National Eating Disorders Association

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Trying to Maintain Patience

My partner has struggled with an eating disorder for virtually her entire life. Up until now, she had not made much progress toward getting healthy. A few months ago, though, she found a good therapist, a nutritionist, and a primary care physician, all of whom she sees weekly (we are lucky and grateful for these resources). Despite this "army" of professionals, she has continued to lose weight. She now knows exactly how much she needs to be eating, what kind of calories she needs to introduce to her diet, etc., but she simply can't bring herself to follow the guidance of these various doctors.

I know the mental and emotional stress that eating causes her. I know this is so far from easy for her. I know it isn't as simple as knowing what to eat, then eating. But even with all this in mind, I find myself becoming so intensely frustrated with my partner. She is such a smart, driven, determined individual, and it is wildly frustrating to watch her consider the advice of these professionals, then ignore it. I know I shouldn't think about it like this—ED's are so psychologically complex, and it's not that she is *choosing* to ignore professional advice but that she is psychologically and mentally *unable* to follow the advice. But this understanding has not helped alleviate my frustration.

Each time I find myself feeling that frustration, it is immediately followed by shame and guilt. How is it fair for me to feel frustrated when SHE is the one who is suffering? How can I allow my patience to waiver when SHE is the one who must endure all of this? I studied psychology in college, and I am in training to be a medical doctor. My knowledge base for ED's is broad, and I have done all I can to understand them conceptually. And yet, here I am, frustrated beyond belief because my partner can't bring herself to eat that sandwich.

This is my first time trying an online community, so I don't know what exactly I'm looking for. I would appreciate any support / advice.


Hello and welcome to the forum. I am glad you posted and are seeking support. You are right in saying eating disorders are psychologically based and it isn't as easy as "just eating". But watching a loved one suffer affects let's say you. You are deeply affected because you love her and can't do a thing to "make" her better. It is scary. I don't care how much you know about eating disorders. Going through it and living with it is at times unbearable. I know. I am now in recovery after thirty plus years of suffering. What I put my parent's through. My Mom cried herself to sleep at night. My sister with whom I live, we were meeting with my Dad, usually my Mom joins us and we have been trying to learn to live together in harmony and peace and are watching a video series on this topic. Well, it didn't go well. Ended disastrously. My sister is very ill and spends 98% of her time in her room with the door closed and in bed. She was saying she knows me and that I am black and white in my thinking and react to everyone and am cruel to her. I told her you don't know me. She said she grew up with me. She didn't know that in the forth grade I wanted to kill myself. That I spent thirty years being very ill. Living in hospitals and day programs. Twenty seven hospitals ranging from one year to two weeks. I am now recovered. I said you don't know me. You left the house when you were 17. My illness affected every member of my family. My younger sister watched me almost die in front of her eyes. She has never gotten over this. This was thirty years ago. She still doesn't want to connect with me on any level. The eating disorder took so much from me and ruined my relationships with my four sisters. It still is affecting the way my sister that I live with sees me today based on what she knew of me from before. It is so sad.

As for you, I said all of this to tie into your pain and fear and worry and no you are not directly affected by the eating disorder, the mental torment, the obsessing, the fear of gaining even an ounce. But you are greatly affected by it. It is okay to admit that. It is okay for you to seek help for yourself to learn how to cope with her illness and how it affects you. It IS frustrating. It DOESN'T make sense. Logically. But we aren't dealing with logic here. Your partner may need hospitalization. Has she ever been hospitalized before? Would she do it? Sometimes the eating disorder is so severe, the sufferer like you said is unable to change. But please don't give up on her and on Hope. You are there for her and are supporting her. That is really great. But you also need to take care of yourself. Know your limits. Take a break if necessary. Just know that you are not alone on this forum. There are others who understand, and others like me who have recovered and realize how much pain I caused my family. How I put my life on hold for thirty plus years. That my actions hurt others. Not on purpose. Breaks my heart. My heart is broken over how sick my sister is and how she still sees me. I am not the same person I was. She only remembers the sick me and is so sick herself now, that she is unable to see the changes in me. I am sorry for your pain. I am glad you are reaching out. Please continue to do so.

Take care,


FCRH - Trying to maintain.


" She is such a smart, driven, determined individual…"

Honestly, it often seems that things like this are actually risk factors for developing EDs. The woman who's the head of her class, the individual who's able to bring determination and sticktoitaivness to an issue, a drive for perfection and attention to detail, all too often it's qualities like these, that are celebrated by our society, which also seem to make certain folks vulnerable to EDs.

" I studied psychology in college, and I am in training to be a medical doctor. My knowledge base for ED's is broad, and I have done all I can to understand them conceptually. And yet, here I am, frustrated beyond belief because my partner can't bring herself to eat that sandwich. "

Keep in mind what's quickly becoming an old saying in neurobiology : "Neurons that fire together wire together." Then take a look at some of the posts that you can see on the large peer-to-peer ED websites, where people are in the initial acute phases of their EDs. What you'll see the more self-aware participants complaining about is how things have reached a point in their lives where thoughts about restricting have taken up every minute of their day-to-day thinking. Among the less self-aware you'll see obsessed chilling posts that illustrate that very same thing ; Long posts where every single sentence contains one sort of number or another. When a person's brain is still in it's formative years, and those sorts of intense thoughts are filling their minds 24/7, it's easy to see how literally hard-wired a person's brain can become, and as a result, understand why such mental associations can become intractable, and so terrifically difficult to overcome.

In short, it's not an attitude issue, but a physical matter of neurological organization. Which as you are seeing, is really hard to overcome, even when the sufferer understands their situation intellectually, and wishes with all their heart to overcome it.

"Tribal wisdom" also agrees that the issue of control is a big one as well - Restriction = control. And as most of us know, being out of control can be frightening So there's a fear element that's related to control that's at work as well.

So yeah, how can people overcome this ? Dare to be imperfect ? Dare to be out of control ? When one is fighting their own brain wiring, sometimes I wonder if a willingness to take risks such as these are part of the answer.

"Each time I find myself feeling that frustration, it is immediately followed by shame and guilt. How is it fair for me to feel frustrated when SHE is the one who is suffering?"

Here's the deal though : When people have problems they are our problems too. Sure she's the one who is suffering, and we need to respect that, but as a caring person, I believe that you'd be in denial if you claimed that you were not suffering too. To be honest, you'd have more reason to feel guilt and shame if you didn't care, and if you weren't having an emotional reaction. So try not to get too down on yourself if you are having some reactions of your own. It's human nature, you know ?

In any case, I'm starting to ramble.

Keep writing ?

Bob J.

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