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Practical tips to help with friend's current eating issue, thank you!


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Back story:  Dear friend, female, who lives far away.  She's in her 40s.  Long time complicated relationship with food and has had BED -binge eating disorder -for last number of years.  She is herself a therapist and she attends support groups, does her best. Husband, three kids under 10, mom lives with them but she is um a handful.

One month ago husband was diagnosed with late stage cancer.  He just started chemo, he will be needing surgery, I think. (Her Mom is helpful to supervise kids if they need to go somewhere especially now -chemo treatments require an hour trip each way, mobility services might not be available right now due to covid).

She told me today - that for the last 2 days she hasn't eaten.  She sees her husband unable to eat, sick from chemo side effects, weak, losing weight, and now seeing food repulses her.  She thinks it's weird (I do not).  She is upset that she already feels burnt out and they've just started down this really hard path with the cancer diagnosis.  

What tips to help her eat?  I thought of just treating food like medicine and/or try something with a strong mint flavor to trigger appetite?? Given her BED, etc. this makes perfect sense to me and I suspect this overlay of eating issues makes this current issue even harder.

Anyone go through this or similar? Certainly I can relate but honestly am at a bit of a loss to help her.  I've been supportive even before this - because as you can read she has quite a hectic life.  I've told her to hire help for at least part of what is on her plate.  I'm worried about her. (She also is diabetic).

Thank you.

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She is not asking you for help in eating. And you are far away.  The only thing you could possibly suggest is "hey, since you are at a hospital with your husband, there are people there who can help you. Maybe its a good idea to get checked out and tell them what has been going on with you." that way someone else is identifying it -- not you. She could turn against you if she is not ready to hear it . i can't tell whether she is noticing no appetite as a problem or proclaiming it as a victory.

Eating disorders are not usually *really* about food per se, but about control (if someone has felt a lack of it), body image, and many other things depending on the person.  If she had a healthy relationship with food, i could understand suggestions would be totally acceptable/supportive, but not to a person with an eating disorder because they are only going to binge it, purge, it, etc, without proper treatment. but she has to be ready to accept help. 

Really, counseling with someone who is versed in ED and medical care would be helpful, but you cannot put her on that path.  If you lived near her and were there holding her hand, you could offer different support.  But telling her what to do from a distance will have no impact.

Edited by abitbroken
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1 hour ago, Batya33 said:

One month ago husband was diagnosed with late stage cancer.  He just started chemo

This is devastating news. It feels like getting hit in the chest by a 2x4.

Just listen (or not). No eating tips.

It could come across as wanting to change the subject from the truly difficult, devastating one to giving someone dietary tips to point out her faults. 

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Posted (edited)

She shared with me in order to get my input as she’s at a loss as to how to get herself to take in nutrition.  Otherwise no I wouldn’t give dietary tips. I don’t fault her at all for not eating. She knows that. 
I’m trying to help her so she doesn’t end up being too sick to care  for her husband and children. It’s sort of like when someone has had food poisoning and knows she should eat to regain strength but has no appetite. It’s not about any ongoing dietary changes.  Just in the moment how to get herself to take in nutrition. I do know she has no time to go see a doctor or do telehealth but perhaps if this goes on she will make the time. 
 

by contrast when she’s shared about her BED I know she just wants me to listen.  And I just listen. Often she shares about issues with her zoom support group.  I just listen.  She is always very appreciative and welcoming of how I listen or validate. This is more of a concern of her getting sick from not eating due to stress and being repulsed. Which is why I asked for practical tips.  Not anything deeper.  Thanks ! 
(I shared the back story about her BED only for context but perhaps that made it seem like my advice would be related to that. It wouldn’t be. I’m worried she will physically or mentally collapse )

Edited by Batya33
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Ask her what she would like help with. Or, let her know that you are a phone call away if she needs help with the kids or anything else. It's not in your power or creativity to find a solution and she may just have something she needs doing that is not so inspiring, not so fun, not so big or impactful. It may be something as mundane as coming over to help her do laundry or mind the kids or have a cup of tea for the afternoon just to vent or have someone around to talk to. 

I'm sorry to hear this. You're a good friend. 

