The Perfect Storm

How My Mental Illness Feeds Off Of My Husband's Celiac Disease

My husband has Celiac Disease and I have Binge Eating Disorder. Life in our household is a delicate balancing act that, honestly, we don’t always do so well at.

When he was diagnosed over three years ago, my eating disorder was thriving inside me, undetected. It was the perfect storm. I had been through severe weight fluctuations time and time again over the course of the previous 23 years or so. But, I had no idea that the problem wasn’t with my body, it was with my mind.

After his diagnosis, it didn’t take long until my husband, a great lover of learning all the things, was up to his eyeballs in research and facts. He read study after study (and still does find new ones to devour) on everything he could find that might have any connection to his disease. He loves to learn and I love that part of him.

So, based on what he learned, we made some changes to our lifestyle. We bought him some kitchen necessities, like a toaster, new pots and pans and cooking utensils, so that he wouldn’t get any stray wheat from days gone by in his gluten free meals that we were cooking. We didn’t go out to eat anymore, except to two local restaurants because Clint knew he could trust that there would be no cross contamination issues there. We stopped travelling because it’s hard to find places for him to eat that have dedicated gluten free areas in their kitchens.

Part of me was sad about the changes. I’d be lying if I said I did’t miss the travel, or being able to go out to any random restaurant to eat with friends.

Part of me was sad about the changes. I’d be lying if I said I did’t miss the travel, or being able to go out to any random restaurant to eat with friends. But when these things threaten Clint’s health, it’s just not worth it. Besides, I’ve gotten over it and gotten used the changes.

At least that’s what I thought a few months ago. That’s what I thought before I learned that the terrible thoughts I was having about my body were a result of an eating disorder. That’s what I thought before I learned my self-worth, which I tied directly to the shape of my body, had been erased by an eating disorder. And that’s what I thought before I learned that an eating disorder had been thriving on the restrictions that I had adopted from Clint’s nutritional limitations.

It wasn’t until I had started treatment and my therapist asked me to try some food challenges, that I really understood how interwoven Clint’s Celiac Disease had become with my Binge Eating Disorder.

It seemed like a completely logical thing for her to ask me to do. We’d been discussing my fear foods, which are foods that I have labelled as “bad” for any one of multiple possible reasons over the years. She’d asked me to make a list of some of these foods so that I could start to slowly reintroduce them and begin to rewire my brain so that I can start to eat more normally.

I could only bring myself to write down six foods. Yes, just six things.

I had been eating the same few foods on rotation for quite a while, but I could only write down six foods that I would like to be able to eat, and couldn’t. The rest of the items that I wanted to write down were a list a mile long of the foods that I wanted to eat, but that I felt guilty eating because Clint could no longer have them. I felt bad that my husband had to go without, so I didn’t eat those foods either. And really, I just didn’t even want to think about them, because when I thought about them the disordered part of my mind told me that I should feel ashamed for wanting to eat them. It would ask me what made me think, at my size, that I should be able to enjoy those foods when my husband, a smaller than average sized man, can’t have them.

That voice that I have come to despise and that I’m working so hard to eliminate, now that I know what it is, would tell me that if I ate the foods that Clint can’t have, in front of him, it would prove to him that I’m insensitive to his needs and he would leave me. It told me that I should consider myself lucky that he chooses to be with me at all since I’ve gained back all of the weight I last lost.

So I’d been avoiding the foods that Clint can no longer eat for as long as I could stand, sometimes it was a week, sometimes it was a month or two, but eventually I’d binge on them in secret when nobody was around. After every binge, my disordered voice took great pleasure in making sure that I felt as much shame and disgust with myself as possible.

I struggled in private with it all, because my eating disorder convinced me that I should be embarrassed not only that I don’t have the self-control that my husband has in being able to avoid anything with wheat in it, but also that I had been restricting and binging like this in secret for quite some time. And now here I sat in my therapist’s office, staring at a nearly blank page that I knew damned well I could fill up with all of the foods that I’m afraid to admit that I want to eat and feeling unable to tell even her about them because it might mean that I somehow don’t love my husband.

It took some time, some more therapy, some support from an amazing group of women who struggle with disordered eating like me, and a lot of really difficult conversations with my ridiculously understanding husband, but I did write that list. To this day, I’m remembering foods I used to enjoy eating and my list is growing. It’s growing faster than I am able to challenge the foods that are on it, but I’ll get there, one scary food item at a time.

Recovery is hard. That’s something that I know for sure.

Recovery is possible. That’s something that I choose to believe