The agony of loving a slim woman who thinks she's fat: Lindsey has struggled with eating disorders since her teens – and it's not just her life that's been ruined
00:19 GMT, 4 April 2012
Support: Tom Flint, 39, and Lindsey Rosa, 31, at home in Norfolk. The couple have struggled with Lindsey's eating disorder for 12 years
The last time it happened was a fortnight ago. Tom Flint walked downstairs after reading a bedtime story for his children to find his partner Lindsey staring woodenly into space.
His heart sank. He knew that look all too well. It was one racked with self-loathing and shame, concentration furrowing her brow as she battled to ignore the barrage of cruel insults in her head — ones only she could hear.
Tom suppressed a sigh. He had inner voices of his own — impatient, exasperated ones urging him to shout: ‘For God’s sake, what the hell is it now!’ at the pale, distraught woman on the sofa.
Instead, he sat down next to her and gently took her hand: ‘What’s happened, love’ he said.
An agonising silence preceded the answer Tom already knew. ‘I’ve had a binge,’ she said quietly.
What Lindsey, 31, meant was that she had used the time while Tom was upstairs with their children, Nina, seven, and four-year-old Stanley, to sneak off to the bathroom and make herself sick.
It followed a momentary loss of control during which she had ‘binged’ on two biscuits. She had a strict, self-imposed, daily allowance of what she considered danger foods, and any transgression panicked her to the point where she felt compelled to vomit.
Lindsey, a seemingly happy, confident mother-of-two living a charmed life in a large, four-bedroom, 19th-century house in Norfolk, has battled anorexia and bulimia all her adult life.
While the plight of sufferers — predominantly women — has long been documented, rarely heard is the voice of the husbands and partners who live with this illness every day.
Tom, a 39-year-old journalist, has been with Lindsey for 12 years, and has never known her to be completely free of anorexia. It’s a disease she has fought since the age of 15, and has seen her weight fluctuate wildly between 5st and 11st.
Over the years, Tom has had to endure
holidays blighted by Lindsey’s obsessive exercise bouts, meals out
ruined by her terror of even the sight of a menu and a virtually
non-existent sex life due to Lindsey’s repulsion at her own body and her
incredibly low self-esteem.
‘Often I find Lindsey standing in
front of the bedroom mirror when she’s getting dressed in the morning,
grabbing hold of her flesh and telling herself: “I’m hideous,” ’ says
‘She tells me she has
negative thoughts about herself running through her head continually,
from the moment she gets up until the moment she goes to bed.’
Lifelong plight: Lindsey, pictured here in an old holiday snap, has battled anorexia since she was 15
It has, he admits, pushed their relationship to the very brink. In a brutally honest confession, he admits he was even driven to the point, six years ago, where he went out and indulged in a drunken one-night stand, which he bitterly regrets. Yet, the couple have stayed together, largely due to Tom’s refusal to allow the disease to destroy the woman, and the family, he adores. ‘I do love her and would rather be in a relationship with Lindsey, even with her anorexia, than be with anyone else,’ he says.
'She thinks she's hideous and can't enjoy sex'
The bulimic lapse two weeks ago was the first for many weeks and was sparked by a chance remark at the school gates from one of the other mums.
She’d said how ‘hot’ one of the other mothers looked in a pair of heels, an observation which left Lindsey feeling inadequate and stressed.
Tom knows that Lindsey’s reaction to such situations may seem ridiculous to others, but he would never trivialise the impact they have on her.
‘I do get impatient sometimes, but I try not to get angry, as it doesn’t help either of us,’ he says.
‘As this is such a constant problem for us, there’s no point in exhausting myself by trying to fix it, because I can’t.’
Camera shy: Tom and Lindsey met in 2000. He says he first noticed how much weight she was losing while on a weekend away in Amsterdam. Her clothes were hanging off her and she hated having her picture taken
Instead, Tom tries to identify the positive signs of progress: the fact that Lindsey has maintained a healthy weight of 9st for many years or that, apart from the occasional setback, she no longer feels compelled to binge regularly on biscuits and cakes before making herself sick — behaviour she has gradually reined in during her time with Tom.
Also, Tom prides himself on the fact that Lindsey feels able to confide in him about her deepest insecurities, including her lapses. He knows she needs his support and reassurance if she is not to be driven to fighting her demons in secret.
'Just seeing a menu
sent her into a panic'
‘When I think back on the progress Lindsey has made over the years, I know one day we will beat it,’ he says optimistically.
The couple met in 2000, when Tom went to visit some friends at a flat in Norwich where Lindsey was staying.
‘I remember seeing this fragile young girl, with short, spiky red hair walk into the room,’ he says. ‘She looked so naive and innocent, and when she sat down and started talking to me, I immediately felt comfortable with her.’
Tom didn’t realise that the friends in the flat considered Lindsey a bit of an oddity, and couldn’t understand why he was so attracted to her.
It wasn’t until after the couple had shared their first kiss at the end of the night that Lindsey, then aged 20, confessed she’d been discharged from an eating disorder clinic a year earlier. Lindsey explains: ‘I was raised in a devoutly religious household, where friends, clothes and lifestyle were closely monitored, and I grew up a very insecure and lonely child.
