The Other Side of Eating Disorders

After reading “The Thinness Obsession” January 1990), we feel that it is important for others to see the problem from yet another perspective. We speak from experience; one of us is anorexic, the other is bulimic. We are respected, functional LDS women who have it “all together” in most areas of our lives. We are both college graduates, wives, and mothers of large families. We serve in auxiliary presidencies in our wards. We volunteer at our children’s schools and in community affairs, and we privately reach out to help others. We are very hesitant to make others aware that we have a problem, because we have observed that when we do so they become uncomfortable in our presence. They have trouble understanding why we are so threatened by eating situations, food, and weight. We have trouble understanding this ourselves. However, we need to know that others care.

We are dealing the best we can with our eating disorders, but we—and others in our situation—need understanding and acceptance to heal. Here are some specific ways that others can help.

  1. Do not pass judgment. Fear of being misunderstood, gossiped about, or rejected because of this disorder stands in the way of seeking help. One cannot accept help until there is trust.

  2. Respect the need for privacy concerning the illness. Do not betray trust if you are the chosen confidant.

  3. Encourage medical help. This is critical. This is a very serious illness, not a sin, and needs to be treated as such. Just as a diabetic needs medical attention because of his disease, so do those with eating disorders.

  4. Be willing to listen. One with this disorder may need to talk about things over and over again, though this may make you feel uncomfortable. It takes a long time to work through deep feelings. Don’t pry or give advice. When counseling, avoid creating guilt or shame by suggesting one is ruining her health by her behavior. It is like telling an obese person that he is destroying his health by overeating. Intellectually he or she understands this, but the feelings underlying this disorder are so deep that they override rational thinking.

  5. Be patient. Outward signs of improvement are very slow; change comes first from within—and sometimes takes years. Some feel less threatened if they are allowed to eat alone. Respect privacy and confidences. Don’t focus on size, weight, or eating habits.

  6. Encourage the person to receive priesthood blessings. They give strength in times of weakness.

There are no easy answers for eating disorders. However, with your love and understanding, as well as our Heavenly Father’s divine gift of healing, we can retain our dignity as we relearn basic eating behaviors.

Names Withheld upon Request

A League of Nations

As I sat waiting for our Relief Society board meeting to commence, I looked at the sisters and suddenly realized that we were like a league of nations. In our ward (the Perth Tenth Ward, Perth Dianella stake), our Relief Society president is Chinese, from Singapore; her counselors are Scottish and a Jersey Channel Islander; her secretary is a Maori from New Zealand. The rest of the board consists of a sister from Salvador, one from Japan, one from India, one who is half-English and half-German, and a couple of Australians. It is wonderful to see sisters from different cultures work together in harmony, doing the Lord’s work.

Edith Wemper
Hamersley, West Australia

Women of the Old Testament

Thank you for printing “Loving the Old Testament” (January 1990). I’m taking an Old Testament class at Ricks College and know how hard it can be to understand the words of Old Testament prophets. I particularly liked the part of the article about women in the Old Testament. Their faith, courage, and strength are a great example to me.

Christine Milliron
Rexburg, Idaho

When Your Spouse Is Depressed

I read with interest “Why Is My Wife (or Husband) Depressed?” (March 1990). I would like to add some suggestions of things that helped me when I was suffering from a debilitating depression.

  1. Do not contradict anything your spouse might say. However well-meant, when you express that he/she is mistaken, it adds to the problem. Instead, say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Then express your confidence in him/her by adding something like, “You really do a wonderful job at________.” And make sure that it is true; otherwise, he/she will not believe anything you say.

  2. When a person is depressed, he/she often finds the Church’s network of caring people a threat. It is best to go to the bishop yourself and express your concerns. Then you can, with the support of your bishop, fast and pray for your spouse.

  3. Often, depression doesn’t stem from anything the person has done in the past. To suggest that financial counseling, skills training, or religious counseling is the answer may merely reinforce that person’s belief that he/she is worthless.

  4. When a person is depressed, he/she has trouble understanding concrete ideas, so abstract ones—like God’s love for him/her—are nearly impossible to comprehend. Remind your spouse of your love for him/her by listening, spending time with him/her, and not criticizing. Remind him/her that if you love him/her, surely God must, too.

  5. Studying the scriptures together works wonders. My salvation came from a doctor who cared and from reading the scriptures with a person who had time for me. We found some wonderful insights: two especially good ones are in Mosiah 4:27 and 1 Corinthians 10:13. [1 Cor. 10:13] When I feel depression returning, I read those scriptures over and over.

  6. Finally, public admission of a problem must wait until the depressed person is ready. For a well-meaning spouse to say something like “You must understand that my spouse is depressed” is like dropping a bomb. When the person has recovered sufficiently, let him/her share the problem as he/she wishes.

It is possible to recover from depression, and sensitivity from others helps. Listen with your heart, not just your ears. That way, when your spouse feels close to the brink, he/she can trust you to help rather than to ignore, minimize, or deny the problem.

Name Withheld upon Request