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8 minutes ago, Rose Mosse said:

Ask her what she would like help with. Or, let her know that you are a phone call away if she needs help with the kids or anything else. It's not in your power or creativity to find a solution and she may just have something she needs doing that is not so inspiring, not so fun, not so big or impactful. It may be something as mundane as coming over to help her do laundry or mind the kids or have a cup of tea for the afternoon just to vent or have someone around to talk to. 

I'm sorry to hear this. You're a good friend. 

Thank you !  I wrote a lot so I know it’s hard to see all the details. We’re about a three hour plane ride away.  Fun fact.  We originally met via a message board like this one. I met her in person for the first time because she got married near where I lived at the time and she invited me to her wedding !! I wish I wish I could help in person. I’ve helped so far sending her links to resources - like people who volunteer to drive cancer patients to chemo appointments.  Covid has kind of thrown a wrench into that sort of service.  So frustrating. 
we have a very strong bond and get each other so I hope I can continue to support from a distance.  Thanks so much for what you wrote Rose. 

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2 minutes ago, Batya33 said:

Thank you !  I wrote a lot so I know it’s hard to see all the details. We’re about a three hour plane ride away.  Fun fact.  We originally met via a message board like this one. I met her in person for the first time because she got married near where I lived at the time and she invited me to her wedding !! I wish I wish I could help in person. I’ve helped so far sending her links to resources - like people who volunteer to drive cancer patients to chemo appointments.  Covid has kind of thrown a wrench into that sort of service.  So frustrating. 
we have a very strong bond and get each other so I hope I can continue to support from a distance.  Thanks so much for what you wrote Rose. 

I'm sorry. I missed the part about far away. I think she knows how much you want to help. I saw on the forum last month that you wrote about a friend's husband or a friend who has cancer and I'm guessing it's this same man. That you've been thinking of them quite a lot means something. 

Cancer has a really sick way of dehumanizing so many things and the body becomes a ragdoll and pincushion for tests, surgeries, medications. It takes away so much of what feels human and I think caregivers also lose some sense of that (reality becomes a bit hazy). It may be very easy for her to lose track of time because her time is consumed with treatments and helping care for her husband. She may not want to spend time talking with you even or may not see your links. Maybe there are days when she's angry (at the world or circumstances) and just wants to vent. Other days may be silence. When her husband passes on that's when she may need her friends the most. Keeping you all in my thoughts.

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks so much -unfortunately that was likely a different family and he recently passed away.  I agree that I need to be mindful of all you wrote.  Thanks!

Edited by Batya33
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She is lacking with something very important ( needed) . Daily nutrients.  How about some of those 'Boost' drinks?

There's a few varieties.  My son has that daily. Powder kinds we mix with his milk.

Even for her to try & eat lightly, to get something into her.  Granola bars, applesauce, puddings etc - is like a snack .. She can't let herself get weak 😕 . Though it sounds like her anxiety is taking an all time high?  Is her doctor aware of all that is going on with her?

I know when my anxiety sky rocketed, I lost some weight, as I wasn't eating right at all for about 2 mos. - But, it is not a good thing .

 

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I can't eat when I'm anxious, depressed or upset.  Maybe she can try protein shakes (Ovaltine is great!) or Ensure.  They taste pretty good and have lots of vitamins and nutrients.  I also have some protein powder that can be mixed with milk or fruit juice.  I drank that when I was so extremely anxious that I lost 26 pounds (that I did not need to lose!)

I hope she and her husband are both doing much better soon.

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Gosh, this is terrible news.

Well, there are appetite stimulants. An elderly family members of mine has been taking one when needed, so I know they work. But she would need to check with a doctor first, find one that is suitable for her.

https://www.healthline.com/health/appetite-stimulant

 

Taking supplements might be another option. Again, she would need to check with a doctor first to ensure she takes some that are right for her and don't interfere with any medicine she might be taking.

Edited by greendots
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12 hours ago, SooSad33 said:

She is lacking with something very important ( needed) . Daily nutrients.  How about some of those 'Boost' drinks?

There's a few varieties.  My son has that daily. Powder kinds we mix with his milk.

