Does your spouse appear to have an eating disorder? Are you unsure on how to go about in helping your spouse overcome their eating disorder? To help understand some signs of an eating disorder and how you can help your spouse recover from an eating disorder, I have interviewed therapist Chrisanna Harrington MA, RD/LD, LMHC.
Tell me a little a bit about yourself.
“I am a Registered Dietitian and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I blend the two disciplines to treat Eating Disorders. I have a private practice in Port Charlotte, Florida.”
What are some signs a spouse has an eating disorder?
“The signs and symptoms of an Eating Disorder vary on the type of disorder. With Anorexia there is an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. An obsession with being thin. There would also be very restricted eating or pushing food around the plate and not eating anything. Many Anorexics are great cooks. They will make an elaborate meal for guests and never eat a thing! Anorexics look emaciated or like walking skeletons.
A Bulimic will be very secretive about their Binge Eating and Purging. There is a tremendous amount of ritual around the Binge and Purge. Bulimics may also be Binge Drinkers (Alcohol). There is anger and a sense of their lives evolving out of control, where in Anorexics everything is very controlled. This may be associated with a history of sexual abuse; however is not always the case. A Bulimic may not always throw up their food. An Exercise Bulimic will binge and then exercise for hours to “burn off” the calories. Bulimics may be of normal weight to being over weight. When a Bulimic finally musters enough courage to share with their mate that they have an Eating Disorder the mate may be surprised because they do not look thin. I have had many clients who completely retreat after sharing their feelings and the person responding, ‘An Eating Disorder! You do not look thin enough to have an Eating Disorder.’ Remember, not all people with an Eating Disorder look thin.
Binge Eaters may have Night Eating Syndrome. This type of Eating Disorder is not to be confused with Binge and Purging. Binge eaters do not throw-up their food. They consume a tremendous amount of food within a 2-hour period of time. Some binge eaters eat at night moving from popcorn to cookies to chips to ice cream. They may start eating as soon as they walk in the door from work. Binge Eaters are usually obese.”
What type of impact can an eating disorder have on a marriage?
“The impact on the marriage may be very subtle to having a great strain. The spouse of a person with an Eating Disorder may find that they feel very lonely in their marriage. They may feel that their spouse has a relationship with the food or restricting food instead of a relationship with them. Being in a relationship with a person with an Eating Disorder
is like being in a relationship with an addict.
The other impact is that the spouse of an Anorexic may witness their spouse become delusional and actually psychotic from malnutrition. There may also be Infertility. The spouse with the Eating Disorder will become more and more withdrawn. They also have difficulty maintaining a sexual relationship secondary to limited estrogen or testosterone. Remember, it takes fat to make hormones and if you do not eat fat, you will not make
hormones. The mortality rate of Anorexia is 20%, the highest of any psychiatric diagnosis in the DSM-IVTR.
Bulimics want their space because they are very ashamed of the Binge and Purge behaviors. The medical concern with Bulimia is that with the Binge and Purging or Laxative abuse, electrolytes may become out of balance in the body. This can cause a stroke or heart attack. Terry Shivo is a famous Bulimic case in Florida.
Binge Eaters may find intimacy in sharing food versus having sex.”
What can someone do to help his or her spouse recover from an eating disorder?
“To help a spouse with an Eating disorder make sure that first they have a full physical to assess for malnutrition or health concerns.
Next finding a treatment center or a specialist that will treat the eating disorder is important.
The main point to understand is that the Eating Disorder spouse has to want to get treatment. If they do not want treatment, they will not get better. At that point in time the spouse with normal eating will need to focus on themselves and assure they maintain normalcy in their lives.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who has a spouse with an eating disorder?
“People with Eating Disorders are suffering emotionally. There is an underlying reason for they’re out of control behavior with food. Love them; however set limits so this disease does not destroy you too.”
Thank you Chrisanna for doing the interview on how someone can help his or her spouse recover from an eating disorder. For more information on Chrisanna Harrington or her work you can check out her website on www.nutegra.com.
Eating Disorders: Questions and Answers
Athletes and Eating Disorders
Understanding Anorexia Nervosa