Do you have a husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son, daughter, best friend, or roommate who has some difficult food issues? Maybe they don’t eat all day – or you never see them eat, but then a whole jar of peanut butter seems to disappear. Maybe they often tell you that they’ve just started a diet – but then you find them alone in the kitchen decimating a birthday cake. Maybe you’ve been saving a special dessert for yourself in the refrigerator and when you go to eat it, you find that it’s gone. Maybe they’ve cried to you about their issues with food. Maybe they’ve even told you that they have binge eating disorder, maybe they’ve promised that they’re done with this habit and they’re never going to do it again.
And then it happens again. And you’re so frustrated you don’t know what to do. You feel like you can’t keep anything that you want to eat in your own house, you wish they’d just stop doing this and you can’t understand why they just won’t stop. You wish they had a little self control or will power.
Binge Eating Disorder is extremely complicated to understand if you’re not in it– think of it this way: Imagine saying to a cocaine addict, “you need to never do cocaine again.” And then putting a giant pile of cocaine right under their nose. That’s what it’s like for someone with BED. Food is their drug. But food is everywhere, so the process of recovery isn’t as simple as just not doing it. It’s hard enough for cocaine addicts to recover without having people pile cocaine under their nose constantly, without seeing billboards with cocaine on it, TV commercials advertising delicious piles of all you can snort cocaine or a never ending cocaine basket, or passing cocaine stores everywhere.
Seems a little ridiculous right? But… that’s the thing about having Binge Eating Disorder—food is your drug. And it’s impossible to separate yourself from it completely. It’s not as simple as just ending your relationship with food because you can’t just walk away from food you have to fix your relationship with it. Have you ever tried to fix a relationship? It’s hard work. It involves breakups, make ups, fights, lots of open communication, kindness, gentleness, relaxation time, and most of all EXTREME, RADICAL PATIENCE.
So when someone you care about is attempting to repair their relationship with food, they need not just patience with themselves, but they require you to be exceedingly patient with their process. It’s not your job to fix them or their issue, so you can just let go of that. But, it is important that you get your own support while your partner deals with their issue.
Here are ten things NOT TO SAY to your partner with Binge Eating Disorder
- Where did that gallon of ice cream go? I just bought it last night!
You know where it went. I ate it. But when you ask this question—I just feel ashamed and I hate myself. I already feel terrible because I ate a whole gallon of ice cream. I’m so sick I can barely move today, but I’m also feeling like withering up and dying because I feel like such a failure.
- Have you seen your therapist lately?
When you ask me this, it throws me deep into my shame cycle and I believe that there is something wrong with me… I’m unfixable… I need help… I’m too much for you. I’m unloveable… I need professional help. I’m beyond help.
- Did you eat the cake that was in refrigerator? I was saving that for later!
Yes, the cake was eaten by me. And I feel like crap. And another thing—why is it that you can keep a piece of cake in pristine condition in the refrigerator for a week? What are you saving it for? It makes no sense to me that you can have a piece of cake in the refrigerator for a week without eating it. It makes me feel like I’m a totally strange and horrible human—because I can’t do that. I can’t have tempting food just in there because it tortures me. And the fact that you’re not tempted or tortured makes me feel awful about myself.
Better question—“was the cake good?” in a kind and loving and interested voice- not in a condescending voice. You could also choose to say nothing and go get more cake for yourself and let it go.
- I think you might be addicted to sugar. You should just stop eating sugar for awhile and reset your palate.
Oh how many times have I stopped? To tell you the truth I don’t eat junk food – almost never. It’s all rice cakes and carrot sticks for me. But then—out of nowhere the beast comes out and tricks me and it will ravage you for case of two year old Cadbury Cream Eggs that I can literally break my teeth on.
- Have you considered going on a diet?
