Not sure at all what to say or do at all with my bulimic girlfriend. What do I encourage and what do I not?

Hello everyone, my beautiful girlfriend is 27 and has recently told me that she has been bulimic since she was 12 (we have only been together for 7 months). I always knew since we started dating that she had issues surrounding food and exercise but now I am really struggling to know what to say or do and I feel like I am treading on egg shells. I have encouraged her to go to the doctor which she did and an appointment with the specialist has been made but I know that will be months away. Initial blood tests also revealed she is anemic. She would/will not let me attend any appointments with her. In some respects this is the most progress she has ever made with addressing the illness (for example she tells me I'm the first person she's ever told about it - I'm sure that's true to some extent in the detail we've talked about it but I do wonder sometimes as there has been a gradual way of peeling away lies and half truths. She then told me she told her ex boyfriend but he did not understand so it went no further than that? I don't really know what to believe or not believe.). There is so much to think about that I don't know what to do.

She is currently just within a healthy BMI range but insists that she feels/felt much better at approximately a half stone lighter then she is now. Her life is consumed somewhat by exercising and eating healthily. She has started to keep a food diary and it appears that even if she does not suffer from a binge episode she is still sick once a day. I find it all incredibly confusing: what she terms as a binge might only be 10 chocolates/sweets but this is then classed as a "bad" day - do I say "10 sweets isn't bad?!?" or do I say "don't worry about a little slip it's going to happen" etc?

I find it hard to know whether to be supportive when she is super excited to have lost 2 lbs or to encourage exercise in general. I can see that regular exercise improves her mood and also makes her less likely to binge - so in that respect it is good, but I have also told her that I can't realistically support a weight loss goal that puts her within an unhealthy BMI range. Her argument to this is that she still has a bit of fat on her tummy/bottom half so she can't be at an optimal weight. The amount of fat she is talking about is perfectly normal but she won't consider being in a bikini without this gone (we are going on holiday in a month which has further fueled the fire). She hates being seen in her underwear even by me and will not go swimming etc due to this and fear of people commenting on her body. She looks amazing and I am definitely not the only one that thinks so! She praises friends for looking trim that are not even remotely as trim as her. I read that I am not supposed to comment on weight or appearance during treatment but this is impossible as it is at least 40% of what she talks about. The other day she was chuffed that she had been to the gym and then done a 10 mile walk and was disappointed that I wasn't more happy about it! I am at a complete loss. Even if she has eaten what she terms as "well" (which I am confused by too as this is to me a calorie controlled diet day for an anemic already thin girl!) she says she has to be sick and doesn't know how to stop it. It seems she is able to control the "binges" but finds it impossible not to be sick. She says she doesn't make herself sick but feels compelled to be sick and can't control it and describes it as the food "won't go down properly" so she has to be sick.

I can't tell or get support from her family as they are best described as very dysfunctional. She had an awful upbringing by her mother with lots of drama and traumatic experiences. She knows that part of therapy will be counseling etc but has already told me that she doesn't want to live through those childhood experiences again. Whenever we talk about anything like psychology she (maybe rightly) believes that trawling through her past will do more harm than good - but this makes me worry that the root cause will never be addressed. She thinks CBT is what will work for her. She also immediately refused Prozac when the doctor offered it on her first doctors appointment. I understand there are risks with any meds and understand her concerns but from what I have read it is the most successful form of treatment in conjunction with psychological therapy. I asked if she would consider going to a support group but she said no way.

I feel so confused even writing this. I get some days where I think I can handle everything but then others where my thoughts are consumed by it. She claims to be happy/not depressed and that it is just something that she needs to deal with. Shes now started a new job where's she working full time and some odd & some unsociable hours combined with the anemia and is always tired. I worry that I am not assertive enough in order to guide her through this and am always afraid of upsetting her or making her angry. Does anyone know the next thing I should do? As it stands all I am doing is trying to say the wrong things and wait till the appointment with the specialist. And even when that comes, I really don't trust her to tell whoever that is everything totally truthfully. Any help or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

6 Replies

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  • You sound exactly the right sort of person to help your girlfriend . Supportive love is the greatest gift you can give her.

    I expect everyone is individual so I can only say what my husband has said and done in his attempts to help me (I suffer from anorexia). He is worried and shows/says it. Not every day but it is obvious from his body language and facial expressions that he is concerned. He wouldn't be concerned if he didn't love me. He also tries to make times to enjoy doing something fun together and providing an environment which is as free from stress as he/we can make.

    I also found it helpful when he spent time and effort finding out about eating disorders although sometimes he didn't agree with the "don't"s. My local Eating Disorders Unit also had sessions for us to go together and for him to meet other carers.

    Observing and quietly being positive about my eating more normally are very important.

    We have had a few times where he has been confrontational. In a strange way I think they have helped too but I wouldn't recommend it when your relationship is relatively "new". They helped me in the sense that he was showing his love and concern. He was/is frustrated and I can see that he has needs to vent his emotions too.

