Parenting tips to help your child with anorexia
In the winter of 2017, a debilitating illness, anorexia nervosa, shattered my daughter’s life. The fight against this disease is intense and requires all the mental, emotional, physical and social resources a family can muster. Although my daughter’s disease was likely in her mind and body for many months before her diagnosis, once the disease took hold of her body, it was relentlessly seeking to take her life, quite literally.
First, every child/person/patient is different and you need to be aware of what your child needs personally. On the other hand, this disease is remarkably similar in all patients because it is a disease with a specific pathotype and etiology. Therefore, the first step is to admit that this is a real and dangerous disease like cancer. Seek professional help from a doctor who specializes in eating disorders as soon as possible. Early intervention can be the difference between a one-year recovery period or a two- to three-year recovery period.
Secondly, realize that this disease has developed over a longer period than you realize, so recovery is going to take a long time. You and your family are in it for the long haul; This process is likely to take up all the collective time and energy of your immediate family at least several months to a year or two or more. Your main job for the first several months is simply to support and re-feed your baby. You may not have the time or energy to do anything else. Like feeding a newborn, this can be a round-the-clock job.
Thirdly, realizing that the fight against this disease is intense and requires all the mental, emotional, physical and social resources of the family. The best defense is to seek the help of a doctor, counselor, and nutritionist. Your child will likely need a child psychiatrist as well, since there are some medications that are helpful for treating co-occurring disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. At one point in my daughter’s recovery, we’d take her to four different appointments a week just to keep up with the urgent needs to combat this disease.
Fourth, if after a few months one intervention doesn’t work, try something else. In my daughter’s year-long recovery, I first went through a partial (3-month) hospitalization program. After 6 weeks at home, I relapsed and went to an inpatient program (for 1 month). Rather than revert to a partial hospitalization program (which is the recommended step for inpatients), we choose to perform a modified Maudsley intensive approach at home. I took partial family medical leave for 9 months during this period. When we used Maudsley’s approach at home, my husband or I ate every meal with it.
Fifth, if there are parents or caregivers in the family, always present a united front. Your daily tactics with your daughter or son should be uniform. The anorexic mind will look for any opportunity it can find any ambiguity in your system. Both of you should be diligent in encouraging your child to eat and rest. Be supportive of your child and each other.
Sixth, be willing to let go of old family habits, even good ones. Our family prided ourselves on daily family dinners around the kitchen table, where we shared our day. With our daughter’s anorexic mind, this habit became impossible. As long as she was afraid of eating, we had to find ways to distract her. Humorous TV shows worked. At one point in our lives, we laughed at the idea of eating family dinner in front of the TV, and now every meal requires us to watch about three episodes of funny TV shows including Seinfeld and The Office. However, this new habit helped our daughter smile and finally relax enough to eat her meals.
Finally, if you find a food or food group that he will eat; Let them eat it as much as they want, even if it doesn’t include a well-balanced meal. At one point, our daughter subsisted on peanut butter and bananas. In our house, we might have gone through several jars a week, but her body and brain clearly needed that kind of nutrition and she was willing to eat it.
Get support from family, friends, church, or another spiritual group. I will be sharing more tips and information in my next article.