Today is the day I have been waiting for. Today is the day I get to introduce you all to the most amazing man in the world – my husband – Ryan Hudson! This incredibly strong, courageous and tender-hearted man of God has been generous enough to share his experience of my eating disorder from the spouse’s perspective.
I cannot lie – just last night we held hands on the couch with tears in our eyes as we reflected on how far God has carried us. As we re-visited some of the darkest moments of my eating disorder, we were reminded of the soul-level scarring this disorder inflicted on us individually and on our marriage. We celebrate how greatly God has redeemed and restored us as individuals, and how he has touched our marriage in the years following this disorder.
I pray you will take time to read Ryan’s words, particularly if you are supporting someone with an eating disorder. I pray that his story helps to normalize your experience and breathe hope into your journey.
Loving Through Disorder
By Ryan Hudson
Eating disorders are an all-consuming mental battle for those involved. And for the friends, partners, and loved ones who don’t live in every second of that battle, it can be a little difficult for us to relate. When we speak, we have no idea how our words are internalized into their battle, and we will inevitably make mistakes along the way.
When Ashley first asked me to guest post, I must be honest, I was a little nervous. Not only because she is an incredible writer, or because of her ability to boldly share her experience- but because of what it would require of me. Revisiting my thoughts, conversations, and emotions can be extremely difficult, and harder than I initially realized. Healing is a journey not only for the individuals suffering through an eating disorder, but for their loved ones as well.
I want to use this post to begin to share my story and some things I’ve learned along the way. As Ashley wrote more on eating disorders, it became apparent to us both that while support and stories existed for those struggling, there weren’t many resources or journeys shared by those who are loving and supporting the victims.
When I was growing up, one’s weight, body shape, or size was rarely mentioned. My parents taught us that eating too much food was bad – obviously you don’t want to be one piece of fried chicken from a heart attack – but there wasn’t much emphasis on body shape. By personal preference, an active lifestyle was important to me. While I never enjoyed working out in a gym, I spent my time playing soccer, snowboarding, and being outside. This was simply enough for me. As Ashley and I became more involved in each other’s lives, it became apparent my experience with food and body image was different.
One day while we were in middle school, Ashley and I were riding back from a church event when she commented that she had forgotten to eat lunch. I tried to share some of my food with her, but she declined. Even through our middle school flirting I could tell that something wasn’t quite normal.
As our friendship turned to dating, I began to see meals skipped. I would comment, encourage her, remind her of her beauty, but it seemed to fall to deaf ears. It would become increasingly discouraging for me as I became more aware of the dangers of her eating disorder. I felt my attempts to intervene became useless in pursuit of her safety and health.
Once we were engaged, the notion of “fitting into the dress” became the new obsession. Her every waking moment: every meal, every exercise, and most conversations surrounded feeling beautiful on our wedding day. I continued to try and encourage and affirm her, even helping to arrange healthy meals, but again my involvement felt meaningless.
The whirlwind surrounding our wedding grew. Suddenly, we found ourselves living in Colorado, 1,700 miles away from friends and family – just the two of us.
Our first year of marriage often felt as though we were living in a pressure cooker. For the first time in our lives, we lived in the same zip code. For the first time in 4 years, we would not have to tell one another bye at the end of August to return to school. And, for the first time in our lives, I would be present for almost every major meal Ashley ate.
I can’t imagine how hard this year must have been for Ashley. I witnessed a vicious cycle that existed within her life that had remained unexposed, untouched, and unchallenged for years. She would eat what she felt was too much at dinner, and go to bed upset. She would wake up upset, fueling her desire to go to the gym. Two hours later she would come back from the gym, triumphant. The day would progress, lunch and dinner would happen, then the cycle would continue.
As I asked more questions and pressed into her actions, I uncovered something that seems to be true for both men and women who struggle with eating disorders: they are never enough unless their metric is met.
Even though Ashley had struggled with math and numbers her entire life, she has a Rain Man-like ability to count calories. A quick glance at any plate of food and Ashley could tell me exactly how many calories were on it, correlate that to the sum of her consumption so far that day, and explain how long she would need to work out while doing whatever exercise to work off that meal. I tested this for several weeks, amazed at our differences.
To me? Steak. Big beautiful steak. To her? 736-740 calories, 55 something grams of fat. Slowly, I began to connect the dots.
For Ashley, there was always a number or metric that she must achieve to accept herself. Waist, bra size, BMI, weight – it didn’t ultimately matter. Until she achieved her goal, she felt as though she wasn’t enough.
One night as we were getting ready for bed, Ashley began getting upset about “her stomach rolls.” For those who live with people suffering though eating disorders, emotional melt downs like these tend to become normal. I walked over to her, told her how beautiful she was, and tried to encourage her.
I knew that for some reason this night, even though Ashley didn’t believe what I was saying, she at least found comfort in the fact that I believed what I was saying.
Finally a question hit me, so I asked her. “Ash, what percent of your thoughts are spent thinking about your body, the food you are eating, or working out?” “I don’t know maybe 70-80%” was her reply.
