“I remember the first time I held that sweet little baby girl in my arms…
The whole big beautiful world was out there for her… I was in awe, in love and all I wanted to do was watch her grow up and fly on her dreams, happy and healthy.
I knew there would be struggles – colicky nights, temper tantrum throwing toddler in the middle of the grocery store, the endless “why” questions of an inquisitive preschooler, “big kid school”, the awkwardness of “tweens”, navigating the teen years worrying about sex, alcohol, drugs (and maybe rock and “roll).
Yes, I was a mish mash of many emotions on the birthday of my daughter and her twin brother – ecstatic, filled with love and hope, exhausted, nervous and scared as hell…all of the above!
BUTnever did I imagine a true predator would enter my home… intent on one thing and one thing only…to prey on and systematically destroy my child, my family and everything standing in the way of IT.
That true predator, that thug, that demon was an eating disorder.
I have been a practicing Pediatrician for almost 25 years…I have practiced in tertiary care children’s hospital ER’s, I have practiced rural and suburban pediatrics, and I have practiced international pediatrics. NEVER in my life have I seen a disease as complex, as awful, as frightening, and as misunderstood as eating disorders.
IT arrived insidiously in our home over 11 years ago…a few comments about calories, an obsession about “eating healthy” (whatever that means), comments about “getting in shape,” obsession about exercise, wearing very baggy clothes, and the list goes on and on.
We are now in year 11 of fighting this monster. There has been some reprieve but always, always IT is lurking. I grieve daily for all that my daughter has lost to IT. All that her twin has lost, all that I have lost, all that the world has lost due to her being held hostage to a disease that is beyond comprehension. A disease that literally takes over a person’s brain.
For the patient, this disease is the master con artist and manipulator.It isn’t about food, and it certainly isn’t about vanity.They live in a virtual hell 24/7.
For parents and other caregivers, eating disorders createtsunamis of helplessness, isolation, and sheer terror at times.
Helpless to fix your child, helpless to understand what is happening in their brain, among other things.Judgement from others who are quick to offer “advice” such as “why doesn’t he/she just eat?” (WOW, why didn’t I think of that???).
This often leads to isolation where, while figuring out how to help your child, you find yourself on an island with no one offering support nor trying to understand what your family is going through.
Parents thrust into a medical system that has very minimal understanding of the complexity of eating disorders at best, and actual harm being done at worst. Dealing with the interminable maze of insurance regulations, pre-authorizations, denials of care, and the list goes on.
For a “Dr. Mom” like me, the ignorance of society in general, my own profession, and insurance companies has been nothing short of unacceptable as relates to eating disorders.
Our society is so obsessed with body shaming, diet culture, clean eating, obsessive exercising, you name it… it is everywhere and worsening by the day and frighteningly, being marketed to younger and younger audiences.
Throughout medical school and my Pediatrics residency (which involved more than 15,000 hours of education and training), I received ONE week of training on eating disorders.
That’s it. And I was “fortunate”:most physicians receive zero training in this disease.
One week of training on a disease that affects more than 30 million Americans and kills up to 20% of those afflicted.Someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes.
It is the third most common chronic disease of adolescence. Hospital admissions rose 120% in the last decade for eating disorders in children under 12 years old. We now know that the risk of developing anorexia is 50-80% due to genetics.
Despite the grim statistics as well as the ignorance of society and themedical profession, there is HOPE…
There is always hope.
Recovery is possible.
Educate yourself if you have a loved one diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Join support groupsthat (thankfully) now exist; lean on those who understand and have been through it.
Listen to podcasts.
Read, read, read.
Become your child’s biggest advocate in the medical system – be his or her voice until he or she can become their own.
Eating disorders do not have to be a death sentence or a disabling disease. People with eating disorders tend to be extremely bright, empathic, highlyc creative, strong, and amazing people.
They deserve every chance at recovery as much as any other disease does.
Stigma and ignorance towards this disease must stop – but only if we stand up to let our voices be heard.”