Help me help my boyfriend overcome his eating disorder.
July 7, 2007 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I ran a google search on "anorexia" before posting this and the paucity of discussion amazes me. So, here's my question: how do I help my boyfriend?

I am more in love with my boyfriend than I ever thought possible. I really did not know I could feel this strongly about anyone. He is anorexic, and I am becoming increasingly frantic about my inability to help him.

Now. There is an additional difficulty in that he is no longer vanishingly skinny as he was in highschool. When I first got to know him, I thought this meant that he had conquered the worst of it on his own when his environment changed in the move from home to college (I met him just before the start of his Sophomore year at college). I now think it maybe just sort of went into remission or something.

Twist number two: we're long distance, due to a variety of factors that I won't get into at the moment. This post was precipitated by the fact that we're both going to be traveling to see each other, not for the first time, this Monday. Conversations surrounding his anxieties about this visit have revealed a couple things that make it clear his eating disorder is almost as strong as it ever was.

I do say "almost" deliberately: he realizes that, for example, when he felt pride at having passed out in high school, that was bad. But he has also said that even though he's hearing the same thoughts he's always heard, it's not an eating disorder now because he's overweight. He has taken in maybe five to seven hundred calories over the past week. Certainly no more than a thousand.

I want desperately to see him happy. I want him to love himself like I love him. And I don't know how to do it. My god, the first month we were together I didn't even notice that we never ate unless I was hungry. The extent of my failure so far is becoming apparent, and it's terrifying me. The information online is bewildering, expansive, and contradictory. My efforts so far seem as likely to produce pro-ana results as anything else.

Twist three: money is a problem. Maybe you can recommend a therapist in the area of Sarasota, Florida, but I don't know how he'd get there or pay. He is amazingly intelligent and driven, and he pays for his college, housing, food, clothing, and everything else entirely with scholarships. He's got a job this coming year, but it's an 8-10 hour per week thing that will be able to fill the gaps and nothing more.

I apologize for the wandering and distracted quality of this question. I'll be monitoring this thread to provide any needed clarification.
posted by kavasa to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you can recommend a therapist in the area of Sarasota, Florida

"Eating Disorders Associates is an intensive, outpatient treatment program serving Sarasota, Florida."
posted by ericb at 6:33 PM on July 7, 2007

You may have thought of this, and there may be nothing available, but I have to mention: Could you maybe look into campus resources for him? Maybe student health / mental health?
posted by amtho at 6:59 PM on July 7, 2007

I have two family members who have battled eating disorders. I dealt with it for a brief time in high school. You have to almost get sick of yourself for being that way before you can move on. Counseling can help, and I hope that the place ericb referred to can help. It's sort of like a control thing, if people feel they can't control other parts of their life they can at least control their food intake. Then it becomes sort of an obsession. Sorry for the rambling, I'm not quite sure how to put it. The best thing you can do is to be there and support him. I wish you both the best of luck.
posted by Elaisa at 7:00 PM on July 7, 2007

you are not responsible for your boyfriend's mental health. of course, for decency's sake you would never exacerbate it, but you can't cure it, and you can't make him seek treatment.

what you can do is decide whether you're going to be able to stand by him until he either seeks treatment himself or makes himself so sick that he's forced into it. you might want to seek counseling for yourself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:40 PM on July 7, 2007

Best answer: Something Fishy is a good starting place for general ED information and pro-recovery advice, including information about helping loved ones and a bulletin board.

There is, of course, no easy answer to your problem. The information online is bewildering in part because eating disorders themselves are bewildering. They are incredibly frustrating and painful for sufferers and the people who love them, and notoriously difficult to treat.

Relapses are pretty common-- although many relapses are temporary setbacks, and the fact that your boyfriend is practicing disordered eating does not mean he's undone whatever progress he's made. There are things that happen to your mind and body after years of living with an ED; the disorder becomes your default way of dealing with difficult situations, and creeps up on you when the stress starts to build, tempting you with the comfort it used to provide. The anxiety he's feeling right now-- about visiting you, about whatever else is going on in his life-- is creating serious temptation for him.

Understand that the best you can do is educate yourself about his disorder, love him, and encourage him to fight for health. You can't fix this for him. An ED is a serious mental disorder; it's something he will probably deal with for the rest of his life on some level. Don't let yourself get unhealthily wrapped up in his disorder. Taking on the roll of the 'food police' will not be good for your relationship, and may actually make him cling to his anorexia as a way to get attention and concern. I say this as someone who has spent years fighting an eating disorder of my own: sometimes the sudden care people lavished on me when I was my sickest just made me want to get sicker.

Professional health care, if it's available and if he's cooperative, could be very helpful. If he's willing, his best bet is probably to throw himself on the mercy of his school's health center. They should be able to provice counseling or support groups, or direct him to an outside counselor with a sliding scale.

Like I mentioned, I've been there-- I've had with an eating disorder, and I've known many other sufferers, too. If you have any questions or just need to talk, don't hesitate to email:
posted by bookish at 7:44 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't forget you can get therapy for this issue too. It could help you understand how to help him. (But, of course, as above, you can't fix this for him.)
posted by librarina at 7:49 PM on July 7, 2007

Following up on amtho's comment, many universities offer therapy with rates on a sliding scale, specifically designed for meager student incomes.
posted by i love cheese at 8:12 PM on July 7, 2007

bookish seems to have it pretty nailed.

Out of curiosity: does he go to New College? They have pretty good health services people there, from what I hear. (I'm from Tampa.)
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:39 PM on July 7, 2007

I was a resident advisor at a public university in california, and I know that we had a lot of on-campus free resources for students fighting eating disorders. So don't let a lack of money stop him from getting help.
posted by YoungAmerican at 12:20 AM on July 8, 2007

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