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Being Angry

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.

Sigh.

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?

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9 Comments

  1. Katherine Ward

    The prevailing view in UK treatment centres seems to be that there is an underlying cause and during treatment psychologists search for it – this led to our daughter feeling like an inadequate patient and eventually making up stories of abuse. We have been told that this non-existent abuse caused the ED. What clinical evidence can be used to demonstrate that EDs are not caused by abuse? I cannot find anything at all. I love your comment about anger – I am working very hard to also channel mine to positive action but I am finding a real lack of good information.

    • Sheila Hallam

      I have just found this site and I am a mom of a 22 year old man (boy), who has suffered with anorexia, bulimia, OCD and BPD for the past 5 years. Life has been torture for him and us. I was interested to read your post Katherine as my son also accused us of abuse as BPD patients often have history of abuse, he latched onto that as an excuse to vent his anger at us as we continually try to get him support and treatment – neither of which he accepts. As in your case – the abuse is non existent and very hurtful to hear. Our son gets verbally and physically violent and we have had the police intervene on many episodes. Hospitalization is a revolving door – they stabilize his medical condition and kick him out. He needs to be admitted as he is close to starvation, but as an adult – he has to make that decision – not us – which is beyond ridiculous. He is slowly killing himself and we are just watching in the wings – devastating and lost at what we can do. If someone is intent on killing themselves, in whatever way they choose, they need urgent medical care.

  2. susana aguilar

    Please, please: what is actually the model that has been tried and tested and that facilitates the highest recovery rates? Is it FBT?
    My daughter is 22 and after years of unsuccessful tight control by me, has been given total freedom meal-wise. However, she has accommodated, is not gaining weight and her menstruation is absent. Psychologically she is fine but this state of mind, I reckon, does not necessarily have to be good as recovery seems to be flanked by anxiety outbursts when the patient challenges herself to eat fearfood and larger quantities of food.

  3. Milena Hileman

    This is my daughter too. Wants no more FBT. Wants to control all food. Wants no fear foods. But breaks down and eats them.

  4. Vickie Olsen

    Thank you for posting this article. We are at the beginning of our journey for our 20 year old daughter recently diagnosed with AN. I feel the pain and concerns of the writer and very much relate to the need to focus my energy on my daughter’s recovery, not on the nay sayers and skeptics which seem to be everywhere, even among close friends that I just don’t have time or energy to educate. I have also decided to go to counseling myself as this is a very lonely, stressful process at times, although I know we will come out of it stronger as a family.

  5. D

    Our pain is shared. I have similar story of my daughter’s treatment at 11 and continual ups and downs since. Struggling now at 17, and we are the brink of having so little ability to help her as she becomes adult. I am exhausted and terrified. But also hopeful because she HAS pulled her self back from the brink several times.. it’s just hard to watch the cycle repeat. Hang in there parents! The most helpful thing said to me by a treatment professional many years ago…Think of waves crashing into boulders on a remote beach. You are the boulder. She is the wave. Your job is to be the boulder. She is going to crash into you over and over and over. And you stay steady and strong and resilient and there for her. God speed

  6. Jennifer

    Thinking of each of you. I really appreciated the bolder and the waves perspective. I find most of my frustration is because I take on her lack of ability to control the ED. I am glad to continue to read articles and videos about AN. It helps me understand her better which does help with my frustration level. A constant struggle I have is how all the pressure of making her well and eat again is pushed back onto the parent. It is hard to hear and do all that and continue to be strong and stable. I am a single parent of a 15 yr old d who’s father doesn’t truly believe she has a problem. His perspective is that all girls at this age get really skinny – it’s a phase. Talk about pressure!! I feel for each and every parent that is going through this with their child. Our case worker just keeps reminding me that I need patience to get through this. One small step at a time. When she goes to her dad’s on the weekends its my time to let go, breathe and regroup. It’s a constant uphill battle. I pray for continued research. Thank you to all of you that are speaking up and sharing your stories.

  7. D

    My daughter has been sick with an eating disorder since she’s 14 yrs old and a few days ago she turned 38 yrs old. My heart goes out to all the parents here.
    Daughter is currently anorexic and refuses help. In having said that, she does talk to a Doctor once a week who meets her where she is in her desease and that’s how she wants it ,otherwise she will not talk to him. She has been hospitalized many times, outpatient/inpatient, ed experts (supposedly), councelling etc etc etc.
    I will never give up on learning about ed NEVER. God speed to all of us in this horrific time of life.

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