Friday, April 13, 2007

The Missing Link

In the lexicon of sensationalized news stories, there are none quite as poignant as stories like this headline from the Times of London: "15st boy is taken from grandparents who lost their daughter to anorexia."

The story goes on to describe, in horrified tones, how a 10-year-old Spanish boy was removed from his grandparents' custody after they overfed him until he reached 200 pounds. The story goes on, predictably, to quote experts familiar with the case as well as those who were not about the dangers of obesity, how obesity is on the rise, etc. etc.

Buried up near the front of the piece is a crucial nugget of information, mentioned once and never referred to again. The grandparents had custody in the first place because the boy's mother had died of anorexia.

It's tragic that no one quoted in this story (and for all I know, in the boy's life) has made the connection between his mother's death from anorexia, his grandparents' feeding behavior, and his own eating. Imagine watching your daughter or your mother starve herself to death. Imagine the grief, the guilt, the disbelief and lack of understanding. Of course that has an effect on everyone's relationship to food.

Authorities took the boy away from his grandparents and put him on a diet. They report that he has now lost more than 20kg and that they'd like to return him to his grandparents' custody. The story goes on: "But they say the grandparent remain “in denial” that their feeding habits are a problem – health officials said that they even tried to smuggle chocolate biscuits to him during their weekly visits. “The problem is that the grandparents still don’t understand that they were harming the lad and seriously placing his life and future at risk,” Ms Fern├índez said."

What will it take for us to look at the relationship with food and eating as a whole package and not isolated bits of pathology? My heart goes out to this boy and his grandparents.


Anonymous said...

How sad that they saw it better to remove him from his home than to support them with education if they needed it. Let's hope he's fine and this doesn't trigger fears in him that will linger.Let's hope the genetic risk him is not awakened. They didn't mention if the GP's get to visit him.
Children can be resilient and he knows he is loved, big things in his favor BUT, to say he should be 100lbs.! He's growing! Let's hope they get him home soon.

Harriet said...

He's 10 years old and both he and his grandparents have had the experience of watching someone they love starve to death. I wish for them all not just nutritional scolding but therapy and support for grief and the other emotional processes they have to go through.

Fiona Marcella said...

It's also true that there may well be a genetic link between obesity and anorexia - in other words a link between all conditions involving regulation of appetite. One dear work colleague of mine died of binge-eating. At the time of his death he weighed over 300 pounds. His brother is obese, his sister died of AN. They had a happy childhood (their mother has passed away but their dear father is left to bury his children) but always struggled with their eating - I am SURE that there was a genetic more than a behavioural cause of their inability to regulate their food intake. Perhaps this could be the case here too and these poor grandparents are being blamed for the illnesses of, AND risk losing both their child and their grandchild to the SAME biologically driven process.

Carrie Arnold said...

And I think some of it too is that everyone is so afraid of starving to death. They watched it. The grandparents and the boy are probably much more terrified of starvation than obesity- as they should be. They need grief counselling. The grandparents are feeding their grandchild out of love, not out of neglect.

mary said...

My dear friend who is now 45yrs. and once over 600lbs... he's over 6 ft tall, had to go through an IP stay when he found himself sick at around 25yrs. The hospital stay was hard work for him as he's a high functioning mentally challenged man. He was still young and had only recently lost his mom, his wonderful support in life.[his dad had passed a few yrs. earlier]This IP stay was where he learned about limits and minding himself, something I couldn't seem to guide him with. He got down to just under 400lbs. for a while and had all kinds of promises made if he'd get to 300lbs. Not even a car got him to go that far! hehehe
I believe that his childhood was a hungry one! He had an appetite to beat the band and what he wasn't fed he found a way to sneak. He always smelled us cooking and made sure nothing was left uneaten.
He has many food stories of hiding cans of sardines under his bed or pedaling his bike down the highway for a twinkie.[really a package of twinkies] His mom was petite like his brother but his dad was a big guy.
Not so long ago he shared that he liked cooking a turkey because it fed him well!
My point I think is that his heart wasn't jeopardized so much as his feet were at holding such an enormous man. He walks a mile to and from work and every now and then it affects him. He still has his own place, lives alone, and he works part time and is much loved. He's lost many normal sized friend's along the way but then everyone is his friend. He recently had a date and is so thrilled. I always told him that he had to stop telling women they were going to have to be his servant or they'd all run.
Grandma and grandpa of this young man may be perfectly capable of helping through the grief but what they may find challenging is his never ending appetite. Of course if they can all receive support it will be even better. He needs to learn his limits. They can help but darn, kids are sneaky. If he's half as smart as M, my friend, he will find ways to get to food. He CAN learn to set limits but they'll all need plenty of support. This may be a life long ordeal but he may actually be a healthy big man someday and that needs to be accepted by society. He may live a full life and who can want more. It's unfortunate that the attitude seems to be 'BLAME' rather than a 'LET US HELP YOU' attitude. It could do him more harm than good if he feels he must be 'good' to be with his family again. Then too we only have the media's view...and that may be a wee bit off.
Ok, now I've gone on and onnnnnnn. OOPs.

Harriet said...


Absolutely. Having watched my d nearly starve herself to death, I'm much more comfortable with overweight than underweight at this point. And the mortality statistics support this. :-)


What a story. I guess the question is, if you can learn to feed yourself and reconnect with your own pattern of hunger and satiety, then you should stabilize at a weight that's right for you. Maybe for your friend it was 400 lbs. Maybe for this young boy is was 15 stone (whatever that is :-)). Or maybe not. So long as so much of our culture is eating disordered it's really hard to tell.

Moby Dick said...

The real problem here is that the grandparents can't afford to hire real lawyers and so the social workers are allowed to screw with this family as they wish.

If they had private attorneys, the kid would have been home in a jiffy, and he would have been seeing a nutritionist without the help of The Government.

Carrie Arnold said...

And yet you don't hear the hullaballoo about children with anorexia NOT BEING FED AT HOME because it's standard practice. Does this boy weigh too much? Quite possibly. But why are people noticing overweight instead of underweight (relative terms, I know, but nevertheless)? Somehow feeding children is being scolded upon (Anna Nicole Smith is rumored to have watered her baby's formula down so that her d would be 'sexy'). Lord forbid you feed someone with anorexia. And Lord forbid you feed a boy who lost his mother to AN.

I find it highly unlikely that th grandparents were 'unaware' of their grandson's weight. But anorexia in the family changes everything.

(Mary, apparently I'm channeling your vibes tonight...reply longer than the original post) /*

mary said...

Well done Carrie!
Because my mom has been following the Anna N. story I mentioned the formula to her this morn. I learned a little more than I expected today, about my own life. Apparently my pediatrician put me on a watered down formula!!! My mom called him soon after saying that I wouldn't stop screaming. She chose to put me back on the original brew and I was content again. Is it any wonder I question any Dr. I've gone to, to this day? I'll be no one's guinea pig. We all must choose carefully. I am glad my mom listened to her gut!
Back to the boy, let's hope that everyone concern listens to what's in his best interest and according to his needs.