Recently he had a lipid test done, and his cholesterol level is high enough that his doctor put him on a statin drug. In a week, he’s now done a 180 and thrown out all dairy products and meat and says we all need to become vegans. Becoming vegans is a nonstarter for us. After a shouting match, I bought more dairy for the rest of us, and he actually opened my milk and yogurt and shook it out all over our backyard.
I have no idea what is going on with him now. Did he lose his mind? I wondered if he’s having a reaction to the statin, but he won’t discuss it. Kids and I are on Day 3 of the silent treatment. I tried calling his doctor, but they wouldn’t speak with me due to HIPAA. Apparently, husband didn’t put me on the authorized-to-speak-with list. Any advice?
Anonymous: The vegan thing, and the fad diet/exercise thing, are totally beside the point here. I’ve been a vegetarian for ethical reasons for 25 years, and it has never even occurred to me to force my husband or kids to do likewise. I do the cooking and shopping, I mostly cook veg, and I answer honestly when my kids ask about my dietary choices. But I buy meat if they want me to, my spouse cooks meat, we get meat for takeout, school lunches and restaurants are anyone’s choice, etc. This is just basic respect for them owning their own bodies and minds.
Opening your food and dumping it out, giving you and your children three! days! of silent treatment! … is emotional abuse, and is millions of times more dangerous to your kids than cholesterol or saturated fat or whatever. I don’t want to be alarmist, but honestly, pack up the kids, go stay at a friend’s for a while. If he wants access to you, he can go talk to a therapist or tell his doctor what’s going on. This isn’t about your right to eat cheese (although I will defend that right!). This is about your, and your kids’, right to be treated like people rather than like appendages.
Anonymous: Becoming vegan isn’t the issue here, your husband’s behavior is. The silent treatment and throwing out your things (twice) are abusive. Is this an escalation of previous behavior, or the first time you’ve seen anything like this? You need individual therapy and a lawyer. Your husband probably needs a full physical work-up to identify if there are any underlying problems causing this behavior, but if he’s unwilling to even discuss it, you need to protect yourself and the kids.
Anonymous: First and most importantly, controlling others’ food to the point where he’s throwing away your groceries is flat out abusive behavior. It’s not always easy to recognize abuse from within a relationship, but that is clearly unacceptable. The question is what to do about that. The diet issues are just a vector for control.
It sounds like he may be having a legitimate crisis of some type if this behavior is new. If at all possible I’d arrange for a place to stay separate from him, and then confront him directly but gently on the behavior (not the diet stuff) and ask him to seek mental health counseling and include you in his medical needs. Until and unless that happens, you don’t truly have a relationship to do anything with; and you have children to care for. As bad as it might seem to have this rupture with their father, carrying on without confronting the issue would surely be worse.
Anonymous: People who are disordered eaters, like your husband and myself, tend to use food to exert control when we feel powerless and afraid. This latest lifestyle change is just one of his restrictive phases supercharged by a new sense of his own mortality. I was the partner who was always doing something new. We kid ourselves that everyone does this, but even if they do, your husband’s actions (shouting and domestic fridge terrorism) reveal that this is not a harmless quirk. He’s clearly very afraid and using his traditional coping mechanism of restrictive eating turned up to 11 in response.
So, first, he needs a wake-up call, which could be from his doctor or another medical professional he trusts, that this response is not medically necessary. Very few doctors recommend strict vegan diets.
Then he needs to realize that his response wasn’t okay, and get curious as to why he gives food this kind of power. This is harder to prompt, but his silent treatment might give him some mental space to start to wonder. In my experience, this change really needs to come from the person, although you two having a calm conversation about it once he has calmed down might help. It really helped me to read the stories of other people with disordered eating online; there are lots of resources out there.
You can facilitate these steps, but otherwise I would proceed as you have been. Calmly replace the items in the fridge that he threw away. Ignore his tantrums. Carefully explain to your kids that this is your husband’s coping mechanism, that it isn’t okay, and continue to model a healthy relationship with food. You might need to take over shopping and cooking until things are less fraught. I’m sorry that you’re stuck being the grown-up in this situation; it can be exhausting. Make sure you get the support you need through friends, family or your own therapist.
Anonymous: I know it isn’t terribly satisfying, but you can always share information with your doctor’s office, even if they can’t with you. So you can call the office and say, “I know you can’t tell me anything, but you need to know this is what’s happening, and I’m worried it might be related to his meds.”
Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read the most recent installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.