Do You Suspect an Eating Disorder?

by Jacqueline Smith 10 months ago in eating

What do I do?

Do You Suspect an Eating Disorder?

Does your child have an eating disorder?

Is your child beginning to withdraw or act strangely?

Has your child stopped spending time with friends?

Is your child eating differently, more or less?

Is your child exercising more or too much?

Is your child losing weight rapidly?

Is your child obsessing over food? This could include preparing food as well.

Do you notice your child harming themselves? Cutting?

Is your child spending too much time on social media?

I don’t know exactly when my daughter developed her eating disorder. She has anorexia and is recovering nicely. I think it started when she was at a ballet summer intensive. She was away from home for 6 weeks to dance, but from the beginning things were bad. She was terribly homesick. I was receiving texts every night as she explained her unhappiness and struggles to me. She was in a room with two other girls who seemed to be targeting her. They bullied her and were openly cruel. What I wondered at the time was, why doesn’t she just stick up for herself? I am not sure if the ED was present at that point, but I am beginning to suspect it was.

My daughter has been dealing with food intolerances since she was about 5. Though I was successful in changing her diet, I believe that when she was away for so long she did not eat well enough for her energy output. She also wanted to be up to the standards at the ballet school. A naturally thin girl already, she was competing for attention with girls from all over the world. Being a type A personality and a perfectionist, she also found it a challenge. Unfortunately, between that mentality and the lack of nutritious food, she dropped a lot of weight and I noticed it in her photos home to me.

By the midterm, I pulled her from the program and brought her home. She was very unhappy and pleaded with me to come and pick her up. She dropped ballet for good right then and apologized profusely for wasting my time and money on her as a dancer. I had never expressed any anger for her decision, but she was clearly very distraught. I was proud of her that she had the courage to tell me her feelings, which was very difficult. Now I wonder if the ED hadn’t already kicked in and was making its way into her brain and heart. (As she has become weight restored, she has expressed renewed interest in ballet.)

Fast forward one year. I had a whirlwind year. I had a new job and I had met a new man. My daughter's father and I had separated two years before, six months before she went away to the ballet camp. He left in the night and didn’t tell me he was leaving after 14 years. It was a hard time and a shock. She was terribly hurt by the event. Though I tried to keep my new relationship a secret, I was more distracted than usual. I also have two other children. It’s typical to blame oneself for ED. I’ve learned now that is not the case. However, I can’t help but feel this was also something she was having trouble coping with.

I started going to the gym with my daughter in October of 2017. I was proud of her intense training. I had always been athletic myself as I felt it helped with depression and anxiety. We weighed each other for fun one day. Two weeks later, I felt that she was looking quite thin. I playfully asked her to do another weigh in with me and she had lost 13 pounds. So, at this point, I knew something was wrong. Now what?

Trying to figure it out.

It seems that we hear so much about eating disorders here and there. Jokes about being anorexic (too thin). Jokes about throwing up for a hot date on movies and TV. As a mother of a daughter with an eating disorder, I really had NO IDEA what it was all about. NO CLUE what was really happening. I first turned to my family doctor, who made us an appointment at an eating disorders clinic in a neighboring town. Being a referral, we had to wait for a call to be seen. That call was not coming. Next part, the life saver part. My daughter had also not started her period. Up to this point, our doctor told us it was normal. When she turned 16, our doctor did refer her to a specialist at the same neighboring hospital. The same one that had the eating disorders clinic. We had to wait an agonizing four months for that appointment. By the time we got there to see about her period, the specialist had us an appointment with the ED clinic in a few weeks time. When we went for that appointment, she was admitted to hospital that very day and was in the pediatric intake unit for 7 days on a heart monitor. Her pulse was dropping to 20 BPM at night. I slept beside her for that first week and didn’t leave the hospital. After the first few nights, I finally slept myself, knowing that we were finally getting the help we needed and there were professionals there to guide us. I can’t express the tremendous relief I felt.

How did we get to such a low point? I am a well-educated woman. I was a stay-at-home mother for many years. My daughter had been an excellent student. She was a community advocate, full time dancer after school and helped teach the little ones at her studio. We had a good relationship. Yet here we were on death’s door. Though I had been to our family doctor fairly quickly, she had no help to give us besides the referral. I sought help with a naturopathic doctor. She at least told my daughter to eat some protein and advised us of the minimum amount to eat each day. That small bit probably kept her alive. She took her heart rate and expressed concern for her weight, but that is where it ended. She advised us to see a therapist. I foolishly accepted her recommendation. I just assumed that would help us. I did not do any research on this person’s credentials or experience with ED and she led us further down the path to destruction by telling me that my daughter wanted to be in charge of her own nutrition. As I learned later, it was the very opposite of what should be done. Near the end of the wait time to get to the ED clinic, I was taking her to get her heart rate checked each week, yet NO ONE advised me what to do or that we should go to the emergency room.

I write this to express my deep concern with a system that could allow something like this to get to a stage where death was imminent. The utter frustration I felt and the sleepless nights. Watching my daughter disappear before my eyes and powerless to help. Trusting her word based on our past relationship, when ED had taken over her brain and was speaking for her, lying to me and hiding my daughter's soul away. I have learned so much since then. So, so very much. Perhaps my words can help a parent who suspects that their child is so very sick with this mental disease. When you do finally start to look online, there are so many different approaches—which one is the right one?

For us, FBT was the best approach to healing from the point of our clinic and I chose that route. My next post will be the explanation of FBT or Family Based Therapy. It is probably something that you’ve never heard of.

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Jacqueline Smith

See all posts by Jacqueline Smith