, it sounds like he too is treating it like it was only about eating, and that's not a good approach because the more he tries to control his food intake, without addressing the issue at a wider level, the more the compulsive reaction will kick in. He has to look at the bigger picture, not get stuck only at "must not do it again" level.

And another thing... once he is in therapy and is motivated enough to keep it up, then you have to make the effort to accept all those things you mention -- like expecting him to make deals with you about his eating and telling you everything and every time he has binged and how guilty he feels about it and promising to never do it again -- you have to accept all that is best left to his therapist, and that at that stage, the less you two discuss this specific problem between yourselves, the better. I know, easier said than done, but just understand it could really interfere with the treatment.

You have an emotional involvement that a therapist doesn't have, and focusing so much on the disorder as a bargaining tool in the relationship won't be helpful, to him or to you. Again, even inadvertently, the risk is he'll use your hurt feelings to fuel his guilt cycle, you'll use his guilt to try and control his behaviour - even if you only want to help, and obviously only want him to get better, you can end up contributing to the obsessive mechanism. And you'd be doing yourself no favours there.

Besides, if in talking to him, you make it too much about what this does to you, you're only giving him an excuse to avoid realising he needs to treat this as his problem. He'll make promises he knows he cannot keep, just to please you, and then he'll feel guilty about breaking them, and then confess it to you, and then you'll reproach him, and he'll make promises again, etc. etc. This is not the way to go, and you'd only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

If both of you only treat this as an issue of sheer willpower, it's like getting stuck at the surface. You can't control such a compulsion with a clearcut rational decision, because it's not rational behaviour. He has to realise why that compulsion is there in the first place, what kind of feelings it provides an outlet for, how can he deal with those feelings in another way, and so on. And that's the kind of stuff he has to address with a therapist.

So, for your own good as well as his, you need to separate the three issues that affect you and the ways in which they affect you, it's different priorities - the disorder, which is the real problem, the lying, which is hurtful to you but again is not lying out of lack of trust or lack of respect for you, and finally the meat eating.

Now your general expectations that a partner share your choice of not eating meat is not the issue here, so I'm not going to argue with that. The problem is you're treating this meat eating issue as if this was an ordinary happy situation, where your boyfriend has no problems at all and you're only bothered by his eating meat. It doesn't sound like that's the case here. So you have to make an effort to get past that, because you cannot expect him to be discriminating in his choices of food when he's bingeing... That's adding too much pressure, and also adding another convenient way for him to avoid facing the real problem.

One last thing - even if he gets motivated to seek therapy, and finds a good therapist, and puts his best effort into it, it's likely he will "slip up" a lot of times before finding his balance and hopefully his way out of the messy cycle. If you want to stay with him and support him, you need to accept that possibility too, and not make it an issue. Unless it reaches breaking point for you, of course. But it's important that you realise that even with treatment, it's not a straight line of progress you're contemplating here.

By the way, as for your own desire to see a therapist yourself, you could maybe also have a one-off chat with his, if they're both ok with that.

Anyway, it is a good think that you want to help and be supportive, and I wish you both the best.
posted by funambulist at 3:28 AM on December 19, 2005

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