Troubled: Tom says he felt an immediate spark upon meeting a 20-year-old Lindsey, a 'fragile young girl' who 'looked so naive and innocent'. She later revealed she had checked herself into an eating disorder clinic at 18
‘I was always a bit plump and was teased both at school and at home by my family. At secondary school the teasing turned to proper bullying. Two girls in particular used to make comments about my legs “looking like they were joined together at the top” because they were so fat.
‘/04/04/article-2124801-1221378E000005DC-1000_634x491.jpg” width=”634″ height=”491″ alt=”Step by step: Lindsey's lapses are frustrating for both her and Tom, but they hang on to any little signs of progress. Six years ago, however, Tom cracked under the strain and was driven to a one-night stand” class=”blkBorder” />
Step by step: Lindsey's lapses are frustrating for both her and Tom, but they hang on to any little signs of progress. Six years ago, however, Tom cracked under the strain and was driven to a one-night stand
Gradually, over the next six months, noting Tom’s concern, Lindsey began to open up more to him, determined to seize control of the disease.
She says: ‘I hated being so needy and felt guilty that Tom was sacrificing so much for me. I felt very confused, not being able to trust my emotions because of my anorexia. I didn’t know if I loved him or was just frightened of being alone.’
With Tom’s support — and his cooking every weekend, which Lindsey forced herself to eat even though she couldn’t bear to watch the preparation process through fear of spotting a ‘dangerous’ fattening ingredient — she managed to regain weight and the couple bought a house together a year later. For the first time since her teens, Lindsey’s periods returned and in 2004 they were surprised and delighted when she became pregnant.
‘Sex was still very infrequent — maybe once a month — and with Lindsey’s history of low body weight we hadn’t really expected it would happen,’ says Tom.
‘The possibility that we wouldn’t be able to have children hadn’t really concerned me. I tend to be a very optimistic person, and I always thought we’d find a way somehow.’
For Lindsey, it marked the turning point and she became determined to overcome her illness.
‘I took my responsibility as a mother and the need to stay well very seriously,’ she says. ‘What I had been unable to do for myself, I found strength to do for the sake of my children. I started to learn to cook and try new foods.’
Moving on: Now a proud mother of two, Lindsey is determined to stay strong for the sake of her children
But as exhausted new parents to a young baby, their sex life, which was hardly prolific before, dwindled to virtually non-existent, causing unbearable tension between the couple. ‘I kept offering to leave, to let Tom go,’ says Lindsey. ‘I thought he could be so much happier with someone else and I wasn’t being fair to him, trapping him in this sexless relationship, but he wouldn’t hear of it.’
One night, when Nina was just over a year old, Lindsey announced she was going to move out. Devastated, Tom went out to a club, where he got drunk and ended up spending the night with a girl he met.
‘It wasn’t what I wanted at all,’ he remembers. ‘The next morning, I was terribly ashamed of myself and came home to Lindsey and immediately confessed.’
Lindsey’s reaction at first was one of anger — at Tom, herself and at the situation they were in. ‘I remember going to the supermarket, and just wandering around the aisles getting angrier and angrier, until finally I came home and started shouting and smashing crockery,’ she recalls.
‘Once I’d calmed down, I started to see
things more clearly. I started to think about how supportive Tom had
always been and how lucky I was to have someone who loved me so much.
‘I knew I really did love Tom, but my love for him was complicated by my difficulty in letting go sexually.’
As sordid and brutal as the confession was, it cemented them as a couple. They talked long into the night, with Tom chipping away at Lindsey’s conviction, borne of her deep-rooted insecurity, that he couldn’t be happy with someone like her.
‘I kept telling her that we could be very happy if only she would stop punishing herself for everything she thought she wasn’t. I loved her, I always had — anorexia or no anorexia.
‘People talk about the sacrifices I make choosing to stay with Lindsey, but I don’t see it that way.
‘I know I would be deeply unhappy without her, and she without me, and that, to me, is as good a reason as any for a couple to stay together.’
In 2007, their son Stanley was born and today, although anorexia is still a daily presence in their lives, they are committed to each other and ensuring their children are not affected by the disease.
Meals are always eaten together. Lindsey is very careful the children have never witnessed her being sick, although they do sometimes hear her self-hating rants.
‘If Nina notices I am upset, I will tell her: “Mummy sometimes doesn’t like herself, but she knows inside that she’s just being silly.” They don’t know I have an eating disorder. I’ll tell them when they’re older and the time is right.’
The couple have also devised a flow chart which monitors Lindsey’s negative thoughts, replacing ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’ with a series of prompt cards such as ‘I am loved’ or ‘I am beautiful’ which she can look at whenever she feels overwhelmed.
Their love life, however, will always be a source of conflict. Once a month, at best, is all they manage, which Tom admits he finds sad and difficult. ‘I hate the fact that she can’t enjoy her body and be more relaxed,’ he says. ‘But at least I do know that she loves me. She shows this by caring for me in other ways, cooking special meals and, of course, looking after our children.
‘I am so proud of the progress she’s made and the way she continually pushes against the limitations of her illness. All I want is for Lindsey to be happy with herself.’
■ Beat is the leading UK charity supporting people affected by eating disorders. Visit b-eat.co.uk or call 0845 634 1414.