A mother/daughter struggle with anorexia

August 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Imagine being a Bay Area food writer, enjoying fine food for a living and exposing your family to it as well, and then you realize that your daughter has an eating disorder and she's secretly starving herself. That personal journey is shared in the book, "Hungry: A Mother and Daugther Fight Anorexia," by authors Sheila and Lisa Himmel.

Buy the book on Amazon: Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia

Notes and advice from Sheila Himmel to parents

1. We're all a little disordered. We use up precious brainpower thinking about weight and body image constantly. It's the "container" that matters. Even the healthiest among us diet occasionally but are always aware of our weight. Psychology Today: 89 percent of women want to lose weight, and 24 percent would sacrifice three years of life to lose weight.

2. The vise: At the same time we have become obsessed with being thin, America has become a 24-hour buffet. Food and messages about food are in our face all day. Mealtime? What's that? There are very few boundaries to where and when we eat. Be thin, but look at food everywhere you go.

3. Parents, it's not our fault and we aren't alone. Having a child with an eating disorder doesn't make you a bad parent, any more than having a child with cancer means you did something wrong.

4. Eating disorders aren't going away. Hospitalizations are increasing, and not just among young women. Statistics from the AMA: An estimated 23,807 people were hospitalized for eating disorders each year in 1999 and 2000. This amount jumped 18% to 28,155 both in 2005 and in 2006. Women age 19 to 30 still make up the largest group hospitalized for eating disorders, but researchers found such statistics grew markedly among demographics not usually considered at high risk. Hospitalizations of boys and girls younger than 12 grew 119% from the 1999-2000 period to 2005-06, while admissions among men of any age jumped 37%. Hospitalizations of patients age 45 to 65 increased by 48%.

5. Parents: early intervention is best, but don't beat yourselves up if you miss the signs. You love this child, you do your best. It's very hard to find the right treatment. Lisa and I still disagree about what happened and what we should have done, and that's OK. As one ED speaker said: "Is there a parent on earth who isn't controlling? Is there a child who isn't resistant?"

6. Let's all take a breath. Food is fun, and we have to eat. I look at all the types of bread in the store. Whole-grain, low-fat, wood-fired, whatever. When does it become evil? It's just bread.

Notes and advice from Lisa Himmel to parents and kids

1. What parents/friends can do to prevent disorder: I wish I had the answer. There are so many internal and external causes at work. Just provide as positive an environment as possible in childhood, teach healthful eating and lifestyle habits, and be aware without being too nosy.

2. No blame/no shame. Eating disorders are not about trying to find someone to blame. It only makes things worse. Show your concern, without anger. Don't look at the person with the eating disorder with contempt or try to shame them. They are very stuck and very confused and even when they seem stubborn or resistant they truly need your help and guidance.

3. Never bail: fighting an eating disorder is not easy for anyone involved, as parents it is important to stay committed to fighting as the sufferer may want to give up at times. It is your job to pick them back up, even when you yourself want to give up.

4. Questioning professionals is OK, it may be the difference between disaster and a solution. If something really doesn't seem right it probably isn't.

5. Parents can only do so much to protect their children. Kids are very susceptible to advertising. As girls mature, they are especially aware of media images and messages. The best step a parent can take is intervening early, at any signs of a disorder or obsession. Be careful which activities you choose for your children. Ballet and gymnastics, for example, are known to harbor eating disorders.

Book signings:

August 13
Morgan HillPublic Library
7:00PM,MorganHill

September 10
Redwood CityPublic Library
7:00PM,RedwoodCity

September 15
Kepler's
7:30PM,MenloPark

September 16
San FranciscoPublic Library (Main Branch)
6:30PM,SanFrancisco

October 15
Warwick's
7:30PM,La Jolla

October 17
BookSoup
5:00PM,LosAngeles

SFGate article: Mom, daughter take on anorexia in book 'Hungry'


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