Saturday, April 05, 2008

Recovering from anorexia: a parent's journey

I've come to realize that this is the year I'm recovering from our family's struggle with anorexia. It's been just about three years since my daughter Kitty got sick. She's been physically healthy for nearly two years, and mentally healthy for almost that long. She's happy, engaged in the world, healthy in every measure. For her, anorexia is thankfully in the past.

For me, though, it still feels very present. It took me a while to realize this because things are so positive.

It's little things that trigger the feelings for me right now. Things like the image above, which appeared in our local paper recently as part of an article about a student art show at the university here. It's called "The Fruit Eaters," by student Aniela Sobienski, and looking at it puts me right back in the land of anorexia.

Another trigger: Last night we went to see the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives for the Day. Great movie, about a proper middle-aged woman who finds herself in unusual circumstances. (Go see it. It's worth it.) Every time the main character tries to eat something it escapes her--it falls on the ground, someone knocks the food out of her hand, etc. In one scene she's having a facial; the attendant puts two slices of cucumber on her eyes and walks out. Closeup to her face, which is covered in goo that makes it look bizarre and distorted. Miss Pettigrew looks around and then eats the two cucumber slices. The look on her face is positively blissful.

Me? I was right back in anorexia land.

Maybe some of this reaction is because I am writing the book about our family's experience that I've been wanting to write for a while. It's a useful catharsis for me and, I hope, useful for others.

I can't imagine what this process of recovery is like for parents who have been pushed out of their child's recovery. Who have been the victims of "parentectomy." I am so grateful that we went the route we did in helping our daughter through anorexia.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Can eating disorders be prevented?

Laura Eickman thinks so. She's a Psy.D. with a private practice in Kansas who makes presentations on what she calls the danger zone, which she defines as the area between eating disorders and "healthy" behaviors. (Which, by my reckoning, is everything else. But I digress.)

Eickman gave a talk recently at Pittsburg State University, a fact that caught my eye because of her emphasis on prevention. The question of whether prevention efforts are effective is a controversial one; some say that few to none show any tangible results, while others see value in certain kinds of interventions.

It's a question that weigh heavily on my mind. Could my daughter's anorexia have been prevented? Her younger sister is at greater risk of developing an eating disorder now; what, if anything, can be done to prevent it?

I don't think Eickman has any answers, at least not judging from the news articles about her presentations. (I haven't seen them myself.)

This quote, from Collegionline, the PSU student independent online paper, disturbed me greatly:

Eickman says people in the danger zone take only one to two years to treat, while those with fully developed disorders take five to six years.

As I have reason to know, at least the last half of that sentence is a lie. My daughter was weight restored from severe anorexia in 11 months; her mental recovery took another 6 months or so. Today, about 3 years after she developed anorexia, she is healthy and happy, with a positive relationship to eating, food, and her body, thanks to the fact that we used family-based treatment to help her recover.

Maybe it's PTSD on my part, but I don't trust "experts" who make statements like the one attributed to Eickman. And somehow I suspect her so-called prevention program is little more than words.

Which is too bad. Because God knows we need prevention that works.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Feminism and the pressure to be thin

Celtic Chimp posted this comment on another thread, and it inspired me to write a new post:

I have never understood how women can have such a wrong impression of themselves. Healthy, beautiful women obsessing about their weight. If women could just see themselves from a blokes perspective for five minutes they would be very confident! I and most men I know find very thin women to be extremey unattractive. Now I'm not saying it is all about what men want or that that is why you lot do the whole weight thing but it is most perplexing to us men-folk. Whilst I agree that aiming that sort of complete bollox at young girls is completely irresponsible, I do think that adult women have got to take some responsibility and teach girls a little common sense. Maybe when their mothers stop fretting about their weight and image so much they will follow suit.

Well, Celtic Chimp, here's the thing: The pressure to be thin is not about what men want. It's not about sexual attractiveness. It's about power.

As you point out, many men--maybe most men, I don't know, as I'm not a man--do not find extreme skinniness sexually attractive. So the thin-is-sexier argument doesn't wash. Most men I know want women to look like women, not prepubescent boys.

No, this is about power. It's about wanting women to be small in the world, to take us less space, literally and metaphorically. This of course is not a new idea; it's one of the underpinnings of first wave feminism, and sadly it still holds true.

I think there's something else going on here, too. I think so long as women are obsessed with our weight and eating and body image, we aren't focusing on other, much more important things. Anyone who's ever had an eating disorder can tell you that while you're in the grip of one, you have no energy or concentration or ability to frocus on anything else. An eating disorder is a kind of closed loop. A dead end. Something to keep the circuits busy so they don't go exploring.

I think the cultural norms today around women and food and eating amount to an eating disorder, or at least highly disordered eating. Women's "place" used to be in the home; that was the 19th-century way to keep women down. Now, maybe, dieting and exercising and obsessing over weight is taking on that role.

Either way, the result is the same. So long as we're busy weighing ourselves, we will never measure up and never get any bloody real work done in the world. In that sense I think you're right: We, women, have to stand up to the culture, reject the pressure to be thin, protect our children from it.

It's not easy to swim against the current. But it's necessary.

So thanks for making the point. I'd love to hear what my readers think.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You tell 'em, Daniel Engber

In this article from the Dallas Morning News, Engber deconstructs a couple of the myths of the obesity "crisis." Nothing particularly new, but nice to see it in a big paper/national format.