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‘Orthorexia: A Partner’s Perspective’ by Anne

What do you do when you know the person you love has an eating problem, but your not sure if there is a name for it, every time you try to bring it up they justify it as healthy eating, or eating for a training regime, or for maintenance of a strength to weight ratio, you wonder whether it really is an eating disorder if he is still eating, and the media keeps telling you that eating disorders only really affect females? 

What do you do when couples all around you are going out for dinners, getting drunk with each other on a friday night, having friends over, booking weekends away, going on holidays, spending evenings on the sofa eating ice cream, visiting each others families, and spending days in bed watching movie marathons just because they can. When you know that would never be possible in your relationship, going out for dinner is well planned in advance and very rare treat, getting drunk doesn’t happen because alcohol is un-pure, you’ve never been on a weekend away, and holidays are too full of unknowns, ice cream on the sofa is not even worth considering, visiting your family can be a stressful and painful experience, and if you do spend days  together, they have to be outside and active to ensure every single piece of food gets put to use. 

What do you do when the house is a tip, the wash baskets full, the dishwasher needs loading, the gas people want a meter reading, and you open the fridge to see that there is nothing ‘suitable’ for a meal, that despite having the ingredients for sausage and mash instead you’ll have to go out and do another food shop, because you know the sausages will be too fatty and the mash will have too high of a carb content, then you’ll have to cook dinner and make a lunch that has just the right amount of safe foods to keep him running for the day? When all you really want to do is eat dippy eggs, open a bottle of wine, watch a film, or phone up a friend, go to the pub and catch up?

What do you do when your boyfriend goes away with work for a week, and you completely stop, you eat what and when you like, letting the cupboards go bare, enjoy a drink in the evenings and catch up with friends, when you start to enjoy food for food again stop resenting it and the control it has? What do you do when your boyfriend comes home and you have absolutely no idea how to go back, how to get through the days together, to remember food’s and start regular cooking, no idea how to make it a normal part of your lives together again, and so you greet him not with a smile of happiness but with a grimace of fear?

What do you do when your boyfriend comes home from work and you can see the stress in his eyes and by the way he is holding himself, the absolute terror over the doughnuts that were in the meeting this morning, notice how his shirt looks looser, his colour is paler than yesterday, how he looks exhausted, knowing that dinner will be difficult, the carefully considered and thought-out meal that you prepared will not be ok, and feel sick with tiredness as you watch him do a hundred pull ups and pray so hard that tomorrow will be better and easier, and wander if this is such a good evening to try and talk to him about it after all?

What do you do when you know your boyfriend has just read the calorie and fat content on the chocolate bar you just ate, when you know that despite the size of his meal and what it looks like to everyone else, there isn’t actually much in it, when you can only buy brown carbs if any, when chicken and beef are excluded, lean turkey is the only thing allowed, when the super market runs out of no fat yoghurt and you know he would rather go without than eat something with low fat or sugar in it, when you can see every ounce of fat and carb removed from his diet that you wonder just how long a person can live off pulses and veg?

What do you do when you know that meal your parents lovingly prepared is so full of unknowns your boyfriend is terrified, when you see the happiness in him choosing fruit over everyones toast for breakfast because its ‘healthier’, when you catch the disgust in his glance at the white bread sandwich your friend is eating for lunch, when your invited over somewhere new for dinner and your first thought is to decline because you know that the unknown terrifies him?

What do you do when you wake up to a perfect morning, the sun is shining, you go on a wonderful walk in the countryside, share a pot of tea in a cosy cafe, spend hours chatting and putting the world to rights, watch a film you’ve wanted to see in ages, fall asleep blissfully happy, wake up the next day knowing that it is completely different and cry in the shower to hide your tears and hurt, before putting on a brave face to pull you both through another day?

 What do you do when you watch the person you love struggle to maintain friendships, spend evenings endlessly exercising to work off un-clean foods, go through long periods of not sleeping, have crippling stomach aches, doubt his incredible talents, hate his beautiful body and hide it from you, push you away, spend more time researching food than with you, loose all joy from socialising and eating, and neglect his body to the extent that he causes himself an injury all in the name of so called ‘pure’ eating?

What do you do when the person you go to to cry on is the person who is making you cry? When you are so fiercely protective of someone and yet so frustrated at them at the same time. When you want to scream and shout and hate them for the injustice of it all, yet at the same time feel such overwhelming love for this person who can’t see just how incredible they are, and how much they have to give?

Among many of the questions I would ask myself on an almost daily basis were what do I do? Where do I go? How do we get help? What do I do when this has become such a part of daily life, it has become so ingrained in our relationship that it is ‘normal’ to us, how on earth do we find our way out?

I started writing a blog, ‘my boyfriends eating disorder and me’ around 6 months ago with the subtitle, of ‘the third person in our relationship’. Orthorexia is sneaky and sly, it tries to mask itself by proclaiming to be a whole variety of ‘healthy’ ways of eating as a counter argument for our overindulgent society. Anyone who lives with the condition, will know that it truly is an ‘it’ and anyone who’s partner has orthorexia will know that it really is the third person in your relationship.

I met my partner a little over 5 years ago on our first day of university, the two things that I immediately noticed about him was his smile and his height (he is over six foot which I love) as we began to get to know each other I was amazed at his restraint and his love of healthy food. Initially I was very impressed and fell for the sneaky and sly mask, I believed that he had chosen not to go for the over indulgent life that society pushes upon us and just wanted to nourish his body well. As time went on I began to realise that this relationship with food was healthy eating gone horribly wrong.

A relationship with Orthorexia in it, it is overshadowed by the all consuming thoughts of this condition. It is always put first, always considered before the partner, the first thought in the morning and the last one at night. Orthorexia was always there; from the obvious of meal times, to socialising with friends, going out for drinks, quiet times, meeting each others families, learning about each others bodies, days out, weekends away, holidays, future planning, you name it and orthorexia was present for every aspect of my partners daily life, our life as a couple and was considered in every decision we made.

If it was an ex girlfriend hanging around I could have kicked off, if it was an over bearing parent, a destructive best friend it would have been different. But trying to get through to my boyfriend and begin the process of loosing the control orthorexia had over him, was long and difficult, he would give everything to it, and the more he gave the more it took from him and from us. It is heartbreaking to watch the person you love loose themselves to something which gives nothing positive back, knowing that they can’t see all the amazing things that have made you fall in love with them because ‘it’ won’t let them.

 The answer to my what do you do question is an unknown, I would like to say ‘fight and keep fighting’, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I came a hairs width from walking away, that tiredness with it all overwhelmed me, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who makes that choice. But I did fight, I fought for myself, I fought for my boyfriend, I fought for the couple that I knew we can be and the relationship that I know we will have, I fought against everyone who had ever made me feel that I should leave him, I fought for the lost time and I fought to prove to Orthorexia wrong. 

My boyfriend is now receiving treatment, and I have the pleasure of meeting new sides to him everyday, of falling in love with parts that have been controlled by Orthorexia for so long, of watching him re-discover his self, his talents and his worth and most of all knowing that there is a future where ‘we’ are put first.


'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a registered charity in England and Wales no. 1139351.

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