National Eating Disorders Association

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Quietrock : Some of the "Whys" about Eating Disorders.

You wrote :

" I had zero experience or knowledge about EDs before I dated my girlfriend."

Yes, I didn't know much about them either, and I think that's a pretty common thing for most people. Which is strange, because EDs are the leading cause of mortally among women from 15 to 25. I had a vague idea that it was some sort of self-punishment thing, but I think that you're seeing that it's much more than that.

" I'm doing reading in my spare time as well but it all helps."

It does help,, and can help us feel like we are at least doing something…even if it's just trying to educate ourselves. I literally had to build a new bookshelf myself.

" I think the worst thing about it as a partner of someone who suffers is just feeling utterly helpless. I'm the kind of person that if there's a problem I do what I have to do to solve it "

No kidding. I think it's our nature as fellows to want to fix things. And we can have the "rescue" thing going as well. So when we come up against things that our actions can't fix, we can find ourselves in a quandary for sure. Those helpless feelings and etc. Not a very comfortable place for us at all.

"So when my girlfriend tells me something like she is actively trying to get sicker and has no interest in getting well it has taken time to realise she doesn't mean that ALL of the time…"

This is a good observation. Because it's been my observation that people with EDs go through periods where they hate the position they find themselves in. And yet things will still come along that "trigger" them, and they retreat back into their behaviors again.

In your reading, you'll want to pay attention to "the control thing", because (setting aside the biological stuff) that really is at the heart of the matter. In the beginning, restricting takes terrific levels of self control. And as time passes, that's an association which gets hard-wired into their brains, to a point where the association becomes instinctual. So when things in life start seeming beyond their control. they find themselves going right into restricting again. Over time, one of the things which can seem beyond their control is their eating disorder. Ironic, I know, but that's one of the reasons why the thing starts perpetuating itself. And why they can begin to feel trapped in some surreal kind of spiral.

So on the one hand it's about control, but on the other hand it's out of their control. Which is when people with EDs really start feeling seriously bad about themselves and about their situation.

"I see how hard it is for her every day and the kind of things she has to do just to not have a breakdown."

Exactly. Imagine the quandary they find themselves in.

So when fixing won't work, we need another another strategy. Maybe it won't fix things, but it still can help. What I mean is, there's "fixing", and then there's "support". And support can stem from the fact that you "get it" about some of the mental things that they find themselves going through. Because they can feel pretty alone with those feelings, you know ?

This is getting long, so I'll close for now, but hopefully these are a few things to think about.

Keep writing ?

Bob J

Paying the toll

Firstly thanks Bob for your ever thorough and insightful responses. In the short communication we've had it's already helped me a lot just to talk about these things that I can't with my girlfriend for fear of triggering her or upsetting her. I don't really know anyone outside of her I can talk to so it's been almost a kind of relief.

I agree that support and listening are much better and more helpful/realistic goals than trying to fix things, which I don't think anyone could ever do. You can't convince someone with an ED out of an ED with logic as there is nothing logical about what they go through. It often goes against even their own internal logic, so how can you possibly attempt to rationalise a thing like that. It would be pointless and detrimental to try in my opinion. (And believe me I have in the past.)

One of my biggest struggles in this has been trying to figure out a way to coexist with my girlfriend without actually unwittingly enabling her negative behaviours which then saddles me with guilt myself. The source of many of our arguments stem from my resistance to actively support the negative behaviours. As she studies and doesn't work.. all the money earned comes from me and that relinquishes a certain amount of control from her in the very nature of things which no one can help. My issue is that if she's not heavily restricting food, she'll be going through extreme binge periods and will send me out to buy her binge food which of course she will end up following with all the negative ED behaviours we all know. I struggle with agreeing to buy her these things or giving her the money to do so and instead fill the house with nutritional things that if she does binge / purge them are at least somewhat healthy. I bend on some things like the ungodly amount of beverages she consumes but I find it very hard to just buy her whatever she feels like at the time, that she will later feel extreme guilt about and ultimately hurt herself over. She'll often borrow money and find a way to go out and get the food to overeat anyway but that somehow feels slightly less heart wrenching to me than knowing I was an active part of the process. All this said I still have no idea what the best way to deal with being the person that pays for or brings her food is. I'm just trying my best here to both live with myself and help her.

As for therapy I've been encouraging that for a long time now and she's even agreed to go in but every time the letter comes in the mail with an appointment time she'll freak out and postpone it saying something like, "It's better someone else take my spot who really needs the help." or "I'm still too fat to be considered anorexic". I keep trying to low key encourage her to go but I'm starting to give up on that, I really don't think she's at that point yet.

Anyway I'm rambling myself in the night now :) Appreciate the words Bob.

"Unworthy / Undeserving"

You wrote :

"...but every time the letter comes in the mail with an appointment time she'll freak out and postpone it saying something like, "It's better someone else take my spot who really needs the help." or "I'm still too fat to be considered anorexic". "

Honestly, if I had a dollar for every time I heard people on the forums say these exact same things I'd be wealthy. People feel like "fake anorexics" and other people are always more deserving of help than they are. Almost like they are robbing others of a chance to be helped if they should get help themselves.

My response is usually : "Sometimes it gets to be our turn". Which really is the truth.

Plus the part about "not being sick enough yet / fake anorexic"…that sort of thing is not measured by numbers on a scale, it's measured by the sorts of disruption it's causing people mentally, and the disruption it's causing in their lives and relationships.

I can understand your worries about "enabling" too. It's really not fair for her to expect you to go out and buy binge food for her. Yes, people have to eat, but it's just plain wrong for her to wrap you up so intimately in that. Something I suspect she might agree with. While there's no easy solution to this, I do think you'd be right in asking her to do her own shopping. The outcome may be the same, but she'd be the one taking responsibility, rather than asking you to share in it. How you'd work something like that out is hard to say,, but again, perhaps she'd have some suggestions of her own. <— Her suggestions = part of the "taking responsibility" thing.

But yes, the financial end of things. The person I knew would forge checks and use other people's credit cards to buy binge foods, so the level of compulsion can be pretty severe in situations like this.

In the end, she'll have to be the one to label these things "a problem". And once she reaches that point, she'll need to start thinking about what she'll need to do to begin addressing it. Not to sound alarmist, but killing herself is not an acceptable solution. (The leading cause of mortality in EDs is suicide.) So thats' probably something you guys will have to agree on at some point too.

If it were me, I'd keep pushing the therapy thing. If she worries about the food angle, then she could go as a means to try and figure out what to do about the other relationship issues you guys are having. Or to address whatever depression she's probably having. It doesn't have to necessarily have to do with eating disorders to begin with.

I mean really, would she contend that there are no problems in her life which are worth talking about ?

I'll bet she wouldn't. And it's not like therapy is some kind of punishment. It's more of a way to help figure things out, which she might agree can be a valuable thing sometimes.