The book My Kid is Back means a lot to me because my parents did not see their kid come back. When I developed anorexia nervosa (AN) at age 11 (shortly after this picture was taken) there was no help for my parents or me.
I wish my parents had been able to access Family Based Treatment (FBT), described in the first edition of My Kid is Back. FBT is the leading evidence-based treatment for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa.
However, I developed anorexia in the early 1960s, more than two decades before FBT was offered to parents. Sadly, my parents ‘never got their kid back’ from the illness that proceeded to influence and shape my life. I was in my fifties when my healthy self was restored.
Parents often feel they have ‘lost’ their child when an eating disorder develops. This is because the illness dominates thinking and behavioural processes. To witness a child’s mind being overtaken by an illness that is greater than their own will is a nightmarish experience. I cannot imagine how scared and worried my parents were. To see a child’s personality re-appearing as their brain is renourished and recovery takes place with FBT is akin to miraculous. I wish for every parent to witness this.
Myths and misconceptions continue to circulate about anorexia nervosa.
Understanding and finding ways to treat it successfully has required centuries of work. There is no 100-per-cent treatment ‘cure’. Yet. More answers are needed and families are the key to finding them.
In the past half-century, physicians have progressed from attributing the cause of an eating disorder to parents, to recognising them as integral in eating disorder treatment. This has been an amazing turnaround.
In the mid-1980s, Christopher Dare and colleagues at London’s Maudsley Hospital pioneered the Maudsley Approach which became known as family based treatment. Rather than focus on in-patient care, this treatment model relies heavily on parent and family involvement in re-feeding their child in the family home. Parents are reassured they have not caused their child’s illness but importantly they have a vital role to fulfill in helping their child recover.
When My Kid is Back was published in 2009, FBT was the ‘gold standard’ treatment for children with anorexia, and in 2023, it remains the most effective treatment. This is despite a success rate of less than 70 per cent. Yes, FBT does not suit all families. This is why family stories, that are shared candidly and generously from the hearts in My Kid is Back, are important.
Sadly, in the 1960s, when the erroneous view of parenting was held, my parents had nobody to guide them. They did not understand why I had changed from an eager-to-please, outgoing and robust little girl, into a withdrawn shadow of myself who refused to eat and could not sit still. They did not know what was wrong or how to help me.
My mother tried coercion.
I was described as stubborn, self-centred, and ungrateful. When I refused to touch the food on my plate, my mother would inject guilt into my sensitive nature, saying, “Think of all those poor starving children in India”. I silently wished I could give all my food to the starving children in India. Instead, I had to sit alone at the kitchen table for hours, staring at the food on my plate, until my mother would snatch it away in disgust. Her words “rude”, “wasteful”, and “shameful” ring in my ears to this day. The criticisms hurt me. I dearly wanted to eat to please my mother, but the terror in my mind was far more fearsome than her ire. I could not explain why I was too afraid to eat.
My story is told in my memoir, A Girl Called Tim.
As years pass, the interpersonal misunderstandings and the losses associated with anorexia nervosa can be great. For best results, the whole family needs to heal.
This is why, together with Prof. Daniel Le Grange, I am excited to be writing a Second Edition of My Kid is Back – Empowering Parents in Treating Anorexia Nervosa.
The work of the researcher and the care of the clinician is important, and so is the voice of the family. The family includes the parents and their child with the eating disorder, and the child’s siblings.
In seeking answers to anorexia nervosa, we are all in this together. We can all learn from each other. Together we can make a difference.
I don’t want any child today to find themselves locked in an illness in their brain for 44 years, as I was. I want parents of today’s children to be fully informed about eating disorder symptoms and signs.
I want today’s children who develop anorexia nervosa to be promptly assessed, diagnosed, and provided with the best evidence-based treatment available for early intervention, FBT. This swift action is paramount to achieving full recovery.
I am fortunate to have ‘reconnected with myself’ in mid-life but quick action when young is by far the best way to avoid a life sentence with an eating disorder. The illness is an enormous issue not only for families with children and adolescents but also for many adults (often high-achieving professionals) who have missed vital early intervention when they were young. These adults often live only part-lives, in both careers and relationships, as an ongoing prisoner of their illness. There is hope at every age but sometimes, sadly, the struggle becomes too much.
An eating disorder wants to isolate and conquer the life it invades – therefore, we must strive to shine a bright light and reduce its power. Story-sharing is a great way to do this. Story-sharing is a powerful medium for connecting with others, educating, and breaking down the walls of shame and stigma. Story sharing is the best way to provide hope and encouragement.
My message to families with FBT experience is – “Make your hard-won experience count. Contribute your story to My Kid is Back Second Edition and help other parents get their kids back.”
Heartwarmingly, parents who have found the stories shared in the first edition of My Kid is Back to be helpful, are now offering to share their FBT experience to comfort and inspire the next generation of families.
Everyone’s story counts. Including your story. Let’s help every family get their kid back.
Take the first step by submitting this form: