National Eating Disorders Association

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my wife has been suffering from anorexia for a lot of years.
she recently started a fast and I don't know what i can do to help her. I am very worried, she can hardly move anymore and i don't know how to tell how bad it actually is.
should i force her to see a doctor (maybe call one to come).
what can i do to help her and how do i know that she is safe fasting like this?
should i buy her vitamins or something? HOW CAN I HELP AND MAKE SURE SHE STAYS ALIVE?
I need advice and guidance on what i should be doing.

Signs of Medical Emergency

Hi ethanrj - you mentioned some concerning symptoms in your post, and we wanted to make sure to affirm that this is a sign for which you may need to seek immediate medical attention. The following are just some of the signs of a serious problem that demands immediate medical attention:

  • accidentally or deliberately caused themselves a physical injury
  • become suicidal
  • confused thinking and is not making any sense
  • delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (experiencing things that aren’t there)
  • disoriented; doesn’t know what day it is, where they are or who they are
  • vomiting several times a day or has uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea
  • experiencing dizziness or fainting spells
  • too weak to walk or collapses
  • painful muscle spasms
  • experience pain in the lower legs
  • complaining of chest pain or having trouble breathing
  • blood in their bowel movements, urine or vomit
  • a body mass index (BMI) of less than 16
  • an irregular heartbeat, and fast heartbeat, or very low heart beat (less than 50 beats per minute)
  • cold or clammy skin indicating a low body temperature or has a body temperature of less than 35 degrees Celsius/95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • experience dizziness, nausea, fever
  • wounds/cuts heal slowly
  • feel tingling in the hands or feet
  • blurred vision

If you experience anything above, we highly recommend seeking help from a medical professional as soon as possible. Seek medical help soon on an outpatient basis if you:

  • have significant heartburn and/or a burning sensation after eating
  • have other gastrointestinal concerns
  • have high blood pressure
  • struggle with significant joint or muscle pain
  • have difficulty sleeping (falling and/or remaining asleep)
  • struggle with fatigue, sudden weight gain, and/or hair loss
  • have frequent urination or unquenchable thirst
  • have gained and lost significant weight repeatedly
  • have gained significant weight in a short period of time
  • struggle with chronic diarrhea or constipation

 Please do not hesitate to call the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237 (Monday-Thursday 9:00am-9:00pm, Friday 9:00am-5:00pm EST) if you need help finding resources and support. Please take care.

Ethan - Fasting.

People with anorexia can involve themselves in some pretty extreme fasting. And they do so for various psychological reasons. So there are a couple of different angles to this.
First of all, the person usually has some kind of goal in mind. What I mean is, they generally aren't planning to fast forever - they are usually working towards something that ( like with a lot of things that have to do with EDs ) has to do with some kind of number. I'm not sure how good your communication is with your wife, but it would probably help matters if she could let you know what her goal is.
The second thing has to do with whatever it is that set all this off. The psychological end of things. Usually something has been triggering. It can be something important, or something that would seem minor to us. She might be ashamed to tell you what it is.
If she can't tell you what it is, or if it seems based on depression or just generalized hopelessness, that's more alarming. The hopelessness angle is always what worries me the most when I hear about it. People who feel like they don't deserve to live anymore, if you see what I am getting at.
Is she passing out or falling down ? Folks who are fasting often pass out, and if you see this happen, it's your golden opportunity to get her to the doctor or to the ER. Get some blood tests done and generally check her vital signs.
Of course if she's so weak that she can hardly move, she already deserves a doctor's attention. You know her better than I, and how willing she'd be to subject herself to that. It can be difficult to get someone to go to the doctor, but if you see an opportunity for that (fainting or falling, or other obvious signs of ill health) you'll want to take advantage of that.
I'm not sure how receptive she's going to be to you trying to "help her" with her fast, or whether you should see that as your responsibility at all, but pretty much anyone can get themselves in trouble from lack of proper electrolytes, particularly people who fast. So that's something you may want to look into. People can get dehydrated too.
But yeah, when it comes to the nitty gritty, you should see if she can tell you when she plans to stop doing this, and get back to gaining some nutrition. If she's feeling lousy, she's sure to know that this sort of thing can't go on forever, in any sort of way that's ever going to pass for healthiness.
So yes, what's her plan, and how is she planning to address the psychological aspects that got her into this in the first place ? If her answers are vague or too fatalistic, you may find yourself needing to take steps that are more firm than what you've been comfortable with in the past.
Keep writing ?

Edited your post!

Hi Bob - your post had to be slightly edited because you included specifics about disordered eating which can be triggering to others. You can take a look at our Community Guidelines here: Thank you for understanding and please continue posting!