In an earlier article, I mentioned that people with eating disorders are masters
of deceit and lying. It might be hard for others to understand that their loved ones could and would lie to them, but believe
me.... they will. Sometimes it is far easier for the anorexic or bulimic to act like they are getting better than
it is for them to actually start getting better.
For example. A young woman
I know spent several months living with her parents while participating in an intensive outpatient treatment
program. Her parents watched her like a hawk, forcing her to sit and eat meals with them, and not letting her use the restroom
for a few hours after she would eat. Soon, her routine would be to retire to her room after meals to read. Her parents
felt so good that that they were participating in her recovery by doing this. What they didn't know was that she was retiring
to her room, turning up the radio, and throwing up into ziplock bags. The next day she would put the baggies in her back
pack and leave for the day. At some point during the day, she would throw the baggies into a random dumpster before going
home to start the cycle all over again. This went on for several months, and her parents could not understand how she continued
to lose weight. Could not understand, that is, until her mother happened to stop by the hospital one day while she was in
the outpatient program, to get something out of her car. Her mother found her backpack full of these disgusting baggies
of vomit. She said later that she hadn't realized the lengths her daughter would go to to lose weight.
Now I realize that is a gross example, but I want to impress on you how serious the secrets
and lies can be. Here are some other examples...
You may sit down to lunch
with an anorexic and by the end of the lunch her plate is nearly empty. You compliment her on eating such a good meal ... not knowing that she has a napkin full of sandwich parts in her purse.
And did you notice that the french fries weren't actually eaten, they were broken into teeny, tiny peices and hidden under
that big, green lettuce leaf?
You may ask the bulimic when she last purged,
and she may tell you it's been several weeks. "Good Job!" you say, not knowing that she called in sick the day
before to spend the entire day binging and purging. Not knowing that after the 14th purge episode yesterday, she swallowed
a handful of laxative pills to clean out any extra calories that might remain in her system.... and then spent the night
curled up in pain on the bathroom floor.
I know that when my friends and
used to ask me how I was doing, how much I weighed, and if I was still purging.... I would lie. I didn't feel good about
lying to these people I loved, but I also didn't want to disappoint them with the truth. Plus, if I told them the truth,
they might take more extreme steps to force me into recovery, and at the time I just wasn't ready for that.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Just like an alcoholic or drug addict, you CANNOT
force a person with an eating disorder to recover. That person has to come to a realization that THEY want to get better.
Then they can start taking the steps towards their recovery. If you try to force recovery upon them, they will lie, cheat
and steal to continue their precious disorder. How are friends and family affected by an anorexic's or bulimic'sHow
family and friends are affected. What can you do to help? Take a look at What can you do?.
Another offshoot of this are the rituals. Crazy little
secret habits that no one besides the person with the disorder knows about.I don't know if all anorexics and bulimics have
rituals, but I know that many that I know and have corresponded with, do.
my case, I had a few secret little things that I did, that still follow me to this day. One was that my plate had to be
very neat. No food
items on the plate touching, or mixing together. (I still hate when that
happens). Another was my 10 letter words. Rather than concentrate on the meal in front of me, I would try to think of 10
letter words. (California, Disneyland, etc.) I would silently count off the letters in my head and imagine myself counting
off the letters on my fingers. I would also do this in stressful situations, such as when being confonted by a doctor or
family member about my disorder. Rather than concentrate on what they were saying, I would be counting off letters in my
I knew a recovering anorexic who would not eat a thing on her plate
until she had cut everything into quarters. The roll would be quartered, the big pile of rice would be pushed into four
little piles of rice, the chicken would
would be cut into four even pieces
and the little circles of carrots were stacked into four little towers. For a long time, she would only allow herself to
eat only one quarter of all the food (if that). I'm pleased to report that after a long period in a group and outpatient
treatment, she was eating the food as it was... eating as much as she wanted.... and stopping when she felt full. (To the
best of my knowledge, she is still doing well with her recovery!)
anorexics and bulimics I know would stop at 7-11 and guzzle one or more 44oz. sodas (diet, of course), before going to their
doctor to be weighed (The dreaded "Weigh In"). Their thinking, of course, was that the soda would increase their
weight a bit, and trick the doctor into thinking they had gained, or at least not lost, weight. I've also known people who
would hide rolls of quarters or small weights in their pockets before a weigh in. All to disguise their true weight.
Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky.
Once a person with
an eating disorder has figured out that they DO have a problem, and that they DO want to take steps to getting better, letting
go of some of their secrets and rituals can be a big part of it. Secrets lose their power when they are no longer
Oct 16, 1998
- © Heather Mudgett.
A Note From Addictions.net & Debbi Kuehnel -
From my 29 years of experience, the above is 'MILD' compared to what I have witnessed with clients in treatment.
Bless their souls this illness causes people to act in unimaginable ways. In most cases the behaviors I have seen do
not constitute the real values of the individual. It speaks to the severity of the illness. I am not interested in giving
the details b/c I have no intention to give people ideas for increasing their 'secrecy and rituals'. Suffice
it to say - the behavior can become significantly worse.