2016 was a year that brought its challenges to the world. We saw some crucial political decisions made at home and abroad that surprised many of us. On a much more personal level, 2016 was the year that we as a family met our eating disorder. I say “our” eating disorder (ED) as reflecting back on our experiences as a family of four, we have had our own individual relationship with our youngest daughter’s ED.
Our journey to the ED service started about six months ago when she began to develop a fixation with food. Initially I thought she was just on a healthy eating drive, cutting out “bad food” and eating regular, healthy meals. However, over the next three to four months, she moved slowly and steadily through healthy eating onto increased exercise and, latterly, a situation where she talked about food incessantly. She wrote out recipes, spent hours creating beautifully crafted recipe pages, all for food she had no intention of eating. We felt, as her mum and dad, that our carefree, lively, funny and easy-going little girl was slowly being replaced by a much sadder person, with less energy - someone who spent time on her own and withdrawn from friends.
She reassured us that she was eating her school lunch and as she ate her dinner with us in the evening we responded to the changes in her body shape and size in a supportive way. We sought support from Pause and she reluctantly spoke to a worker there who gave her reassurance that she was not alone with being worried about her body shape and size.
A Forward Thinking Birmingham body image group helped her to slowly and gently begin to recognise the connections with external pressures like social media, celebrity culture and body image.
When asked, “What do you wish you’d known that you didn’t during the early months of her ED?” I would say quite clearly… “Trust your instincts as a parent.” You know your child better than anyone else. If you feel things are changing, get help as early as possible. I wish I had approached her school earlier and checked out whether she was eating her lunch or if her behaviour or participation at school had changed. Not because I thought she was a liar, but because our beautiful daughter’s physical and mental health takes precedence over everything.
I would also say to parents that there is a wealth of really useful knowledge and support via the internet. Reading about stories of recovery gave us, as parents, hope and helped her to see (when she was ready) that the journey of recovery is a long, overwhelming but worthwhile process.
As a family we have received a good service from knowledgeable, supportive and respectful nurses, a dietician, psychologist and family therapists. They have taken the time to listen to us as a family and individually helped us through the challenging times and, most importantly, reinforced with us as a family and as parents that we are the experts in our own experience. Only we know what it’s like to parent her. To be alongside her as she gradually and with tremendous resilience and determination begins to take control back from the ED. We have benefitted from the wisdom and knowledge of professionals, but overall I feel now, reflecting back on 2016, that we as a family have collectively taken control back, confronted the ED head on and refusing to let it permanently damage our small and precious family.
With thanks to the ED nurse, the dietician, the clinical psychologist and the family therapy team who have helped us and continue to do so as we travel on our journey through the world of an ED.