    I guess from your writing that your girlfriend is obsessive about appearance? It is part of her identity. Can you find other aspects of your girlfriend to build on? I found 2 things have helped me in this regard. My husband tells me what he finds attractive. For example curves rather than a sticky-outty skeleton of an underweight person. Reinforcing positively about other aspects of me (personality, gifts etc) also can help to raise self-esteem away from appearance.

    Keep loving her.

  • Hi anniephys,

    thank you for your reply, I will try to rememeber some of your advice for sure. Did you feel guilty/ashamed after telling your husband about your ed? My girlfriend has told me she wishes that hadn't me because she feels like I am watching her - and obviously I am to an extent. I don't want her to feel uncomfortable all the time she's around me but I also don't want to allow destructive behavior to continue just because she doesn't like me looking out for her. I can see that she is making an effort to try and tackle her ilness (keeping a food diary, when she has been sick, how much exercise she's done) but to me the main worry is that I don't think she can see the link between exercise and purging. She sees that regular exercise controls her binge urges etc so it is good - but I don't think she can see that the exercise is just another symptom of purging. I think if she stopped going to the gym like a crazy person she would go completely off the rails but simultaneously I really don't feel comfortable encouraging it. We checked each others BMI, weight, fat %, muscle % the other day and she is in a normal range for everything, there is some fat that could be lost and muscle that could be gained (for both of us!) so should I just be happy that she enjoys the gym and that it helps her other symptoms?

    Thanks

  • Firstly I would like to thank you for being so supportive of someone with an eating disorder. I recently have come to terms with mine and it saddens me immensely when I think about how much of a burden it is to my friends and loved ones.

    This relationship is much like the one with my mother. Mum can't say anything that will help me stop binge eating (having a bad day) and she's had to help me buy food in order to binge eat in the past. All I can suggest with regards to eating and having binge days is say very little at all. If your girlfriend is having a bad day do not , as I'm sure you wouldn't, say anything that may trigger her to remember she's had a bad day. Just accept the fact that its been a bad day and if its really bad and affecting her you may be able to say you can work it off at the gym or start again tomorrow.

    With regards to going to the gym , show interest in your girlfriend and what she's done. In some cases like mine I've actually developed a genuine interest for exercise and nutrition because of my eating disorder and That may be the same with your girlfriend.

    At the end of the day I've found that the eating disorder is really a one on one battle. No matter what friends, parents or loved ones say it is your girlfriend that will overcome the problem. The best you can you is not ignore its presence but try not to encourage its development; Caution at a distance.

    Your girlfriend knows you are there for her. Talking about it eases the pressure I've found. She will go to you for help when she feels the time is right. It's an embarrassing and emotional disorder.

    I'm at the beginning of my disorder but none the less I feel it's been with me for years.

    I wish you all the very best.

    Alice x

  • Get out now.

    I have read the responses by others, predominantly current sufferers of this awful illness.

    I have been with my girlfriend now fiancée for 7 years, she is 27. She has been bulimic since before we met.

    If this is a new relationship, get out while you can 'before you get too attached'. Supporting someone with this mental illness is incredibly difficult, and life sapping. It is fantastic she is seeking help and wants to get better, but my experience this is only temporary and is likely something you will have to deal with for the rest of your life. If bad enough it will/has messed with her hormone levels and cause amenorrhea etc which is now limiting our family planning.

    I mean no disrespect to the sufferers of bulimia and anorexia but if you decide to stay with her be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your life/ambitions to deal with it.

  • Thank you everyone for your responses on this. I thought I would share what happened now incase it helps anyone.

    We split after going out for a year and a half. We moved in together and split four months later. I was willing to work through all problems, eating disorder and more usual relationship issues, but in the end she gave up. She refused to seek treatment and told me I could not force her. Towards the end she was of the mindset that it was her body and her choice (compared it to smoking, people do bad things to their bodies everyday etc etc). She had not had a period for 6 months and probably still hasn't.

    After we split I decided to tell one of her best friends so that someone could am eye on her (she asked/made me promise not to do this). The friend promised me she would not tell her I had told her. I then sent her an email telling her she needed to snap out if her mindset, and seek help asap. It was written in a firm but caring tone. She then suspected I had told her friend and I received volatile/angry texts and was told never to contact her ever again. I had been patient and caring for a long time and this was the conclusion!

    I know that I did not do everything perfectly and I'm still beating myself up for many things (I found it really hard that she insisted on going out for coffees and meeting up with her long term ex, and another guy she had a fling with).

    My overwhelming sensation is that there was no way it could ever have been a balanced relationship, as her relationship with herself was so skewed that there was no way she could put someone else first in the way I did for

  • (Oops!)...for her and that made me feel like crap. I really hope she gets help soon. To anyone else in a similar situation I would say unless whoever you are with is always acceptant that they have a problem, you have an uphill struggle ahead of you. If you love someone how can you watch them destroying their body unless you can see they are trying to make even small steps in the right direction. In her case her only real goal was to be 6.5 stone and everything else came a distant second and the more I tried to help, the worse it became. At times it felt as though I actually speaking to her, but often it felt as though I was talking to the disorder itself. I hope none of this has offended anyone, and wish there was a magic wand that could be waved to help anyone that suffers with anything like this. I feel completely exhausted and gutted that I couldn't help her.

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