When Your Child Is Struggling with an Eating Disorder
In the Spring of 2018 my daughter began to want to “eat healthy.” There is nothing wrong with eating healthy, I thought. After all, I am a certified health coach and am a huge advocate of eating healthy.
My daughter began reading food labels on some things and I thought, I’ll keep an eye on that. This went on for a few months with no other signs of anything unusual. Until, one day we were riding in the van with my daughter and her two younger siblings and the two littles asked if we could grab some lunch. I happened to look in the rearview mirror at the same time. My daughter had a look of fear come over her face. That’s the instant I knew that something more serious was going on. I made a mental note to talk to her later that day.
Later on I asked her, “Are you just wanting to eat healthy or do you feel guilt or shame when you aren’t able to eat a certain way?” She burst into tears. Yep, this was more serious than I had originally thought. I told her that I was going to get her professional help and not to worry. We would handle this, and it was going to be ok.
At this time, said that she didn’t feel fat, but she was afraid to eat certain foods and she wasn’t sure what was happening. She said she would feel out of control sometimes with food and feel the need to exercise in her room to make up for it. I knew these feelings all too well as I had battled an eating disorder myself.
I googled professional help in the area and the closest I could find that looked like an appropriate place that also took our insurance was a center in northern Virginia, about an hour and a half from our house. I made an appointment right away. It took a few weeks to get my daughter seen, and in the weeks leading up to the appointment I found out there were days that she was only eating cucumbers and blueberries. I began to sit with her at every meal to make sure that she was in-taking food. At this time my daughter obliged as long as I was there sitting with her.
Finally, our appointment came and after several hours of many thorough questions my daughter was admitted to an intensive outpatient program, which was an all-day program 6 days per week. It was exhausting with the traffic and long drive on top of work, but of course it was worth it.
My daughter was there for about a month, however, things began to snowball as the eating disorder became stronger, and my daughter’s weight dropped as she ate less and less. At this time she was admitted to Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C. and a feeding tube was put in place. My husband and I took turns staying overnight with her. She was there for about 5 days and transferred from there to a treatment center in North Carolina where she remained for four months.
During her time in N.C., she was on a rigid meal plan with goals put in place by her team. If she didn’t meet those goals with food intake, she would be presented with an Ensure supplement. If she didn’t intake enough by mouth of the food and/or Ensure, then the feeding tube would be put back in place. The tube went in and out at various times during the four months and even though we knew she needed this level of care, including a therapist, psychiatrist, primary care doctor, around the clock nursing staff, dietician and around the clock therapist assistants, she also unfortunately picked up other behaviors from being around other patients including self-harm. Maybe this would have happened anyway. There is no way to tell. But some of the other patients there were engaging in self-harm, and my daughter hadn’t engaged in this previously.