Sunday, March 11, 2007

Is anorexia like alcoholism?

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.


Anonymous said...

I just read the article that you wrote about your daughter. I had a very similar experience to her last summer (i was 13), i weighed about 78 pounds. I think i understand both sides of the story you told, but I'm very glad that your daughter is recovering. I am too, and have gained some weight. About the alcoholism, my family is very full of alcoholics, and my doctors believe that it could contribute. Thank you

Harriet said...

Hello Anonymous,

Like alcoholism, anorexia seems to be a disease that you inherit the genes for. This doesn't mean everyone with those genes will develop the disease, but it does make you more suceptible to it.

I wish you a FULL recovery. Don't settle for anything less. With full nutrition and support from your family I believe you can get your real life back forever, and not be tormented by anorexia.

Health, strength, and fun to you!

Amy Rogers said...

I wish your daughter nothing less than the best. Anorexia is a horrible disease and one that if I could protect the young girls in my position six years ago against I would in a flash. I just wanted to give you a piece of advice, which is that I did restore weight, but then came college. Be on the look out during her college years because the pressure is on and dating changes and in comes alcohol. While at first occasional drinking was fun, as all freshmen do, by the age of 20, I was back into my anorexia as I noticed it became so much easier to hide that way. You actually create the pain of anorexia, and than mask it with the alcohol and because she will be prone to addictive behaviors its a bad habit unfortunately she may pick up. Fighting the two again hand in hand was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I dont want to scare you, I just think that if my parents had known that I would head down this path they may have been able to ward me off quicker. The funny thing is, that as an anorexic you learn to hide your disease well, so its very easy to hide your drinking because you know all the tricks already. Just be careful, god bless and I hope she stays in recovery.

Amy Rogers said...

I hope you do not mind, but I posted a link to your daughter's story on my newly created blog. I find it inspiring and gives hope as well as the perfect description of the "demon" of an eating disorder better than anything I am yet to read.

I wanted to let you know I admire you and your fight. Your article meant a lot to me to read.

Harriet said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Troubles. I'm glad to know a little bit about you. I wish you all the best.