It is so common that someone comes into my office who is suffering terribly with bulimia or binge eating disorder but they haven’t told their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. There are some people who are in new relationships and don’t feel comfortable or ready to disclose that information yet. However, there are many more people who have been married ten years or more and have been suffering terribly with bulimia or binge eating disorder or other eating disorders the whole time. If you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t know about your food issues, you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about, many people feel ashamed or embarrassed, they don’t want to expose themselves as having this big issue or open themselves up to judgments, or even let their partners know that they are not perfect and they’re struggling. Talking about the eating disorder, exposing it, makes it real. If it’s real, it’s unsafe and unprotected secrecy. Once you expose it, it’s harder to act out with food. You might think that someone is watching over you or judging you. For lots of people, the eating issue is like a secret lover or a best friend and telling your partner about it might force you to give it up.
Here are some tips for talking to your partner about your eating issues.
Explain to them that your eating issues have nothing to do with them.
Explain to them that you don’t want them to “fix” you or to tell you how to eat or what to eat or what not to eat. That’s not their responsibility, nor is it good for the relationship, but they can help by being supportive or available to talk about your feelings with them.
Ask them not to talk about diets, calories, burning calories, losing weight, or what your body looks like.
If there are some foods that you would prefer they not bring into the house, ask them to support you in that way.
If they “catch” you in a binge, it’s not their responsibility to make you stop doing it, nor should they take food away from you. Instead, maybe they can say something like, “hey, is everything okay? do you want to talk? I’m here for you.”
Explain that it’s not about the food, it’s about what you’re feeling inside. Try to talk about what you might be feeling. If you need help, this might resonate for you.
Ask them not to interrogate you or police you.
Give them space to talk about their feelings and what it’s like for them to learn this about you.
Give them the opportunity to ask you questions. If you feel uncomfortable with certain questions, let them know that you’re not ready to answer that yet or that you don’t know the answer yet, but as you work through recovery, you will let them know what emerges for you.
You can always bring them into your therapist with you or to an OA meeting or EDA meeting to help them understand more about what you are going through. If you don’t have a therapist, make sure that you work with an ED specialist who can help your partner understand through psychoeducation what you two are dealing with.
You are only as sick as your secrets, but secrets are like monsters. They grow and thrive in the dark. After you shine a light on them, they disappear.
One of the beautiful things about revealing your truth it out is that it increases intimacy and communication with your partner. So many people reject their partners in order to be alone so they can act out with food. When a secret eating issue or addiction is present in a relationship it keeps the relationship distant and decreases love and intimacy. When it is acknowledged, it creates space for a deeper more intimate relationship with one another.
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