Inside the Mind of an Anorexic

A husband starved himself to understand his wife's disease.

ByABC News via via logo
January 19, 2009, 6:20 PM

Jan. 25, 2008— -- After giving birth to two children, Meg Cramer began an extreme diet that developed into anorexia.

She eventually hit 74 pounds, and doctors warned her husband, Tom, she would die soon if this continued.

Desperate to understand what was going on with his wife, Tom Cramer decided to starve himself.

"I thought she was weak for allowing this to happen. It wasn't until I felt that hunger that I realized that the voices she was hearing and the decisions her brain is making for her were very powerful," Tom tells ABC News.

Fighting the disease together was what helped Meg to eventually recover.

Meg and Tom Cramer always looked like the perfect couple.

Meg says when she first met Tom, "it was laugh at first sight."

From college sweethearts to picture perfect bride and groom to young parents, life always seemed to smile on the Cramers.

"People ask me, 'What's your secret?' The secret is find the right person, and everything takes care of itself after that," says Tom.

At 5 feet 1, Meg weighed 110 pounds on her wedding day. But two babies later, at 130 pounds, Meg felt less than perfect. She started a rigorous diet and exercise routine, and the weight began to come off.

"I saw her getting smaller and smaller, and for a while there it was really cool because she was teaching an aerobics class and looking great, so I got to brag to my buddies," says Tom.

The bragging didn't last long. As Meg kept losing weight she began to look way too thin, then sickly. Tom found himself making excuses for her, saying she was tired or getting over the flu. Finally, when Meg was down to 83 pounds, he ran out of excuses.

"They [doctors] told me they were shocked that she did not go into heart failure. And that's when it hit home with me that, OK, thank God she went to the hospital," said Tom.

"I had no idea what it was. They took my pulse and said, 'You can't leave. … We'd prefer if you went upstairs to the eating disorders unit,' and I said, 'No.' And I called Tom, and he said, 'I think you need to stay.'"

Her weight continued to drop to as low as 74 pounds. Her life was in danger.

Out of excuses and running out of time, Tom decided to walk a mile in his wife's shoes. He began to starve himself to help get inside the mind of an anorexic.

That's when Tom realized his wife's hunger was overpowering her brain, and she couldn't just stop dieting.

Like Tom Cramer, many family members of anorexics don't always understand that their loved one is really suffering from a disease.

"The male response is, 'Stop doing that. What's the matter with you? Eat something for God's sake.' For women, it's much more complex than that. … This is a real serious disorder," explains eating disorder psychologist Michael Bradley, author of "Heart and Soul: The Next Generation."

Tom's love helped Meg to recover. Relapse always looms, but now he knows what to do.

"I've learned enough to just let her know that I know that she's struggling, and I'm here if she needs me," says Tom.

Anorexia nearly robbed them of their relationship, but fighting it together has actually strengthened their bond.

"I hope to get to the point where I have to bite my lip one of these days … she has gained enough weight that I have to tell her that something looks tight on her. We're not there yet. But if we get there I'll tell her. That's the deal," say Tom.

Bradley pointed out that you could cross out "anorexia" and put in a thousand other problems families face, and Tom's approach could serve as a blueprint.

He believes that when families stop criticizing, stop judging and controlling, and instead just try to help and understand their loved one's struggle, that's when things start getting better.

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