Pressing the “publish” button on my first blog post was very overwhelming for me. It was taking my experience with my daughter’s anorexia, which is clearly a private matter, into a public arena. I went way out of my comfort zone, but I did it in the hopes of helping those families who are struggling as we are and sparing other families the struggle altogether. While eating disorders can get out of hand very quickly, there is hope for those parents who can spot and treat it early enough. We were slow on the uptake; we saw early warning signs but we didn’t seek treatment quickly enough.
My daughter’s anorexia started with a stupid diet. Her friend was going on a diet and she was going to diet with her to be social. My daughter didn’t need to diet, and I told her this, but she insisted that it wasn’t really a diet, it was just an attempt to eat healthier food. Given that my 15 year old still had a “kid food” diet of pizza, schnitzel, pasta, French fries, and grilled cheese, I figured that a healthier diet with a few fruits and vegetables and some protein thrown in was probably a good idea. I never should have let her diet to begin with; but if she was going to diet, I should have taken her to a dietitian or a doctor to figure out what the correct number of daily calories was for her height/weight and I should have supervised and questioned what she was eating and kept a closer eye on her.
The diet was supposed to end on the last day of school; the girls were going to reward themselves with ice cream. It sounded harmless enough. Little did I know that my daughter would not end this diet and stop restricting her food – not then, on the last day of ninth grade and not now, 5 years later and counting. I didn’t know that my daughter was somehow predisposed to anorexia and that dieting was dangerous for her. Maybe she would have developed anorexia anyway, but I really wish that I had quashed that diet.
During that summer, I rarely saw my daughter eat. When I asked her about it, she would tell me that she wasn’t hungry or that she would eat later or that she just finished eating. I assumed that she was being honest; I never had reason to doubt her word in the past. I didn’t know that the eating disorder would prevent my honest-to-a-fault daughter from telling the truth.
By this point, it was evident that my daughter was losing weight. My husband and I sat her down and spoke to her about it. She admitted that she was having some trouble eating but claimed that she would get it under control on her own, without help. Given that our daughter was an incredibly competent, mature, and intelligent 15-year-old, and we had always been able to take her at her word in the past, we wanted to give her the opportunity to get herself back on track. We honestly thought that she could do it; and that if she couldn’t, she would ask us for help. We made it clear that we were right there for her. Ironically, her mood and social life were better than ever. She seemed to be in a really good place with the exception of the weight loss, and it took us a while to catch on that she desperately needed help – heavy duty help.
Somewhere along the line, I figured that my daughter’s school would jump in. Statistically speaking, given the number of adolescents with eating disorders in high schools, they had to be experts – right? It turns out that many high schools know woefully little about anorexia. They see it staring them in the face day after day, month after month, year after year, and yet they have no idea what they are looking at. I also assumed that all pediatricians must have some special training on eating disorders given how rampant they are. I was wrong about that as well.
By the time my daughter started treatment, the anorexia had already taken hold and it didn’t want to let go one iota. I think of it like stage three cancer. Yes, there is a chance of full recovery, but her odds would have been so much better had we started treating her when the illness was still in stage one.
My daughter’s anorexia was like a forest fire, it went from a single lit match to a raging inferno almost before we had the chance to catch on, much less the chance to react. We underestimated anorexia’s ferocity, shrewdness, brutality, and malignancy. We didn’t realize how much it could ravage and how grave the damages could be. We had no idea what we were dealing with back then. Now we know.