A subject very rarely spoken about but one that surrounds my life; living with someone with an eating disorder or depression. So often the person on the other side has to remain strong, so strong in fact their emotion has to almost be nullified to protect their loved one from further unhappiness. Living with someone with an eating disorder or depression is undeniably difficult and often the person supporting can be doing everything within their power yet feel so helpless.
I have worked with many people over the years that have low self-esteem and very little self-confidence to the extreme where they are at the point of taking their own life, as they can no longer live with the pain they are suffering. From a professional standing I really enjoy helping these people and in fact I find it rewarding to help give a new lease of life. This is how my relationship with my partner first began; in his words “I literally saved his life”!! This doesn’t mean he is fixed for life, he is still recovering which is a slow process which has its highs and lows, the lows are just becoming far less.
Being his coach was the easy part… We then entered a relationship, crossing the line from being his coach to now being his partner, the roles change naturally and I have now experienced the difficulties people face when living with someone with an eating disorder. I have to say, this is somewhat of a challenge for me, and I can only imagine if its hard for myself with the professional experience I have, it must be extremely difficult and agonising for someone with no experience or knowledge.
Although I am not professionally qualified to practice as a therapist I have the intuitive ability and the life experience to be able to try and help others out there combat this mentally destructive illness for both the victim and the partner equally struggling in their own ways. Having had eating disorders myself and still battle with body image and now living with someone who has had Bulimia for 14 years; I can relate to all concerned.
I hope this article may someway be able to help those who are facing difficulties living with someone who is suffering from emotion connections with food, body image issues and eating disorders. To think that it will just go or the “phase’ will pass would be very naïve and foolish. This illness and mind-set runs far deeper than just someone just “feeling fat or overweight”. The cause of the symptom will be deeply rooted and often stem back from childhood, lack of self-belief and lack of attention as a child or feeling alone can trigger eating disorders. I remember thinking one day what was the cause for my eating disorder to surface. I have never sought help but found my answers through self -reflection and experience of listening and understanding others was part of my healing process. Feeling isolated or developing a need for reassurance can often lead to a person developing a desire to lose weight, not just a little but enough weight that it will be physically obvious so that people start taking note of them.
With this in mind it can mean that someone suffering an eating disorder may feel totally isolated or undervalued therefore feel should if they physically change the way someone sees them so they would be seen again recognition; even if this means they are recognised for looking poorly. I have learnt that in society when someone looks like they may be suffering severe weight loss we avoid talking about it, we fear upsetting or highlighting to them they may look poorly as it may be seen as judgment or discriminatory. Remember; the person suffering may be feeling isolated and lonely therefore by avoiding them or stepping away can make this person retract further into their depression.
The first step has to begin with communication; understanding someone and allowing them to openly speak is so important. I know in my busy life and schedule I can often get consumed with day-to-day life and stresses; this can sometimes be a trigger for my partners eating disorder usually because he harbours his feeling or concerns about himself to not put additional stress on to me. As communication lessens someone with an eating disorder can easily retract back to his or her old ways that is because it feels “safe”. This is difficult for someone to always consider because I think as a society we have become less focused on communicating and social media has created a huge barrier between people.
Positive mind-set is near on impossible to find with someone with depression therefore as a bystander and supporting someone it is imperative you learn to make the environment positive and good energy. I often find that having small achievable goals is something of a “feel good factor’. A feeling of achieving however small it may be is enough to encourage positivity. Often people search for a purpose, people need purpose in order to feel fulfilled and also to feel they have any contributory factors in life, should a person feel they have no purpose they will feel extremely disheartened and low self belief takes a grip.
“You are not alone or abnormal to feel the way you do”
A phrase I find I use on a regular basis. To feel you do not fit into society, you are abnormal and no one understands your mind is excruciating, sometimes a little reassurance goes a long way. I know it may seem such a minor thing to say but knowing that is acceptable to have the feelings one may have can carry in itself a lot of influence. Again this comes down to the importance of communication and speaking openly to the individual to allow them to feel it is okay to share their feelings. Not everyone likes to speak openly and it feels a burden to put problems onto someone however shutting the door and hoping it will go away can make things much worse.
Following structure that works
A “healthy eating plan” doesn’t always cut it, it is simply not enough for someone suffering with an eating disorder; to try and rebuild their life with just “eating healthy” t hiswill likely be short lived. Through my experiences people struggle to be consistent and it is hard to break old habits without having specific structure that one can trust. As humans we like routine, we are habitual, it is where we feel safe and secure. Our mind is often more content when we know where we are at, the same goes for people that have an emotional connection to food. The less one has to think about this the better. In my situation my partner even went to the lengths of studying nutrition to try and understand more about food; this still was not enough as he was still in control of creating his nutrition plan therefore in his mind he found himself questioning himself and also talking himself out of eating certain food choices or quantities. Giving someone a tailored eating plan with a variety of choices yet at the same time having their exact measurements to the gram will provide them with the structure and also the comfort they need to feel they are to grips with their food.
Having a goal.
Like with having a purpose, people like to fulfil challenges and goals however big or small. This is something I have found works really well through training and exercising. The reason for this is someone feels they are accomplishing each and every session and with the right programme the results reflect back and they become contented as they see changes occurring. I know for my situation Bradley takes strides forward when his eating plan and training is in full swing. Over the Xmas period I challenged Bradley further, I took away his strict eating regime and gave him a goal throughout December where he would stay on track with his diet but then had to allow some freedom and flexibility but on the terms from the start, that wasn’t to allow his mind to swim with guilt.
This small challenge was to try and combat obsession with following such strict regime and to try and develop a better relationship with food. The flexibility was for meals out and for our relationship. This is something I know can be a real challenge for those living with someone with an eating disorder as meals out and events are virtually impossible to enjoy. Having the strict diet plan with some pre agreed flexibility allows one trying to recovery to rebuild and have stability. As for your relationship, yes it may mean there is a little less spontaneity but it means that you can plan and enjoy times together without the elephant in the room. When going out for a meal, I would advise not to put pressure onto the other person for their food choices and to try to find a restaurant that has nice clean quality food. I have learnt that sometimes it does not even need to be the meal they choose to eat that makes them feel uneasy it may be the smells or the environment that kick-starts the mind-set.
It is so difficult to remain positive and the road can appear to be endless but every small step forwards is progress. I always said to Bradley, taking big strides leaves big spaces to fall back into, small baby steps covers all the ground to prevent falling back into old ways.