Help for an Anorexic Child

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My  daughter struggled with anorexia for many years. Her struggle began when she was 14 and continued for the next 5 years. Today she is a beautiful, healthy, vibrant young woman of 20.  She has no anorexic tendencies. I want to share with you some things that I believe can help a parent to achieve success with their anorexic son or daughter.

Some children will have a predisposition to anorexia. This is the child who is above average intelligence, a perfectionist, very socially conscious, sensitive to the needs of others, altruistic, one who likes to help resolve others problems, often has musical and or athletic skills.  These are some of the general characteristics, but certainly not limited to this list.

One of the first things that must be addressed is the thought that many parents, social workers and often even physicians may have towards a child who is anorexic. So often this child is called selfish. How often these children have been told: “Stop thinking about yourself and start eating.” “Stop causing your parents so much pain.” “Just start eating so you will feel better.” “Don’t you care about yourself?”

Anorexics are NOT SELFISH. They are desperately hurting people who are trying to handle the pains and pressures in life in a very unhealthy way – much the same as an alcoholic or drug addict.

Anorexics are often so UNSELFISH that they feel they don’t deserve to eat. They often feel guilty eating when there is so much pain and suffering in the world. They often want to shrivel up and be tiny – less for the world to worry about. They often feel that they are a burden to people – if they could shrink down to a tiny size they would help alleviate some of the world’s problems.

Anorexia stems from a loss of control over one’s life. It is a back-handed way to regain the control that was lost. Anorexia doesn’t come as the result of just one traumatic event – but many. Anorexia is the result of a finished puzzle. With each piece that is put into place the picture of Anorexia becomes clearer. Once the final event occurs which puts that last puzzle piece into place we now have a young person with a full-blown eating disorder.

What are the events which are the puzzle pieces to an eating disorder? Here are some examples: Betrayal by friends, breakup with a boyfriend, friends disassociating with them, bullying, peers that are struggling with life issues, friends that are unfaithful, boyfriend or girlfriend with depression issues, parents that are too controlling, parents that are overly involved with child’s life, parents that are too strict.

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When enough painful wounds occur in the young person’s heart you have the final piece of the Anorexia puzzle. Anorexia then becomes a new mission for the young person. It seems to give them a sense of purpose, control and order. “I may not be able to control my best friend leaving me but I can control the food I put in my mouth.” This misconstrued sense of control begins to permeate their minds along with strange and new thought patterns. If the anorexia continues, some of the thought patterns begin to form a voice inside the person’s head. Professionals call it “Ed” – for eating disorder.  Interestingly, no matter what part of the world  you speak to a young person with anorexia, the “voice” of Ed – tells them all the same things.

Some of the things this Anorexic voice says is: “If you eat food I will harm your family.” “If you eat food you will become a big, fat slob.”  “If you eat food no one will love you.”  “If you eat food your boyfriend will never come back to you.” “If your stomach is hungry tell your stomach to go eat itself.” “If you drink any water then you will have to run 5 miles to burn it off ” “Look at that grape you ate, do you realize how fat it will make you?” “You are so selfish to eat when others are dying of starvation.”    

The voice is loud, tormenting and demonic. There is no other way to put it. This voice controls, manipulates and directs an anorexic’s life.  It places overwhelming and burdensome demands on this young person. It tells them what they can and cannot eat.

In time the voice of “Ed” continues to grow stronger. It can become so overwhelming that the young boy or girl can no longer concentrate on school, home life, social life or other normal activities. The young person spends their time trying to please this demanding voice in their head. It is confusing, overwhelming and tormenting. This may be why there is such a high suicide rate among young people with eating disorders. The pain just becomes too unbearable.

What  can you as a parent, guardian or concerned adult do to help an anorexic child? Be kind.  Always be gentle and sensitive. Never, never, never be harsh or demanding. Always speak with a soft, kind voice. These kids have already beat themselves up for all their failures and past mistakes – they don’t need you to beat them down even more for their failure to eat. When you do get mad – walk away. Leave the room until you can speak with a loving tone of voice. Much damage is done when you yell, berate, intimidate or demean this child. It actually compounds the problems. They may begin to think “See how Dad is yelling? He hates you. He is yelling because you are such a bad person.”

The issue is NOT FOOD. The  issue is control. They are only using food as a form of control. Start eating meals together. With everyone eating it is easier for the anorexic to not be so obvious with their food. If they just pick at their food and only eat a little – be thankful for what they DID eat.

