On Loving Someone With an Eating Disorder: Questions and Answers
For this piece, I interviewed my husband, David Belchick, about his perspective on various aspects of my illness, treatment, and recovery. David and I met during our first year of undergrad, and we have been together for 13 years, married since 2004. We live in Boston where, a few months ago, we were blessed with our first child, a healthy, precocious and stunning daughter, Isabel Leighton.
Q: How has your understanding of eating disorders (EDs) changed since I was sick?
A: It has changed in many ways, the most important of which is that I now understand that an eating disorder is not the person’s fault. I get how complex an eating disorder can be to cure and how insidious it is in taking over all parts of the sufferer’s life.
Q: What is your greatest regret in all of this?
A: Not seeing that the woman I loved had a very serious problem so I could intervene and help early, before the illness became so ingrained. I also regret not finding resources for myself, so I would be able to be the best advocate for you and help you argue against the terrible things your head was telling you.
Q: Of what are you most proud throughout my treatment of anorexia?
A: I don’t know if “proud” is the word I would use, but I am most grateful for the fact that you are alive. I’m amazed that you were able to have a baby and that you’re able to get up out of bed every day and go through what, at times, has been utter hell (both with the illness and with your treatment!). And I guess I am even more impressed with how you have never stopped trying and how you still seek to help other people who suffer…you never run out of kindness.
Q: What do you feel you have lost most to anorexia?
A: Our time together. We lost so many years, because we weren’t able to live life with real joy…because it was debilitating and took so much for you just to breathe. Time is something you can never get back. We’ve lost so much.
Q: What do you think we’ve gained from my illness, treatment and recovery?
A: Pounds! Sorry… I think the biggest thing is an appreciation for the capacity of the human body and spirit to be repaired. And I’ve gained a greater appreciation for people who treat ED sufferers.
Q: What has been the most important piece of advice someone has given you about my illness?
A: The best advice I have received was that the anorexia is not your fault and that you really want to get better—you just don’t feel you deserve to be well. And the most I can do to help you is to constantly remind you and show you that you deserve to live, and to live abundantly.
Q: Three words to describe this journey to recovery:
Q: What words of wisdom would you give others who are so intimately supporting someone struggling with an eating disorder?
A: Remember it’s the illness’ fault, not the sufferer’s. There are many times things can be really frustrating, but you have to remember that it can—and will—get better. Don’t let the frustration get to you. Be as involved as you can in treatment, and know that you are not alone in your role.
Make sure you are informed about theory and practice. Don’t assume that the doctors or treatment providers are infallible and, therefore, the ultimate authority on your loved one’s illness. This is not to say that they don’t know what they’re doing, but I’ve seen providers and treatment centers that are just not the right fit for the patient.
There are no quick solutions or magic pill for eating disorders. The sufferer wants to get better, but she just doesn’t know how. Don’t make comments about appearances or weight. Don’t make the mistake of being the food police. Always believe that she’s going to get better. It’s a very long journey from the depths of an ED to a point of wellness, but it can be done and you can help. Love her until you think you are getting through. And then love her some more.
By Robyn L. Hunter
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2006 Volume 4, Number 2
©2006 Gürze Books
About the Author
Robyn L. Hunter describes herself today as ED behavior free, healthy, and happy.