Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting her to eat

In my new blog, Brave Girl Eating, for Psychology Today, I wrote about how we got our daughter to eat when she was in the grip of anorexia. Read it here. I hope it's helpful to those of you who are struggling to help a child or teen with anorexia.


Ashleigh said...

I got your book yesterday afternoon and just finished reading it. I loved your honesty about how difficult this disease is to deal with. Im 24 and have struggled with this wretched disease for almost 16 years now. Im still not fully recovered but im still fighting. My family attempted FBT when I was 16 but the demon proved to much for them to handle. I am still in treatment in Cleveland and will pass your book along to the clinicians there, since they run a maudsley program. I think that your bopok will help give a lot of families hope and encouragement. You and your family are very brave. Tell Kitty that she is amazing and so brave for sharing her story.
Much love

Harriet said...


I'm so sorry to hear you've been struggling for so long. This illness is so unfair. But I'm glad to hear you're not giving up. *You* are brave, my dear, and I wish you strength and recovery.

allison said...

On every page of your book I heard my own voice. I share your story. My first daughter began restricting in the 4th grade. She quickly fell into the black hole and the demon took over. After exhausting every avenue, I "fired" every one and our family took over. Living in Boston MA with all of the hospitals was not even enough. No one understood or could help.I even had the same experience as you did in the partial day treatment program. I ended up homeschooling my daughter in 5th grade and feeding her each and every day for one year. By the 6th grade she was back at school and had many ups and downs. 7th grade was a bit better but the demon would show up at random times and not allow her to enjoy so many things that a middle schooler should. She is now entering 8th grade and after reading your book she told me that the demon is always there but that she has to be stronger then he is. Her weight is now on the charts for her height and as our new pediatrician said "she is doing fine". But we know that is not exactly true. Infact, I smell toast in the kitchen so I must go and make sure that my brave girl is putting butter on that bread. Thank you for giving me the renewed strenght to keep fighting.

Harriet said...

Dear Allison,

Your daughter is lucky to have such a devoted mother.

There is one therapist in MA who supports FBT. If you check the Maudsley Parents provider list at you'll see her name.

I wish you and your brave girl well.

Patty O. said...

I happened upon your book yesterday at my library and cannot put it down. I don't have a child with an eating disorder, but I am still very grateful to be reading this book. As an American women, my relationship with food has always been complicated, to say the least.

Your book is helping me see how our society's views on thinness and food and eating can be a big part of the problem of eating disorders.

I was horrified at one point while reading the book when I thought, "Wow, I wish I had Kitty's self control." It is attitudes and misconceptions like mine that only make it worse for families dealing with eating disorders. And as a mom of a child with autism, I know how painful it can be to deal with others' blame and judgement.

Thank you for opening my eyes and helping to dispel some common myths about eating disorders. And a big thank you to your brave daughter for allowing her story to be told!

Harriet said...

I think we've all had those thoughts. I know I have. And phrases have come out of my mouth that have horrified me in retrospect. It's what we're raised on . . . and changing perceptions takes time.

Thank *you* for writing to me, and for being open to the story. I wish you well--

Amanda Harris said...

I just finished reading your book. I was technically diagnosed ED-NOS at seventeen, after months of subsisting on eight hundred calories a day led me to break my foot. Had I been twenty pounds thinner, I would've been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Because I believe in looking at the symptoms and not a number, I consider myself a recovering anorexic.

What stuck out is the similarities between "Kitty" and I. We're both wound up (I'm the kind of person who thinks sleep is overrated). What I've learned is, even if you're tempted, you can't try to be Superwoman. You'll handle everything until that one day when you realize you can't. And then you'll burn out and be left with nothing. It's like being manic.

And, for the record, starving my body triggered a severe attack of Crohn's Disease that eventually led to surgery. This as the college process was going on.

My advice on college? The 'Superwoman' ethos sometimes leads you to overestimate how much you can tackle. I (and probably "Kitty" too) have an all-or-nothing mentality. We take on the world or we don't do anything. There is a happy medium. And that happy medium may mean taking on less than the average person my age, because I am more sensitive.

My Mom and I both made the decision to stay home for college. This way, I don't have to worry about working, or maintaining a room (or even, in my case, a car). I just have to go to school. And that makes me feel a whole lot more at ease.

As it turns out, one of the courses at my (local) college changed my life. Music. It was a requirement. There was a piano in my classroom. I remember hearing my professor play. And it was as though he was using the instrument to battle the desire to be perfect. I heard my struggle in that piano. I had played an instrument before, but I quit because I couldn't stand that I made mistakes.

It all dawned on me then: I don't have to be perfect to do what I love. I now have the courage to do things I used to be passionate about, because I'm not afraid of making a mistake. And I'm not afraid of someone else being "better" than I am. Everyone's entitled to make mistakes. "Kitty" and I included.

You tend to refer to anorexia as "Not-Kitty", to divorce the disease from the person. A disease, unfortunately, is part of who we are. Because, especially with mental illness, there are personality traits that predispose us to it. Crohn's Disease and ED-NOS/Anorexia are both a part of who I am. They have helped shape my experiences and perspectives.

They've taught me to embrace life when I can...because I never know when I won't be able to. It doesn't mean I want pity and it doesn't mean I'm less of a person. It means I know what I'm talking about when I say I've seen hell.

You are never the same post-ED. You will never get the "old" you back. Part of recovery is making peace with that. But, if all goes well, you should come out stronger and more confident than you could ever imagine.

Harriet said...

Dear Amanda,
Thank you for sharing a bit of your story so openly. I admire your bravery and strength and perceptiveness.

You're right: eating disorders change everyone they touch. And you're also right that with recovery, you can come out stronger and more confident than before.

I wish you all good things--

Anonymous said...

Dear Harriet, thank you for the book and for the articles you write - they help me so much. Actually, I haven't read the book yet, I'm just going to order it, but I've read some extracts which you placed to the Internet.
Some your ideas and conclusions are so helpful for me! I'm now recovering by myself (and with the help oа my great husband) from anorexia, and it is so imoirtant to know how to do it properly, and to read the "success stories".
Thank you!

Harriet said...

Hello Anonymous,
So glad to hear you're on the road to recovery, and that you have a great support person! That's so important. Good for both of you. Wishing you strength and joy--

Harriet said...

Hello Anonymous,
So glad to hear you're on the road to recovery, and that you have a great support person! That's so important. Good for both of you. Wishing you strength and joy--