I wouldn’t wish Anorexia Nervosa on my worst enemy. It can never be cured, only managed. If not managed, it kills. Simple as that. Get food into your child or else…
Anorexia's self-imposed starvation has a terrible affect on the mental state of its victims. Anorexics are paranoid (everyone is trying to make them fat), delusional (imagining fat on their bodies where there isn’t any), combative (“you can’t make me eat”), and obsessive compulsive (ritualized eating involving a minute number of “acceptable” foods).
Our 14 year-old daughter, Caylin, is an anorexic. Thankfully, we recognized it early on. As detailed in part one of this series, we had difficulty obtaining specialized medical care. Through prayer, we found the Maudsley approach, which is home-based and has the highest success rate (98%) of all eating disorder treatment programs. The Maudsley formula is simple enough: refeed your child at home. Carrying this out isn’t simple at all, however! It requires a support team and a willingness on the part of the parents to go through Hell and back over and over and over.
If you decide to follow Maudsley, you will have to form your own support network, very much like in-house treatment programs. Our team consists of the following:
- Medical doctor. You must have a baseline physical examination and blood work before you start. We caught Caylin's anorexia early on before any damage to her organs could set in. (If your child’s organs are compromised, hospitalization is NOT a choice!) Caylin has blood drawn every week, which is reviewed by our doctor. This is a pain in the neck, but it's critical if you’re going to treat at home. Cardiac arrest is a very real possibility for anorexics. Weekly blood work keeps you on top of this threat. In addition, your doctor may have to prescribe medication to help with the anxiety that comes with anorexia. This will be a collaborative decision between you, your counselor, and your doctor.
- Counselor. Choose this person carefully. She will be in the trenches with you throughout this ordeal. You and your child must be able to connect with this person! If not, keep looking. We found a Christian counselor who did not have any experience treating eating disorders specifically. She did, however, have extensive experience with OCD’s. She is compassionate, caring, and has thrown herself into our daughter’s treatment. Caylin sees her in-office twice a week. I don’t know what we’d do without her. She allows Caylin to call or text her whenever she’s having trouble coping, even if it’s evenings or weekends. Our counselor prays for us as well, which I view as a critical part of conquering this disease. Caylin has made great progress under her care.
- Nutritionist. We found a nutritionist at our local hospital who has experience treating eating disorders. We take Caylin to her weekly to retrain her mindset regarding healthy foods, and to help establish caloric goals. I’ll be honest, Caylin does not like this part of our support network. Eye rolls are common, but we’re staying firm. She has to hear the right information on a regular basis from someone other than us.
- Pastor, friends, family. Anorexia has no religious boundaries. We just happen to be Christians and prayer is central to our functioning. However, if you are not religious, at least enlist the support of friends, family, and your child’s school. Silence and embarrassment have no place in the treatment of anorexia. This disease is going to take a toll on every member of your family. Don’t go it alone! Worried about gossips? Don’t be. When you’re open about the disorder, it takes the wind right out of their sails.
- Books and Internet. I’m a researcher. There’s plenty of internet sites to help you navigate this horrible disease. Maudsleyparents.org is an excellent one. I also recommend Duke University’s book Off the C.U.F.F. to help you with the difficult task of refeeding your child (ordering information found in part one of this blog). Another book I highly recommend is Harriet Brown’s Brave Girl Eating. I read this book very early on, and it’s been a comfort and guide to me ever since.
Even with all these supports in place, anorexia is a long, tough road; a marathon, not a sprint. We’re still running the race with Caylin, but it's a race we have every intention of winning.
Next installment: Miscellaneous tips to help you and your child conquer anorexia.