Um… when am I not on a diet? I’m on a diet Every. Fucking. Day. Of My. Life. And I still binge— because diets don’t work! And everyone knows that and I shouldn’t be dieting but I’m terrified not to! I know! It makes no sense. But that’s all part of my disorder. Dieting always makes me binge but I’m afraid if I don’t diet, I’m going to binge. My mind is playing tricks on me and it’s a constant battle in my mind to figure out what the right thing to do is. So please don’t give me advice, what I need is to learn to trust my inner guidance, and when you tell me to do something else, it will make me believe that my inner guidance is wrong… and my inner guidance is where I will find my recovery. Telling me to diet makes me doubt myself and undoes all the work that I’ve done.
- You just need a little self control. Just don’t binge, it’s simple.
I have so much self-control that I’m frozen with control and perfection. I’m an absolute subservient to my self control. So much so that eventually I crack and break in half and this sneaky piece jumps out of me and steals all the food when I’m not looking. It’s terrible and it feels awful.
- Do you know how hard this is for me to deal with?
I know- I really do, it must be incredibly hard for you. But I need you to know that this really isn’t about you. My eating disorder is not about you, it’s about me. You didn’t cause it and you can’t fix it, so please don’t frustrate yourself. I know it’s hard for you to deal with. I know. It’s hard for me too. But please don’t try to make me feel guilty in order to shame me into stopping. I have so much guilt and shame around this and it just throws me deeper into my disorder. I just need your love and understanding.
- Okay—listen, I’m going to help you… just do what I tell you and eat what I tell you to and when I tell you to and it’ll be fine.
I know that you want to fix me because you love me. But it will make you crazy and it will make me feel like a failure and it will ruin our relationship. I’m not going to be able to do what you tell me to do. I have to recover on my own by helping myself. Please don’t try to fix me. It will break us both and we won’t be able to survive it. It’s not your job to fix me. Just love me and support me and be patient with me.
- Do you think you need to keep eating that?
Please don’t be my food police. Because what I’m likely going to do is put the food away, die of shame right now, then come back and binge on it later.
- Why is it taking so long for you to get over this?
Because recovery is a long process. These patterns and habits and coping mechanisms have been formed for the past (10,20,30,40,50) years… and I have to actively work to change them. I’m frustrated with myself. And when you’re frustrated with me, it’s even worse. I just need your encouragement to keep going. I need your love and support, but most of all, I need your patience.
And lastly, the worst possible offense, such a terrible thing to say that I almost forgot to mention it because I blocked it out:
11. You don’t have an eating disorder, this is just an excuse.
I do have an eating disorder — and when you say that it’s an excuse it just throws me into my own shame and my own doubting about whether or not this really is a disorder or not. It makes me feel like a fool.
What to do instead:
What to say:
- How can I support you?
- What do you think you need?
- Should we go talk to someone together? (Like a Licensed couples counselor who specializes in treating eating disorders).
- It’s okay if you fall down—everyone falls down, you’re human.
- Do you need to talk?
- Come on, let’s go take a walk together and look at the trees. We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I just want to be with you.
- Are you okay? You seem stressed out—is there anything you want to talk about? How was work/school/your day…
- I love you no matter what. You are perfect, whole and complete and I support you.
What to do:
Ask your partner if there are any foods that they would rather not have in the house. Try not to be resentful if they can’t have say peanut butter in the house. Again—if your partner were a recovering cocaine addict, would you have piles of cocaine on the kitchen counter? Most likely not.
Don’t engage in “fat chat” if they want to talk about how much weight they’ve gained or if they ask you if they look fat. Just say “I’m not going there.” Don’t corroborate with their eating disorder voice (ED)
Don’t make comments about their body or anyone else’s body or body weight.
Don’t make comments about your own body, your own weight loss or your own eating.
Go in with them to see their therapist or an Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting and learn more about the disorder.
Don’t neglect yourself or your own needs to take care of your partner. That happens all the time– people forget about their own existence or minimize their own needs and wind up feeling resentful. Terrible for any kind of relationship. Make sure that you thinking about what you need and caring for yourself. Check out 12 Ways to Help Your Partner With Binge Eating Disorder.