I’m a Registered Dietician and My Daughter’s Anorexia Nervosa Feels Like a Monster’s in Control

“My daughter has an eating disorder. “

Six of the hardest words Iʼve ever had to say. She has struggled with anxiety and OCD since she was 8. It began with thoughts she had that she was going to throw herself out the window. Then it moved on to fearing that every time she went into a car, it would crash. Then there was the escalator thought about how she would trip and tumble head first down and die. There have been so many different obsessive thoughts over the years that I have honestly lost track.

The thought of the moment is that she obsessively worries sheʼs going to eat out of control to the point where she gains 100 pounds. This one has been here for almost a year now. It is the reason she developed anorexia nervosa. The biggest question the professionals canʼt answer is this: did the OCD thoughts about the loss of control while eating result in the anorexia or is the anorexia the reason these thoughts began.

Does it matter? Iʼm sure it doesnʼt because the living hell weʼre in is real, no matter what began it.

My daughter has anorexia nervosa
Anorexia nervosa feels like a monster has taken over my daughter’s brain. (Thanatos Media/Shutterstock)

My daughter has a mental illness

When she was diagnosed, she was 90 pounds. She was down 12 pounds in 2 months. She was complaining of constipation and always being cold. She became more rigid in her food choices and began eating more vegetables and fruits and making “healthier” choices. Instead of chicken parmigiana at a restaurant, she would order grilled salmon with vegetables and brown rice. Itʼs what we model in the family. I eat healthy, I exercise.

So does my husband. But, we also eat ice cream, cookies, baked goods, chocolate, etc for dessert. There has never been a “diet” in my house. We just follow what I always considered a healthy diet, filled with mostly healthy foods and some fun foods.

I am a registered dietitian. I work with clients on healthy choices, weight management and yes, eating disorders and issues. I have been acutely aware of making sure there were plenty of snacks in my house, always. I truly believe in moderation when it comes to eating. I wanted to make sure each of my children understood there are no “good” or “bad” foods but, rather, foods you eat more often and foods that are for every once in a while.

My other daughter thrived in this environment with no eating issues and learning all the positive behaviors for healthy and moderate eating. The fact that I am in the throes of this eating disorder sends the glaring message that this just happens: itʼs not the fault of the parents or the lack of snack food in the house. There is a genetic predisposition to this, like many other things, and when you have kids, you roll the dice.

Before this happened, I always told the parents of my eating disorder clients, “you have to learn to separate the disorder from the child”. Wow, who was I kidding? That was part of my training and I understood it from the professional perspective.

In other words, The eating disorder monster that takes hold of your childʼs brain and body is the monster that is screaming at you and crying hysterically and throwing tantrums that would make a 2-year-old stand back in amazement and disbelief. However, as the parent of that eating disordered child, it is nearly impossible to separate the monster from the child because it looks and sounds just like your child.

Eating disorders are vicious and messy and can easily destroy the family unit. There is no real way out except to fight the monster itself, and that happens by forcing the child to eat.

You beat down the monster while the monster fights back and thereʼs more screaming and crying and tantrums. Eventually, after many battle scars, the childʼs brain has been nourished enough to see that the child, your beautiful child, is fighting the monster back, too. Then, you begin to fight the battle together.

Iʼm not there yet but Iʼve witnessed it hundreds of times with clients over the years. Itʼs an incredibly amazing experience when the child is back and the monster is beaten down.

Iʼve seen teens move in to colleges across the country when theyʼve recovered and teens go on to travel abroad. They can go on to live healthy and productive lives. I pray the same outcome for my daughter and hope there is an end in sight to this nightmare Iʼm living.

I hold onto the hope that one day I can say, “My daughter overcame an eating disorder.” Itʼs really all the hope I have.

This author wishes to remain anonymous.


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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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