By Natalie M.
This is the 6th year that anorexia nervosa (AN) is very present in our lives. My daughter was first diagnosed at the age of 11; and today, a couple of months shy of her 18th year of life, she is once again on the road towards sweet recovery after a severe relapse in 2020. She had a semi-recovery period within these past six years, but most of her adolescence has been dominated by this illness.
As a clinical psychologist, I have a privileged position in my community when it comes to educating and working with others. After my daughter first got sick, I became a passionate advocate for evidence-based treatment of AN, and have been able to help several families navigate the bewildering nature of this illness. Living in a rural location in a South American country means that Family Based Treatment is virtually unheard of. It takes many conversations, sharing of materials, and patience, for people to understand that nutritional rehabilitation is the first step to healing.
I have encountered many things not only as the mother of a child with AN, but also as a professional working towards helping others that are going through the same hell we know all too well. I have heard psychiatrists state that a child with AN “doesn’t want to grow up”, registered dietitians determine weight goals without giving any thought to historic growth curves, and psychologists treat “underlying emotional” issues, only for the patient to get worse and worse.
I won’t lie. All of this makes me tremendously angry.
Last week, I cringed while a mother told me that the registered dietitian working with her child affected by AN told her that she should lose even a little more weight. Once again, as I’ve done with many other families, I went through the tedious process of explaining why this was dangerous, why her daughter’s weight isn’t an appropriate one according to her weight history, that her child must begin consuming calorie-dense meals, and that there are severe risks of keeping her at such a low weight.
Every single family I’ve worked with has told me stories very similar to this one, some worse, some a little less damaging. There is a crisis in the eating disorder field, the worst one being professionals that have little to no training in evidence-based models, suggesting ideas that many times do more damage than good. I am mind boggled when a professional actually tells my patients that what I’m doing does not and will not work.
Even though all of this gets to me at times, my profound belief in what has saved my daughter (twice), and what I know has saved hundreds of other children, is what allows me to not stay long in the frustration and anger. I honestly cannot afford to stay angry. I don’t have the time to be angry. Every hour that goes by, somebody dies from this illness. Somebody that may have had a very similar experience to my daughter’s. Somebody that may have survived had they been informed and educated regarding newer and well-researched treatment models. My heart breaks into a million pieces when I think about this. No. I can’t stay angry. I have to continue to move, to make noise, to educate and to support other parents that are currently in the trenches. I don’t have the time to be answering all the naysayers or skeptics. They don’t matter right now. All that matters is that I get this information across, so that others will be able to enjoy their children and see them grow and live their lives.
So, as you see, my anger quickly turns into something else, something so much more powerful. It becomes a drive so big—the biggest I’ve ever felt—to help others that just like me when this first hit us, who have no idea that there’s actually a model that has been tried and tested and that facilitates the highest recovery rates. My daughter is living proof of this. How can I stay angry, when there’s still so much to do?