If I approach you and tell you I’m worried that your daughter (or son, or wife, or husband) may have an eating disorder, will you listen or will you blow me off? Will you be grateful that I care enough to raise my concerns with you or will you be angry that I overstepped my bounds as your friend?
I understand why you may think that I’m being overreactive. As the mother of a daughter with anorexia, you may think that whenever I hear hoofbeats, I think zebras instead of horses. You may think that my “eating disorder radar” is too sensitive. You may be right.
But then again, you may be wrong. If I apprehensively approach you with my concerns, I hope to G-d that I’m mistaken and that your loved one doesn’t have an eating disorder. But if my instincts are right and I don’t voice my concerns? The potential for tragedy is frightening. And that’s why I am going to open my mouth, even if I’m not sure that you will accept what I am going to throw out at you and even if I may be wrong.
If you don’t want to act on my concerns, I understand. I understand wanting to believe that it’s just a phase and that your child will grow out of it. I understand wanting to believe that the situation will somehow resolve itself. I understand that you don’t want to stunt your adolescent’s independence by getting overinvolved in his/her life, especially if s/he is claiming that everything is fine. I understand that you want to avoid confrontation because it’s messy and unpleasant. I understand that you may be dealing with issues that your other children are experiencing and you just don’t have the time or energy to tackle this. I understand that ignorance can be bliss–it’s terrifying and heartbreaking to have a sick child. I understand that you are stretched thin by the daily challenges of life. I understand that you don’t want to rock the boat right now because life is going well, or because it’s right before the holidays, or because you have a business trip or a family vacation coming up, or because you are dealing with other family/personal matters, and it’s just not a good time. Trust me, it will never be a good time. The only time to deal with a potential eating disorder is right now.
I understand that it may seem unbelievable to you that boys and men get eating disorders too, or that healthy eating and exercise can be dangerous under certain circumstances, or that a person with an eating disorder isn’t necessarily thin or exhibiting any concerning body image behaviors. In addition, I can only imagine that in the case of a spouse, you feel that it’s not your place to play a parental role by monitoring your spouse’s weight, food intake or exercise regimen. The potential for backlash and damage to the entire family is enormous.
I understand all of this and more. But here is what I also understand: I understand that eating disorders are incredibly serious illnesses. I understand that they can steal your child away from you before you can even blink, even if you are an attentive, loving, caring, solid parent. I understand that eating disorders are ravaging, destructive, catastrophic, venomous, and yes—potentially fatal. I understand that an eating disorder can creep into every aspect of a person’s life, not just the aspects related to food. It can affect every single one of his/her relationships. It can corrupt a person in the worst possible way, turning the most honest soul into a flat out liar. It can convince a beautiful, intelligent, talented, cherished, and treasured person that s/he is undeserving and unworthy of love or any positive consideration, despite the heartfelt messages that you send to the contrary. I understand that anorexia won’t be satisfied until your loved one is destroyed; and if I can prevent that from happening by bringing my suspicions to your attention, you can be damn sure that I will.
I understand that the earlier you start treating an eating disorder, the better the chances are for a full recovery, which is why I am going to say something to you now rather than wait until later.
I understand that you may not want to hear that your loved one has triggered my “eating disorder radar”. I can only hope YOU understand that because I care, I have to say something anyway.
And if I do, it may be a good idea to give some consideration to whether you have noticed changes recently surrounding your child or spouse’s weight and/or food behaviors–a sudden aversion to previously eaten foods/avoiding certain food groups entirely, rigid attitudes toward food, skipping meals, avoiding social/family meals, bathroom visits after meals, rituals around food like cutting food into tiny pieces, a sudden obsession with healthy eating, and compulsive exercise are some examples. If any of these ring a bell, get professional help. Now. Because trust me, the one thing that I understand best is that you are so much better safe than sorry.