This conversation started a journey for Ashley and I. A journey that, in some ways, we are still on. For the first time, I was beginning to clearly see some of the differences between us. The understanding that a majority of her time was consumed by the way she thought she looked was foundational in the way that I began to communicate with her.
Though this conversation was pivotal, there really was no clear “turning point,” at least not for me. Often I felt as her eating disorder would never get better, and there were moments I became so entangled in the process that I felt I was part of the problem. Until I began to understand that I couldn’t fix her – that I couldn’t make her change – that is when I found peace for myself in this storm.
Just as battling the eating disorder was draining on Ashley, I found myself with linked frustrations. I continuously felt hopeless and frustrated. It felt like this disorder was controlling every inch of our marriage, like I was constantly walking on eggshells. Some nights I couldn’t be involved when she experienced her emotional breakdown, and I knew that she would have to learn to navigate those difficult moments without me. As hard as it was, I learned that her actions – her binging, her purging, her over exercising, and her emotional breakdowns – were not my fault.
I discovered I had to refocus my approach to communicating with Ashley about her body and her beauty.
Ultimately, I learned that our lives, while living in the same story, had two very different journeys. My job was to be her coach, support, friend, and husband. But I could not be her Savior. That is God’s job. I had to learn to point her to Jesus instead of trying to rescue her. I had to differentiate myself from the battle and see that God was responsible for her healing and breakthrough, not me. He would teach me to be an instrument in her breakthrough – but the process was not my responsibility.
It would take millions of words to adequately express my experience through Ashley’s eating disorder – a journey that impacted 10 years of my life. To be honest, the process of writing this very entry has been taxing not only because I felt undone in re-visiting these painful experiences, but because I realized while writing this that I am still very much in process. That I am still in the process of learning what burdens I have carried that I was never intended to carry. I am still in a process of acknowledging what damage Ashley’s eating disorder had on my spirit and pursuing emotional healing for myself. But isn’t that the point of this blog? To admit that we are all in process and that is okay.
Ashley is no longer actively battling an Eating Disorder. God has rescued her. But, there are still bruises, bumps and scars that were incurred through our journey that deserve recognition and attention. They require tough conversations. They require humility and repentance. They require God’s healing touch.
We are grateful for how God has restored our marriage in the years following the eating disorder. We have each taken very intentional and vital steps in our personal healing. In a future post, I hope to share more about my journey toward healing and how, exactly, Ashley and I have pursued relational restoration in the wake of this eating disorder. But, for now, I want to finish by sharing 5 ways you can partner with God in supporting your loved one with an eating disorder.
1. Build Trust
Our entire lives are built on trust. Eating disorders corrode our loved ones ability to trust the words of the people around them. “What are they saying behind my back?” “Do you think they’re talking about how big I am?” “They’re making fun of how much I eat, I know it.” Questions, thoughts, and fears such as these are on repeat in the mind of someone with an eating disorder. If you are going to be someone who partners with one suffering through an eating disorder, you must be a safe place for her.
Trust must be built, and usually this can only happen over time. Simply being a consistent source of affirmation or physically present during breakdowns can help start this process.
2. Ask good questions
Asking Ashley, “What percent of your time do you spend thinking about your body?” was the eye opening question that increased my awareness of how pervasive the eating disorder was. When the person with the disorder trusts that you have their best intentions in mind, it opens the door for you to ask harder and deeper questions. These questions are for your benefit as much as hers.
Remember that you may be the first person to whom she has ever disclosed a deep and dark fear. Every question you ask will open up another layer of your loved one. Sometimes your questions go nowhere, and that’s ok. Sometimes you will upset them more, sometimes they will storm out of the room, it’s ok. Be consistent. Be loving. Be present.
3. Consistently acknowledge beauty
I found this to be tricky because at first I realized I was complimenting Ashley when she felt her best. I learned that it was really helpful for me to acknowledge her beauty in the glamorous moments, and in the mundane moments of life. When she noticed her beauty, and when she did not.
This means I spoke of her beauty after her workout, before her workout, when she had bedhead pre-coffee, and when we were on a date. I also made an effort to affirm non-visible attributes such as her love for people. It is important to affirm and acknowledge the beauty within in addition to the external beauty.
4. Learn triggers
As you ask better questions, you begin to learn things that trigger your loved ones. I learned that when Ashley would hear other people discuss people’s body size, even if it was a compliment, she would internalize that as a standard she must adopt. My quickness to agree or disagree with them would cement this “standard” in her mind. I decided that any mention of anyone’s physique was unhelpful and, therefore, I would remain silent on the subject.
Other examples of triggers include discussing how much food is on a dinner plate, or how their plate is empty after a meal, talking about eating habits, asking about an outfit size, etc.
5. Help Build confidence
Confidence is slowly built and is ultimately birthed as she settles into her identity in God – and as she accepts how He made her – physically, mentally and emotionally. Confidence is not founded because a spouse did or said anything or because I followed some 5 step process toward healing. Confidence was instilled in Ashley as she began to trust God’s design. As she began to trust that I actually found her to be beautiful.
This confidence empowered her to wear that dress she had been considering, to get more food or dessert, or to even go a day without working out. And, as I have told her countless times, nothing is more beautiful than her confidence.