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Anorexic’s think about food all day long. Overly discussing it with them only compounds the problem. Find an outside interest that can get their minds off of food. One thing that helped my daughter tremendously was adopting a dog from the pound. He himself was abused and abandoned. She made an instant connection with him in that her friends had all abandoned her also. She put much time and energy into rehabilitating him. This caused her to begin to trust again and gave her a healthy outlet. She groomed him, fed him, bathed him and exercised him. This was the beginning of her getting her mind on someone who had different issues than she had.

One of your top priorities should be to involve the child in new and healthy interests that divert his or her interests from the eating disorder. While they may no longer be able to be physically involved in strenuous sports they can certainly find interests that are non-atheletic where they will meet new people, develop new relationships, build their  self-esteem and fill their time with interesting diversions. I still believe that working with abused animals is one of the best therapies as it takes the focus off the anorexic and onto the animal. This doesn’t mean you have to adopt a new pet – just regularly visiting a dog pound and volunteering can bring healthy results.

COUNSELORS.  A counselor can make or break a child. Be thorough when you take your child to a new counselor. Be absolutely certain they are highly qualified to work with Anorexics specifically. Many counselors will say they work with eating disorders – yet never had specific training. We had several bad experiences with counselors. One therapist said to my daughter “You are so pretty. Have you ever thought about being a model?” I was livid. I had to explain to the therapist that she had just said the worst thing in regard to someone struggling with an eating disorder. I reminded her that models often struggle with Anorexia and that she was way out of line to have made that remark.

Another counselor told my daughter (who was 15  at the time)  that she was secretly going to give her anti-depressants. It was very upsetting to find out that a trained professional was untrustworthy. A degree means very little if there isn’t common sense and real life experience to go with it. Use wisdom. Get many references. Do your homework. Your choice of counselor can save or destroy your child’s life.

Each case is so unique that parents need to personally access their child’s situation and determine if it is necessary to send them to an eating disorder clinic. I wrote about our experience with Remuda Ranch https://jackieosinski.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/problems-with-remuda-ranch-arizona/ 

The battle with Anorexia or any eating disorder is a long, drawn out process. A parent must determine that they are in it for the long haul. Determine in your mind that you will not stop helping your loved one until they are completely whole once again.

“Dear Lord, I lift up this concerned parent. You know the heartache, struggles and concerns that lay heavy on their heart. Give them hope. Remind them that hope is a discipline not an emotion. Encourage them to keep seeking for insight, healing and information. Send them the right people to join them on the healing  journey for their child. I ask that you would lovingly place your hand upon their daughter or son and begin to heal their heart, their mind and their emotions. Give them the tools that they will need to fight this eating disorder. Give this precious family your peace. Send complete recovery.” In Jesus name I pray.  amen

Please feel free to contact me on this blog site or at my email address if I can be of further help to you.

8 thoughts on “Help for an Anorexic Child

  1. I know a girl who i concerned about who is in hospital with self harm and anorexia in Spain. I am struggling to find any relevant books in Spanish. Sbe is not a Christian but does anyone know of a books of prayer or something similar to begin to see her own value and self worth and become free ?

    1. Natalie,
      She can watch all my Youtube teachings with captions in Spanish. She should watch all of them to find empowerment and healing. She needs to watch all the ones on No More Low Self Esteem, Healing for deep pain of Past Hurts and Secret for True Forgiveness.

      Our Prayer Team is now lifting you up.

      Here is how it is done.

      To choose a different caption language:
      In the bottom-right, click Settings .
      Click Subtitles/CC.
      Select a language.

  2. In complete contrast with your sentence: “Never push food on this child. Never coherse or manipulate the child to eat.” The Maudsley Method teaches that a parent (or trained caregiver at a clinic) be sure that your starved child follows a meal plan outlined by a ED trained dietitian. {No leaving the table. No exception.} This is because a starved, anorexic child, will NEVER chose to eat unless there is a supportive person enforcing those eating decision for them. Once the child is ‘weight restored’ the child can then be slowly given leeway in making their own portion and food choices. Please update your website to include this most researched and modern methodology for healing for anorexic children.

    1. Thank you Marilyn, you are right and I was wrong. I have since corrected that particular post. I appreciate you pointing out my errors and bringing wisdom to the article. It is much appreciated.

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