Since my daughter was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder, I have become a sponge for all information related to them. Like so many parents who find themselves in this bewildering situation, I have spent hours upon hours reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube presentations, reading threads on F.E.A.S.T. and Beat and any other forum going. They are such hideous, cruel illnesses and we need all the help we can get in supporting our young people through them. I know that what I have learnt is just the tip of a massive, complex iceberg. I don’t even understand a lot of what I’ve read; neurology and genetics are not really my strong suit! However, what I do know is that there are some things I wish I’d understood at the start. It might’ve made our journey a little easier and I hope that sharing them might help a little with yours. Here they are:
- Feeding your loved one will be one of the hardest things you ever do: you will be tested daily as you take responsibility for battling the Eating Disorder. 3 meals and 3 snacks, day in day out, week in week out, month in month out. Maybe even year in year out. This is a grueling regime and there will be times when you think it will break you.
- There is no quick fix for an Eating Disorder: you are in this for the long haul and the sooner you understand that the better. Take the small wins; every forkful of food is a step closer to recovery.
- Self-Care matters: look after yourself through this traumatic time. Confide in good friends, take long walks, read accounts of others experience, sleep, do whatever you can to fill your own cup. You will need it. You are not alone with this, take all the support and help offered.
- Physical symptoms of an Eating Disorder are many, varied and terrifying: listen to your medical team and follow their advice. At the start of my daughter’s treatment I had no idea that heart problems were a symptom of Eating Disorders. She had a resting heartbeat of 41 and I naively thought that this just ‘ran in the family’. The more I read the more I realised the perilous situation she was actually in. Listen to your medical team, they know what they are doing.
- This is not your fault: self-flagellation is irrelevant and unhelpful. Not to mention just plain wrong. Nothing you did as a parent caused this so stop beating yourself up. Show yourself some compassion.
- This is not your child’s fault: they did not choose to let this bully into their lives. Try and maintain compassion for your child at all times. I appreciate that this is not easy when food is being thrown at you and the insults rain down. If you’re about to lose the plot, leave the room until you feel calm enough to return with compassion. Read up on distress tolerance and use the tools it gives you.
- Food is the medicine: Eating Disorders take hold of the brain when weight drops below a certain threshold. This can happen to anyone who loses weight for any reason (google the enlightening and fascinating Minnesota Starvation study). The only treatment for this starved brain is food. Psychiatric/behavioural help is not even a possibility until the brain is functioning normally again and the ONLY way to achieve this is through re-feeding/weight restoration. It took me a long time to understand this, I could not understand why my daughter wasn’t being offered psychiatric help initially.
- The Eating Disorder is a master manipulator: your child will behave in ways you do not even recognise. This is because their brain is taken over by mental illness. Remember, the child you have known and loved since the day they were born is still in there and you WILL get them back.
- Sometimes saying nothing is best: in the silence you will watch your young person cry and suffer but they will know you are there for them and eventually they will pick up the fork and eat something and their journey to recovery will begin.
Remind yourself of all of the above on a regular basis and keep going, one day at a time. You can do this.