Family Based Treatment (FBT) understands this truth: recovery from an eating disorder cannot be made without full weight restoration and ongoing full nutrition. There is another important acknowledgement FBT makes which conventional (and markedly less effective) treatments don’t: when the symptom of a disease is anosognosia (inability to recognize one is ill), waiting for the sufferer to choose to get help is a losing proposition.
Compare a 20% mortality rate for conventional treatment to 3% for adolescents treated with FBT. Food is medicine for these diseases. Just as as parents would insist on chemotherapy or insulin for a child with cancer or diabetes, insisting on their children with eating disorders taking their medicine (eating) is absolutely necessary and appropriate for parents to do.
This Sounds Really Hard and Uncomfortable and Scary
Watching our daughter descend into a potentially terminal illness, then fight for her ascension back to health is the hardest thing my husband and I have ever done. Nursing my mother through her terminal cancer and dealing with her and my sister’s premature deaths aren’t even in the same degree of difficulty range as fighting anorexia. Within the space of a week, we went from gratitude for an official diagnosis to the shock that even with early detection, our daughter would be out of school for her last semester of high school and in treatment six hours a day, six days a week for the foreseeable future.
What it Took
During the day Kinsey attended many varieties of therapy and processing groups at UCSD—this is when she wasn’t eating challenge foods for her two meals and two snacks. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was something our family participated in and she did individually; I highly recommend it.
At night, I fed her a calorie-dense dinner and evening snack. I spent ungodly amounts of money on food, learned to cook with heavy whipping cream and did not do one single thing for several months outside of these activities: drive, work, attend program, shop, cook, and ensure my daughter took her medicine (ate) and didn’t exercise.
One More Time: This Sounds Really Hard and Uncomfortable and Scary
When a mother is pursuing weight restoration in a child with anorexia she must become a Warrior Mama. She has no choice. The trick is to become a soft, pillowy brick wall. Life stops until you eat. Period.
This can mean a variety of things from hours-long meals, to scraping food off the ceiling and dodging flying crockery and cutlery, to hospital trips for nasal-gastric tube feedings to having the police department’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team on speed dial. In an ideal world this is done with preternatural calm and using all the DBT skills you’ve acquired.
“Whatever it takes” is the motto of a Warrior Mama.
What have you had to do where the ability to do it surprised you?