Many mothers resist acknowledging a child’s eating disorder out of fear or guilt, or sometimes they’re struggling with their own food issues. Disordered eaters tend to be very successful in other areas, especially those who severely limit their food intake. Research shows disorders run in families; a relative with a person with an eating disorder is ten times more likely to have the illness than someone without a family history of disorders. A mother with an ill child may feel she is somehow to blame, too. “For too many years parents have been blamed for their child’s eating disorders. Mothers are always wondering if they shouldn’t have said their hips were too big,” says Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. Some studies suggest that as many as one in five anorexics die; treatment can take years and involves a family commitment. Kids can be very good about hiding signs, particularly from parents who are unsure of what to watch for.
Judy Avrin of Totowa, NJ, took her daughter Melissa to see a gastroenterologist when Melissa had digestive problems. The doctor suspected an eating disorder, but Avrin, unaware of the warning signs, was sure he was wrong. Later, she found bits of food Melissa had chewed and spit out hidden in a drawer. “I realized then we had a problem,” she says. Melissa died at age 19 of complications of bulimia, binge eating followed by purging using vomiting, laxatives or excessive exercise. She has since devoted her life to spreading awareness, including making a documentary, Someday Melissa, about her daughter’s struggle.
If you suspect a child, family member, relative, close friend or someone you know has an eating disorder do not hesitate to get help. Discuss it with doctors, people you are close to and address the problem, do not wait. Getting help earlier than later is always better.