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­From One Mother To Another – When Your Child Develops Anorexia

Written by: Danielle Baron, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Before you read this article, I need to say that I am not a qualified doctor or psychiatrist. Any eating disorder must be monitored by a medical professional.

A woman holding a plate.

But what I will say is that I am a mother who has done as much as I can to help my daughter and learned a lot on the way that can help you on a compassionate and practical level.


It all ‘started’ back in August 2021. I say ‘started’ in inverted commas because an eating disorder usually starts way before this, the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs have filtered in ages ago, perhaps years ago, but it ‘started’ in the sense that I saw the signs. We were in Portugal and my 12-year-old daughter started to want to have caesar salads for lunch and dinner. This was different to her usual preference for food variety, including ribs, roasts, ice creams and sweets. I remember how stressful it was to find restaurants that served caesar salads. Occasionally, she would have a caesar salad as room service in the hotel and then I’d take my younger daughter somewhere to get something else. She was becoming more withdrawn and anxious. We were in the tail end of the Covid crisis and we had experienced extensive lockdowns, which hadn’t helped her mental health.


By October 2021, she was a shell of herself, BMI of 14, skeletal and almost zombie-like. It was stomach churningly heartbreaking. I remember the singer Karen Carpenter from when I was a little girl. I used to love her song ‘Please Mr Postman’ and used to love singing her songs, but I remember, even as a young girl, I found it so upsetting that she had died from an eating disorder and when my daughter developed one, it was as if my greatest fear came true. Once my daughter’s eating disorder was apparent, I took her to a private doctor, who was one I trusted. She was a compassionate and empathetic doctor, but I realized that she wasn’t an eating disorder specialist and came from a very clinical approach, which worried me. We had sat there in her doctor’s room and were told that my daughter had two weeks to improve or the doctor would take drastic action. After this, we drove to Kingston to Costa Coffee. As we sat there, my daughter seemed out of it and unaware of the severity of the doctor’s visit and I looked at her and broke down in tears. We went to an art shop after this because my daughter is talented at art and this keeps her happy. I said to her that she could have what she wanted from the shop, desperate to do anything to help her. As she was walking around looking at the art supplies, I wondered if this was the last time we would do this.


As a teacher and educator, and also ironically, a newly qualified therapist and coach at the time, I was very well aware that children needed emotional support to tackle hurdles, one that I personally feel the medical industry doesn’t provide enough of, or rather, that it is very hit and miss, even with those qualified in helping children with eating disorders. In my mind, I had to do what I could as a parent to help her and this is what I did. I was undertaking many other therapy courses already such as CBT and child psychotherapy but put the eating disorder ones as a priority. I trained with NCFED (eating-disorders.org.uk) which is a top eating disorder training body. I also trained with NEDDE (www.nutriology.co.uk) I found a mum who had been through the same with her daughter and joined her support group and a Facebook support group. I was very vocal and open and told many people in a desperate attempt to get as much helpful advice as possible. I scrutinized my life, my ambitious parenting, her distant father, my mother, who has always used unhelpful language about weight and had looked after my daughter a lot while I was a teacher, and I pondered her best friend, who seemed to also have an unhealthy relationship with food. As a parent, you need to question whether your type of parenting, although not wrong, works for the type of child you have. I completely relaxed my parenting with my daughter. I informed her school. I requested a queue jump from them as my daughter was also having limited time to get her lunch at school and was a slow eater, so this wasn’t helpful. I took the pressure off my daughter completely. When someone has an eating disorder, no one is to blame, but there can be environmental triggers. People who have eating disorders usually have a genetic predisposition to it. Everyone has a predisposition to different disorders but it is important to also look at the environmental triggers and to make drastic changes, if necessary, because it is ultimately a case of life and death and the earlier eating disorders are treated, the higher the success rate. I was petrified of my daughter getting to the point of having to go to a residential clinic because I knew from my therapy training that when in there, they can learn the tricks of the trade with others about hiding food and unfortunately, it is a game of in, out, in, out, in, out, even at the hospital stage.


Children are at home most of the time so it is important as parents to get trained because your approach and the words you use are going to affect your child the most rather, than the occasional visits to the doctor or psychiatrist. In fact, I’d say it is compulsory and a duty of care for every parent to do this. This is easier said that done for some parents. Due to my business success, I was able to financially invest in eating disorder courses and to become qualified, knowing as much as possible, but some people do not have this money. However, there are many places to go for advice and lots of free resources online but I’d always advise going to the NCFED initially. It is important for parents to get support for their own mental health. Having a child with an eating disorder, without a doubt, affects the family environment and the dynamics of the family. Other siblings may be impacted. It is important to make sure everyone is getting the support they need. I definitely had moments where my mental health suffered and thank goodness for all the support I had. Just knowing people were there, helped me in itself.


