Loving My Child Through Anorexia

by Gigi Ross on March 26, 2014

helping a child through anorexia

What happens when your world turns upside down? What happens when you learn that your daughter has an illness that you never thought she’d have? What happens when she has anorexia? Today, Jennifer writes a beautiful post about how she faced this challenging situation with her own daughter.

I am a homeschooler. Not just your run of the mill homeschooler, but part of an even stranger subculture. In my 15 years of homeschooling I have ground wheat, baked sourdough bread, lived off the grid, raised chickens and even wore denim dresses for a blessedly short time.

After sixteen years of living this lifestyle of total devotion to having a natural home, with little emphasis on looking amazing, I was shocked to realize that my daughter was dealing with anorexia. It came on as suddenly as a sandstorm, bringing devastation in its wake. My daughter had always been a stoic little thing, and the accident that preceded her disorder was a perfect example of her grace under pressure. She had been rappelling down a cliff face with friends when a lone rock came tumbling down on her cliff-braced thigh, tearing the flesh while she was suspended in mid air. After hiking two miles out oozing blood into a bandage, she was rushed to the hospital for stitches. An infection followed, with the inevitable bacteria destroying antibiotics. Sadly, those same antibiotics also destroyed the good bacteria in my daughter’s gut, which left her more susceptible to depression and mental disorders.

As the infection healed, my daughter stopped eating, and as the weight dropped off her small but sturdy frame, her paranoia about her size increased. Soon, my angelic daughter who had rarely rebelled was pitching huge fits as I tried to encourage her to eat. I was completely unprepared mentally to deal with this disorder. My daughter had been a perfect child, a little intense at times but a simply amazing person. She was a natural beauty, prettiest when she had been cavorting in the sand at the beach or running through the brush on our property. She had always seemed perfectly unconcerned with her body and with cultural concepts of beauty. I had several friends who had struggled with eating disorders in high school, but since they had both come from difficult homes, I couldn’t conceive of how this monster had visited my “perfect” home.

However, as my daughters delusions about her size continued, I could no longer ignore the truth that was staring me down. Sadly, I felt completely alone in this struggle. In the homeschool world, there is such an emphasis on raising good kids, that I couldn’t imagine what my friends would think. Even the books on anorexia that I found were completely discouraging. One in particular laid all the blame for an eating disorder on an overprotective mother, and the only cure suggested was a drop off at the nearest treatment facility.

Although this assumption about me as a mother had a shadow of truth, the advice was abhorrent to me. I could remember my high school friend going in and out of rehab, usually ending up with a group of even more dangerous friends each time she checked out. After sixteen years of putting my heart and soul into parenting this amazing girl, turning her over to strangers was not an appealing option. I finally found a book which was a beautiful gift. “Eating With Your Anorexic” by Laura Collins, outlined the Maudsley Method which simply encourages parents to do exactly what the treatment centers would do. Feed their child.

This was absolutely life changing. I had been in deep water with a terrifying disorder that I knew nothing about. Suddenly the path was clear. I didn’t have to stand aside wringing my hands while strangers were given the privilege of loving my child through her illness. Although this was just a first step in a long path which involved lots of counsel, it made perfect sense.  As I began to understand that while my daughter was starving she couldn’t make good decisions for her own body, I had the confidence to require her to eat, and as she ate, her recovery was initiated.

There were many other islands of hope during this stormy time. We were blessed with strong faith in a loving God and supportive family members who were available as counselors to both my daughter and myself.

Although there were many “aha” moments which put us on the road to physical recovery, my daughter credits the turning point in her mental recovery to a speaker she heard who shared a verse from the Bible, a verse which says that we are, “Called and kept by God.”

Kept, a small word, but so descriptive of how even through such an intense time, God kept us safe and gave us just enough wisdom for the day. For all His gifts, I cannot help but be forever grateful.

Jennifer Pepito is married to her best friend and mom to seven children. She enjoys writing and speaking about the adventure of motherhood, drinking strong coffee and reading good books to her children (and herself).. She blogs about her adventures at http://homeschoolingforthewholefamily.blogspot.com



Amanda March 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

Love to you, as a survivor of an eating disorder, I know the ferocity of the foe you battled.

Jennifer March 27, 2014 at 7:23 am

Thanks for your kind words. I am very thankful that my daughter has come through such a horrific battle and I love hearing of others who have overcome as well.

Joey March 26, 2014 at 11:05 am

Wow. Eating disorders terrify me. I’m not sure why I’ve settled on that as one thing in particular to watch out for in my daughter, but I’m conscious of how we treat food in our house for that reason specifically. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much you can do to prevent those issues. I’m so glad you found a way to help your daughter in your own home.

Jennifer March 27, 2014 at 7:31 am

Hi Joey,
Having a daughter with an eating disorder was never a fear of mine, I didn’t even consider it a possibility. On this side of the journey though, I wish I had not been so
behavior oriented, and I wish I had spent a lot more time explaining to my daughter that her behavior can’t save her, that was Jesus department. All she needed to do was rest in His love.
I have had a few years to work on this with my younger children, they are a bit louder and messier and less responsible, but I really hope they understand that God loves them no matter what. I think knowing you are loved by God is the best antidote to any addiction.

Judy@MommyTodayMagazine March 29, 2014 at 11:01 am

My best friend was battling anorexia when we were in high school. I’m ashamed to say I did not recognize the (obvious) signs until she ended up in hospital being force fed. She turned out alright after years of therapy, but it scars you and your loved ones for live.

I’m glad your daughter is doing fine now. Sending blessings your way.

Desperate Houselife May 14, 2014 at 5:54 am

I had an eating disorder when I was a pre-teen. I am so glad awareness is better now than it used to be. It can be hard to understand and very trying for those who love us. I know people just want to ask, “Why doesn’t she just EAT?” I wish it were that simple. Your daughter is lucky to have a caring mom!

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