Editor’s Note: Ricarda is woman from Germany who has recovered from anorexia and uses her experience to help parents of people with eating disorders. She sent this post to us in order to share her personal perspective in the hopes that it will give insight to parents. It may be helpful to read this post as well about the role of motivation in recovery.
Having followed the blog posts for a couple of weeks now, I cannot help noticing that what generally seems to concern parents the most is the question of calories per day taken in by their child. Although that is certainly understandable, especially when the child’s weight is dangerously low, I would like to broaden the perspective a little by sharing with you my point of view as an ex-eating-disordered person, coach and future therapist.
I suffered from anorexia for more than a decade and it took me almost another 5 years to really leave it behind me. By that, I mean, leaving it behind as if I had never had any trouble with food in the first place. I was once only an inch away from suicide and the fact that I have overcome the disorder is the most important achievement of my life.
I can only imagine that being confronted with such a diagnosis as a parent is overwhelming; and as anorexia has such complex layers, such a complicated logic and such a dynamic of its own, it’s very understandable that parents usually don’t have a clue what to do and where to find appropriate treatment for their child. It’s especially hard knowing it may take the affected person years of self-reflection in order to learn how to put into words what they are experiencing.
It takes hours to properly explain what anorexia is about and how it works. There is no short version, but there is one important realization, at least in my experience: Being thin is only the tip of the iceberg, just this small part of the iceberg that’s visible to the eye. What often lies underneath is a low self-esteem, no self-love at all, social insecurities, the inability to take responsibility for one’s own life, the lack of a fully developed identity in the sense of knowing who you are and what values and principles to live by, the clinging to extremely high standards, the inability to deal with failure/ rejection/ uncertainty/ criticism or literally any intense negative emotion, especially being hurt, sad or angry. And the list goes on.
The message I’d like to communicate is, that in order to get healthy, many skills need to be learned. And from whom? From you, the parents, the ones who spend the most time with their children.
However, being able to provide those teachings to your child also requires that you fully understand what is going on and which messages can be accepted by your child. Surely you have noticed that often words meant as a compliment are twisted around. Every lesson has its time and place. I would like to encourage you to maintain a strong and confidential relationship with your child, so that he/she will share at home what has been learned in therapy. What comes up may be shocking to you. It might even include criticism of you as a parent. Whether or not that is justified does not matter. It’s rather proof of a great relationship between the two of you, if your child who suffers with anorexia dares to question you and shares his/her deepest insights with you.
Last but not least, I would also like to encourage you to embrace the fact (at least what I believe is a fact) that the ultimate decision to live (and therefore eat) lies with your child, and with him/her alone. I don’t write that to scare you off or discourage you, but to yet make another important point: you need your child to WANT to get healthy, to make a conscious decision and consciously create his/her life of choice. Although you cannot make that decision for him/her, you can motivate your child to pick the right choice. This motivation lies, again, within a profound understanding of the disorder and its functioning. The disorder is both your child’s ruthless torturer AND his/her best friend. Cruel, but reliable. You need him/her to pick a leap of “faith in a better future” above a stable friendship that might include some suffering but at least provides feelings of strength and certainty.
May you never lose hope and may your child’s journey back to health be as short as possible.