FBT What?

Happy Family at a weddingFamily 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?

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Jennifer Denise Ouellette

Jennifer Denise Ouellette is the author of the blog Juggling Life, which is also her two-word autobiography. She is the mother of four, an Allied Health Program Director for a vocational school, and an activist who uses social media to draw attention to the needs of those with eating disorders and their families.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

  1. Nancy Clarkson

    This is wonderful and to the point!

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  2. Spokalulu

    Because Jennifer shared her story with so many of us, I am much more aware of the health of my son’s girlfriend. (His gf has battled bulimia.)

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  3. Julee Katzman

    You have just described our family’s experience with my son’s weight restoration. “Life stops until you eat. Period!” Now that he is weight restored we are making real progress.

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  4. Deb Schenck

    I nearly lost my daughter and she spent over 2 months in the hospital. They sent her home weight restored and now I absolutely believe food is medicine….at our house all things stop until meals and snacks are eaten…..all I do is work, shop, cook, do dishes and start again but it is saving my daughter’s life. Baby Steps until she is healed.

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  5. The most important (and scary) thing I learned from Jennifer’s journey is that just being a good role model (not dieting, not talking about my own weight) is not enough to ensure my daughter would never get an ED. I’m grateful for this knowledge, and hoping I’ll never need to use it.

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  6. Alyson Carroll Earnest

    100% our experience with our daughter. It worked. She was that sick, and now she is well.

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