By Katie Maki
I am noticing so many forum posts again by parents of 9-12 year olds and I feel the need to respond.
It baffles my mind that now 11 YEARS after my then ten year old was diagnosed, families are still being told their child is “ the worst we’ve ever seen” or “ we have not seen these behaviors before,” etc.
We were told our daughter had psychosis and possible early onset schizophrenia with anorexia secondary.
SHE HAD ANOREXIA.
It is NORMAL for these young kids to exhibit quite intense behaviors. Kids in this age group in particular seem to exhibit very psychotic behaviors when malnourished. Some of these behaviors are things like:
-Auditory hallucinations (they “hear” the eating disorder’s voice as separate from themselves)
-Visual hallucinations. My kid called it “ the blackness”. She would scream at me “ Why can’t you see the blackness? It is right there!”
– Extreme exercise/movement compulsion. Cannot sit down EVER. Constant moving of arms and legs. My daughter was extreme in this part of her eating disorder.
-Constant “ playing” like cartwheels and handstands and trampoline jumping etc. but it is manic in nature.
-Talk of death. My kid insisted I know which dress to bury her in. She kept saying that the eating disorder told her the only way she’d ever be rid of it is if she was dead. She did not self harm, but that is also common.
-Panic attacks (terrifying)
– OCD ritualistic behaviors surrounding movement, counting, etc. (e.g. my kid had to run around the van a certain amount of times and then jump into the van with both feet until it “ felt right” and then squat in the seat. She had a zillion of these behaviors.)
-Violent outbursts (my kid hit her head on windows, punched her dad in the jaw, spat in my face etc. and frankly she was mild compared to many).
-They require insane amounts of food and fats and high calories for YEARS. My own kid needed 6000 from age 11-14 a day. She ate like an Olympic athlete.
-They often have no idea what has happened to them. It often did not start having anything to do with a desire to lose weight etc. My daughter told her sister before she was diagnosed that she “had no idea what was happening to me. All I knew was I could not eat and food was scary.” She started to restrict “junk food” and exercise more as a result of school nutrition and my own weight watchers brainwashing that she watched from the sidelines. No, it is not my fault, but yes, it was part of the trigger.
Of course sometimes there are pre-existing co-morbids like anxiety, and those must be addressed, but MANY of these behaviors I listed above fade and disappear completely with enough weight gain and time AT a high enough weight WITH continuous gain for growth. My kid grew 9 inches, doubled in weight, and went through full puberty from 11-14.
For my kid, it all went away. The only thing I’d say is that she still has in some anxiety, but she handles it with tools she learned and her music and a therapist. She’s thriving and about to graduate from college.
In my experience, the only way out is food. For years and years. And it is exhausting and relentless but it is so worth it because they have a really high chance of beating the eating disorder and getting into a long lasting full recovery when they are well nourished throughout all of those teen years and have a solid foundation for being on their own.
So please take some comfort knowing that these quite literally insane and terrifying behaviors are not abnormal.
Your child is not the exception.
The younger kids’ brains react differently. And they also have the potential to form so many billions of new neural connections as their brains are still changing so much.
These kids’ weights are MOVING TARGETS for YEARS!
A good rule of thumb for girls is to feed to a period and add 15 pounds. The weight they get their period is often the weight they will lose it.
You can’t go by size of parents. For example, I have a son who is six feet 3 inches. My husband is 5’10 and I am 5’8.
Bottom line is these young kids need a ton of food. Feed them like an Olympic athlete. High fats and calories for the long run.
Eventually their body will right itself.
Eventually they will reach full growth.
Eventually they will morph into adults.
And plenty have seen growth in height into late teens/early adulthood (especially in boys).
We had no growth charts.
We just kept going.