Mealtimes are tricky. Some medical professionals will advise having family meals together, although in my experience this can also affect other siblings. I coached one sibling who had a sister with an ED, who would make sure she had less at mealtimes than her sister and was very competitive. This wasn’t healthy for the other sister and she also started to develop an ED. Therefore, I would say to have dinner together or separate at mealtimes when a child is going through an ED is a personal choice. For my daughter, separate was better. She could eat at her own pace and didn’t feel like people were watching her and also it didn’t impact her sister. With this, you do have to also make sure they are actually eating their food and not hiding it, but in a non-confrontational way. Lots of people with eating disorders find it hard to trust. So trust is very important to help your child through an eating disorder. Lots of eating disorders are about control. People feel a lack of control in other aspects of their life so they use food to feel more in control, which isn’t logical but it is their subconscious trying to find a way to fix the situation. This is why eating disorders are very common in high-achieving households with lots of expectations. A child deciding to become vegetarian or vegan is a huge red flag and can be the start of an eating disorder and the motives behind it need to be looked at. Starting to miss out on certain food groups can also be a red flag.


One third of people with eating disorders are on the autism spectrum. And with my daughter this also proved to be true. In the recent months she has been diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) , which can also include restrictive behaviours, like restricting food. Girls and women are very good at masking ASD and can take many years longer to get diagnosed compared to boys and men. ASD can also manifest as anxiety so it important as a parent to gauge which approach is best for your child depending on their personalities and how they respond.


Children with eating disorders are going to have an eating disorder voice that comes out. This is usually the unhelpful voice and is the form of oppositional behaviour which speaks to you externally and the child internally. It is important to realise that it is just a part of your child and not them and to help them identify when they are using the eating disorder voice. The eating disorder has come out to keep your child safe but in an unhelpful way and in my opinion, the more it is ignored or the more you or your child argues with it, the stronger it will become. It is important to work with it and show compassion to help to understand it and to help designate it another role, rather than the eating disorder, to help your child. We also do not have scales in our house which is a personal choice. As a parent it is also important to think of your own relationship with food and the language you use around weight, what you are modelling to your child and how it may be impacting them.


At the moment, and for about three months, my daughter has been back to eating like her usual self and she is happier and is socializing more. I am grateful every day.


I help coach parents and children so you are welcome to book with me via my website.


Follow me on Linkedin for more info!


 

Danielle Baron, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Danielle catalyses children and adults to rise like a phoenix from the flames 🔥 and to reach their optimum potential. She is an entrepreneur, inspiring 11+ and 7+ entrance exams tutor, rapid transformational therapist®️, business coach for overachievers, a life coach for all, and an NLP Master practitioner, and she is also certified by the ILM.


One of Danielle’s much-loved abilities is being an overachiever because she thrives on the excitement and follows her passion, which is to help people live fulfilling lives.


Over the last five years of her tuition business, Danielle has become extremely popular and respected in the tuition industry and is a mentor and coach to other tutors to help them increase revenue in their businesses, but ultimately to be the best tutors they can be. Her own tuition service incorporates coaching for parents and children throughout the exam process and NLP classes for children to help them with lack of confidence, bullying, and anxiety and to help them focus on the imminent goal of exams and to visualise and believe in their success.


Danielle’s second business, coaching and therapy, has been a long time coming and her personal interest in people and psychology led her to invest in the most high-quality courses to be the best for her clients. For her rapid transformational therapy ®️, she had the privilege of personally being mentored by Marisa Peer, a world-renowned therapist. Rapid transformational therapy is a combination of NLP, CBT, psychotherapy and hypnosis.


It has been Danielle’s personal experiences that have led her to where she is today. At age four, her father died of suicide, which installed in her a determination to help prevent people from ever becoming despaired again. Her best friend passed away at fifteen, which solidified Danielle’s determination to live life to the full. Growing up with a single parent, they struggled with money, but Danielle was very inspired by her mother’s work ethic, which had a huge impact on her.


As a teacher in some schools, the politics and bullying amongst staff were toxic and she suffered from depression, stress and burnout and was treated badly at her most vulnerable time of being pregnant and having a newborn and that’s why she’s passionate about helping teachers. She wishes that she had someone to help her at the time.


She has been through the journey of setting up successful businesses on her own while undertaking childcare as a single parent of two after she divorced and strongly believes anyone can achieve anything they put their mind to with grit, focus, and passion.

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