The first question people ask after they read our family's story of helping our daughter Kitty recovery from anorexia: Is this like alcoholism, where she'll be dealing with it for the rest of her life?
It's a fair question, given the fact that traditional rates of relapse in anorexia are extraordinarily high--up to 50% of anorexia sufferers relapse within a year of treatment, according to one 2001 study. I know of several girls my daughter's age who are in the midst of relapses right now. My heart goes out to them.
The first few times people asked this question, it made me cry. The thought that my daughter might have to deal with anorexic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for the rest of her life is awful and scary and beyond demoralizing.
But there's good reason to hope that for girls like Kitty, whose anorexia is treated relatively quickly (within 3 years of onset) and who become fully weight restored (not to 90 percent of their ideal body weight, as many clinicians are willing to settle for, but to 100 or 110 percent), relapse is far less likely. Preliminary studies of long-term outcomes for teens treated with the Maudsley approach, or family-based therapy, are very promising.
So now when people ask the question, I answer this way: We don't know what will happen for Kitty in the future. But we're hopeful that 10 years from now she will look back on anorexia as one of the trials of adolescence, not as a defining moment in her life. She'll remember it (actually I hope she doesn't remember many of the really bad moments) rather than still be experiencing it.
Our job will be to watch and protect her for the rest of her adolescence, especially when she goes to college, which is often a vulnerable time. Which, when you think of it, is what a parent's job is all about, anyway--to protect and take care of a child.