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When Anorexia Is an Unwelcome Guest in Your Home

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It came into our lives in an instant. At least that is what it felt like six months ago. One instant, and my world was turned upside down.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

Of course it wasn’t really an instant. Anorexia had been invading our lives, slowing sneaking in and making himself at home over the course of about eight months. He started simply enough, making my daughter question her choices. Making her seek out information about what is and isn’t healthy. He whispered, hiding in the shadows, not wanting to make himself known. But as he got more comfortable, he began creeping out, joining the family for meals and putting his feet up on the coffee table.

Questions about exercise and healthy living became regular conversation and we began to take notice of my 10-year-old daughter’s anxiety around choices related to healthy living. Our daughter became like a shark, always moving, always questioning and never requesting food.

Then the monster unpacked his suitcases and had his toothbrush in the bathroom. He was there, he was living with us. He was my daughter’s constant companion, but we couldn’t see him. His whispers were now screams in her ear, but we couldn’t hear him. And then one night I caught a glimpse of him. He was a creepy-looking fella who sent shivers down my spine. I questioned if what I had seen was real. But I knew, real or not, I had to make sure that this stranger was nowhere near my daughter.

We made our first appointment to have her evaluated at an Adolescent Eating Disorder Clinic. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t real. I tried to convince myself he wasn’t living with us… but in an instant that all changed.

“Your daughter has anorexia nervosa.”

How could this be? How could this have happened? How could this have happened to my 10-year-old? She is only 10!

But it did happen and there we were, learning all about Family Based Therapy and the Maudsley Method. We learned that if we had allowed this visitor to stay much longer, our daughter would have required inpatient treatment. We learned that getting him to pack up his stuff and move out was going to be hard work. Oh my goodness was it going to be hard work!

Over the course of the last six months we have worked hard. Family Based Therapy is no joke and the name says it all. It was going to take a village to get that monster out of our house.

It started out well; he packed his bags, put his toothbrush away and then firmly planted himself on our couch. I got him to take his feet off the coffee table and pretty soon he was in a chair in the corner. He stayed there for a while, shouting out at my daughter. Trying to distract her. Trying to persuade her to bring his bags to the guest room. We fought him. With every meal and every pound gained, we pushed him away. He ended up hiding in corners and peeking out of the shadows and my daughter, my strong and resilient daughter, turned her back on him.

He walked out the door but he’s still on our sidewalk, peering in from the street. His voice is silenced by the love, support, strength and nourishment inside our home. She can’t hear him, but I send him warning glances to stay away.

I have learned more about anorexia in the past six months than one could ever imagine. Everything I thought I knew has been traded in for meaningful and accurate information.

My daughter’s eating disorder did not originate from a desire to be thinner or a dysmorphia that made her believe she was fat. This mental disorder took advantage of my rule-following, Type A daughter and her desire to do “the right thing.”

There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media recently about eating disorders. Many celebrities have come out to admit their own private struggles. I applaud many of these celebrities for sharing what can often be a very isolating and shameful battle.

One particular celebrity — Candace Cameron Bure — has shared her struggle and recently partnered with the Eating Recovery Center as an advocate. While I applaud the Center’s intention of bringing attention to eating disorders through the use of a well-known celebrity advocate, I question what is truly being achieved. There has been very limited mention of the mental health aspect of eating disorders. There has been no mention that eating disorders are the number-one killer among psychiatric illnesses.

A recent episode of Dr. Oz is the perfect example of a missed opportunity for Mrs. Bure to effect true change in the misconceptions that surround eating disorders. In her recent profile piece in the June 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, she squandered an opportunity to be a true advocate and traded it in to share fitness tips and how she eats to make “40 look like 20.”

If the intention of the Eating Recovery Center is to erase the stigmas and misconceptions associated with eating disorders, we must do more than parade a celebrity around to share the simple fact that she, too, has struggled. We must arm advocates with the information to shout to the masses about where eating disorders truly originate.

As a parent, I have been reluctant to share my daughter’s battle with the world, not because I am ashamed but because the task at hand seems so immense. When the mainstream media portrays eating disorders as purely body-image issues or — as in the case of Mrs. Bure — an issue of pure control, they are doing a disservice to all people and their families who are battling this deadly disorder.

I have stayed silent thus far, but feel that I can do so no more. I shoot knowing glances at that monster through our window, warning him to stay away. But now I must also yell from the rooftop to the world for understanding.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Originally published: November 4, 2016
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