Even for her to try & eat lightly, to get something into her.  Granola bars, applesauce, puddings etc - is like a snack .. She can't let herself get weak 😕 . Though it sounds like her anxiety is taking an all time high?  Is her doctor aware of all that is going on with her?

I know when my anxiety sky rocketed, I lost some weight, as I wasn't eating right at all for about 2 mos. - But, it is not a good thing .

 

Thank you and thanks for sharing about your experiences -I think this is like this.  Yes you know I was thinking of the Boost idea!  Now I remember she hates smoothies LOL but maybe I'm misremembering.  And yes -I was thinking kind of like the foods you mentioned -like when you're recovering from a stomach issue those are the go tos.  I believe she is excellent and keeping up with her doctors BUT now with this cancer diagnosis I am concerned that might wane- her taking care of herself.  

Thanks again!

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6 hours ago, greendots said:

Gosh, this is terrible news.

Well, there are appetite stimulants. An elderly family members of mine has been taking one when needed, so I know they work. But she would need to check with a doctor first, find one that is suitable for her.

https://www.healthline.com/health/appetite-stimulant

 

Taking supplements might be another option. Again, she would need to check with a doctor first to ensure she takes some that are right for her and don't interfere with any medicine she might be taking.

Oh!  Interesting!  I can see where seeing her husband unable to eat and feeling so ill can make food seem repulsive -and on top of that she still of course cooks/prepares food for her 3 kids (which from when I've felt ill is no fun so I cannot imagine this situation).

She would be meticulous in checking before taking anything.  I will see how she is doing today.  Maybe she was able to eat.  She said she hadn't mentioned it to anyone else.

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2 hours ago, Batya33 said:

Oh!  Interesting!  I can see where seeing her husband unable to eat and feeling so ill can make food seem repulsive -and on top of that she still of course cooks/prepares food for her 3 kids (which from when I've felt ill is no fun so I cannot imagine this situation).

She would be meticulous in checking before taking anything.  I will see how she is doing today.  Maybe she was able to eat.  She said she hadn't mentioned it to anyone else.

Your friend has a lot on her plate. I really hope she's doing better.

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1 hour ago, greendots said:

Your friend has a lot on her plate. I really hope she's doing better.

Yes, thank you so much.  I care for her a lot and have for many years.  And she's been there for me, too.  I don't want to bombard her with texts so I'm selective about when I check in.  

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Update. I checked up on her and she said she is doing better and was goikg to eat some pasta and salad a friend dropped off. I asked her if there is a particular food she wants and cannot access (I could send it).  Before I sent that she texted “You always encourage me and help me to feel centered again. Thank you.”   So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and I’m so glad she’s able to eat.  Thank you all and including for your well wishes for her and her family.  It all helps. 

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On 7/29/2021 at 4:15 PM, Batya33 said:

she’s at a loss as to how to get herself to take in nutrition.

I'd ask whether she might want to suggest to herself that she's eating healthy foods to gain the strength to support 'the two of us'.

So, she's eating for the team.

She's not eating instead of husband or in place of husband, but rather, she's gaining the nutrition to support him husband with strength.

 

 

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10 hours ago, catfeeder said:

I'd ask whether she might want to suggest to herself that she's eating healthy foods to gain the strength to support 'the two of us'.

So, she's eating for the team.

She's not eating instead of husband or in place of husband, but rather, she's gaining the nutrition to support him husband with strength.

 

 

Yes- I had thought of this more like food as medicine (but maybe as you suggested using something other than "medicine" in this context).  She might click with that (her mom who lives with them was a health care provider -a nurse I think -and she is a therapist so this might resonate.  Thank you!!

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2 hours ago, Batya33 said:

Yes- I had thought of this more like food as medicine (but maybe as you suggested using something other than "medicine" in this context).  She might click with that (her mom who lives with them was a health care provider -a nurse I think -and she is a therapist so this might resonate.  Thank you!!

Describing the nutrition itself is one thing, but because husband can't eat, that's what's choking her closed. So the key might be for her to view her own intake as 'eating for the team'.

In other words, "He can't eat, so I'm taking in the strength for the BOTH of us."

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