National Eating Disorders Association

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How Can I Help?!

My wife and I have been together for almost 9 years and when I met her, she was struggling with anorexia and depression. She would go days without eating, sometimes only having a bite to eat here and there to get her through the days. She was eventually hospitalized and put in a facility for Eating Disorders for a couple days. She continued to struggle after being released and had to go to group meetings where they all ate together and she was weighed to make sure she wasn't losing any more weight. This was all 9 years ago. I know she has struggled with a negative self image over the last 9 years and has told me she's has fallen back in to old habits, but I always thought it was still under control. It wasn't until this past weekend that she admitted to me that she has been skipping meals a lot and lying to me about what she eats for lunch at work. I have no way of knowing what she does at work so I didn't see a pattern forming again. When I asked how long she has been skipping meals her response was "since before our wedding" which happened 5+ months ago. She also told me she didn't tell me because she "didn't want me to be disappointed in her". I could never be disappointed in her for going through something she has struggled with for almost a decade. I am more sad that she was hiding it from me all this time when I have been her biggest supporter since the day I met her. I just don't know how to help her. She isn't to the point where she needs to be hospitalized again, but there is always the chance it could get worse again. I suggested we prep meals together for the week so she has food options in the fridge and doesn't have to worry about ordering food from the cafe. I also told her that I am going to ask her every day what she ate for lunch, not to annoy her, but almost be a reminder that she needs to eat. I also tried to explain that her restricting her body of food and proper nutrition won't help her lose weight, because her body will go in to starvation mode since it doesn't know when it's next meal will come. I just feel like I'm not giving the correct advice or saying the right things. I am not a professional and don't have the knowledge to be there properly for her. I am trying to find a therapist for her to talk to who specializes in this but in the mean time, how can I help her?

How to help her...

Hey there.

Yes, situations like these are not the sort of situations that we are used to ! In most situations there is "something we can do" that's of a substantial nature, and where we can see some material results afterwards. We have a certain amount of control over the situation, I mean. So yes, situations like these are not like that at all, and I suspect I don't have to tell you how that can feel.

The thing with eating disorders is that the person really does need to see them as a problem and a negative thing. This needs to be their own personal feeling about it, and can't be something that we are somehow able to convince them about. And even if she thinks that it's a negative thing, that still doesn't mean that she'll be able to just turn off the influence that these old feelings and urges exert over here. It's almost as though the person is suffering under the influence of some sort of evil spell.

Plus it's likely that she already understands the effects of starvation. Most people with EDs have a pretty good idea as to what the story with eating disorders is. On an objective basis that is.

So I guess I would ask you what she thinks the solution might be ? Does she have any suggestions as to how she thinks you might help her ? Or what she thinks might help her besides your support ?

Being asked to just ignore the situation is unlikely to result in anything positive I'm afraid. The Elephant in the Room, and all that. So it's something the two of you are likely going to have to deal with sooner or later. For her, probably, because hiding all this will have a mental influence on her, but just as much for how it's going to make you feel too.