My Wife Has an Eating Disorder

Eating disorders can impact people of all ages and phases of life. It can be challenging to know how to support a spouse who has an eating disorder. This post will give you some tips to navigate this process with your wife.

How to Support a Spouse With an Eating Disorder

It’s scary watching someone you love struggle with a serious illness. In situations like these, it’s easy for emotions to take over. However, if emotions run the show, you risk pushing your wife away. This makes it even harder to support her and for her to recover.

husband comforting wife

Steps to Take

There are a few things you can do to support your wife during this process. Here are some tips:

Meet Your Spouse Where She’s At

It’s very normal for people with an eating disorder to not be aware that they have a problem. Being in denial is going to make it near impossible to have an honest conversation about the disorder. This doesn’t mean you can’t say anything, though. It just means that it might be more effective to say something like this, “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed worried when we eat dinner together. Do you want to talk about it?” Pointing out what you see in a non-judgmental way can plant a seed or open up the conversation.

Ask How You Can Help

Sometimes as loved ones, we feel like we should just know how to help. The truth is that support is going to look different for everyone. Ask your partner how she would like to be supported. Even if she says she’s not sure, it builds trust and safety for you to ask. Now, once she does know what she needs, she’s more likely to tell you.

Consider Your Boundaries

It is very stressful to support someone through eating disorder recovery. Consider what boundaries you might need to have in place for your own well-being. Boundaries are especially important if you have children. Any mental illness in a parent can have trickle-down effects on the children in the home. Is your wife’s eating disorder negatively harming your kids? If so, figure out which boundaries need to be in place.

Take Care of Yourself

Eating disorders have a way of taking over a family or relationship. This can be draining and taxing on your own mental health. Take care of yourself. It can be helpful to start your own therapy during this time. While certainly not a replacement for individual therapy, there are support groups for people who have loved ones with eating disorders. Self-care can also include taking care of your physical, mental, and spiritual health.

What Not to Do

Just like there’s helpful things to do, there are some behaviors and attitudes that will not help the recovery process. These are:

  • Avoid being critical. It’s normal to be frustrated during this process. Don’t take our your frustration by criticizing your wife’s behaviors or progress towards her recovery.
  • Don’t Lose Sight of Your Wife as a Whole Person: Sometimes when someone is really struggling with an eating disorder, it seems to take over their personality. It can feel like our loved one vanished right before our eyes. Continue to hold on to the other aspects of who your spouse is. These pieces of her will come back as she recovers.
  • Don’t lose Hope: Recovery is always possible.

not to do list

Related Reading

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Eating disorder treatment is based on how severe someone’s eating disorder is. There are different levels of care depending on how much care someone needs. Here are the different treatment options:

  • Hospitalization: This is when someone’s eating disorder is so severe it is causing significant medical problems. Someone who is hospitalized will have 24/7 medical supervision and may be tube-fed.
  • Residential treatment: Residential treatment is less intensive than hospitalization, but still provides 24/7 care.
  • Intensive Day Programs: Intensive day programs allow someone to live at home, while attending treatment for several hours per day several days a week.
  • Outpatient: Outpatient treatment is when someone sees a provider on a weekly, bimonthly, or as-needed basis.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs: PHP is for medically stable individuals who still need structure to continue treatment. Depending on the individual’s needs, programs typically last 3-12 hours a day, up to 7 days a week.

Regardless of the level of care that someone is in, eating disorder treatment typically includes support from the following professionals:

  • Mental health therapist
  • Dietitian
  • Doctor
  • Psychiatrist

These professionals work together to provide therapeutic meal coaching, individual, family, and group therapy; medical care, psychiatric medication, and nutritional counseling.

Eating disorder recovery requires support from several different professionals given how complex these mental illnesses are. They aren’t purely medical or mental illnesses. Eating disorders are mental disorders with significant medical consequences. Each professional offers a valuable piece of insight and is an important piece of the puzzle.


Author: Samantha Bothwell, LMFT
Page Last Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC  February 9, 2022