Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Nourishing My Son
Just four months after my son’s 11th birthday, he was diagnosed with anorexia. You might be surprised that my son has anorexia, both because he is a boy and because he was so young. In reality, 1 in 10 anorexia sufferers are boys and it isn’t uncommon for kids to be diagnosed as young as 9 years old.
My son wasn’t the rebellious teenager with anorexia that I had always pictured as described in my high-school health class. In contrast, my starving son was well-adjusted, kind-hearted, smart, obedient, and good. Yet, he was restricting and counting his calories. He exercised excessively and started to drop pounds quickly. He became so incapacitated about eating that he would often curl up on the floor and cry for hours. He was starving, but just couldn’t eat.
Because of his diagnosis of anorexia, we sought out the best medical and psychological care. But, he continued to decline. For four months, despite therapy and medical care, he continued to lose weight. We were desperate as he reached his low weight of 76 lbs. – a total loss of 30 pounds. He had missed tons of school because he literally couldn’t get out the door each morning. His grades had gone from As to Fs. Our whole family was really suffering.
At this low point, we held an extended family fast and I felt that I needed to become an expert on anorexia in order to help my son. I sought after and read everything that I could find about anorexia. Within a week, I discovered a wonderful parent-support-forum (http://aroundthedinnertable.org). These parents, all with children suffering from anorexia, steered me to research that suggests that anorexia is a brain disease and not psychological in origin. Consequently, this research advocated a different approach at treating anorexia. I shared this research my son’s doctor and he indicated that it was valid research. So we changed our course.
The traditional approach for treating anorexia is to try and talk the sufferer into eating and simultaneously deal with assumed underlying psychological issues. This approach has controversial success rates, a high incidence of relapse, tends to separate the children from their parents, and usually involves years of treatment and thousands of dollars. We had started with this treatment approach. But after months of continued weight loss, our son wasn’t getting better, and was actually getting worse.
Our changed approach (based on Maudsley treatment methods), encouraged family involvement and emphasized food as medicine. I learned that treating anorexia is like treating cancer. If you had a child with cancer, you wouldn’t try to talk that child into having chemo. Instead, you would acknowledge to your child that chemo is horrible, but is ultimately what was necessary to save your child’s life. With anorexia, food is the chemo. And as horrible as food seemed to my malnourished son, it is ultimately what would save his life.
Just days after my son reached his low weight of 76 pounds, I presented him with a plate full of food. I told him that the world had stopped. We wouldn’t be going anywhere nor doing anything until he ate – no school, no scouts, no church, no meetings, nothing. He argued, sobbed and yelled. After several hours, he realized that I was serious and he took a bite. It was a long night of taking one bite at a time, but he ultimately finished his food. This began an ongoing routine. Every meal was hard for him. We made jokes that food was “scary,” but eating literally was scary to him. I became an expert in making calorically dense foods. He started gaining weight. His improvement came one pound at a time. But with every pound, I could see my son emerging. It took seven months for him to regain those 30 lbs. It has been 18 months since my son got sick. We consider him to be in remission now.
In writing this post I have two desires. My first desire is to spread the word that there is an alternative in the treatment of anorexia which works. The second is to help break down many of the negative stereotypes associated with anorexia. 1 out of every 10 girls and 1 out of every 100 boys will suffer from anorexia. These are huge statistics and you might find yourself confronting anorexia at some point in your life.
Posted by Wendy at 9:13 AM