My experience with AN
I’m sharing my perspective as a father because: 1) My daughter could have died from anorexia nervosa. My lack of understanding of the condition could have contributed to her death; 2) Working fathers are confronted with a unique set of challenges. 3) I have learnt valuable lessons through this experience that may help other parents.
I have strong and deep connection with my daughter. She is loving, passionate, active, smart and driven. She excels in and out of school. As parents we never had to push her; she already embraces life with great enthusiasm. My only concern whilst she was growing up was that she was slightly overweight. Although my daughter was not anywhere near being obese, I was concerned because childrens’ obesity is a serious issue in the US, where we lived at the time. I shared my concern with my wife, who explained that there was nothing abnormal. She was eating healthy meals and as a stay home mum, my wife was teaching her how to eat healthy and balanced meals. I agreed with her, although deep inside I remained concerned that later on other kids would tease my daughter and make her feel bad about herself.
My daughter has always been active and loved sports, but she was never the competitive type. She mostly enjoyed the social aspect of the activities. In February 2010, for the first time, I noticed that her attitude to swimming was different; she took her training very seriously and was becoming more competitive. I saw it as a natural evolution and believed it was good for her. A year earlier she had been successful in passing the highly competitive entrance exam for one of the best girls’ schools in London, only two years after we moved to the UK. As the result of her increasing swim training, she started losing weight, which I also took as a positive, not noticing that she was also significantly reducing her food intake.
During the following 5 months, she lost significant weight and by the beginning of the summer my wife had started to become worried. My wife intuitively understood that something was not right. It was a time when I had a lot of work, having just being promoted as CEO in May. The new role brought significant stress as I was now responsible for many more people than in my previous role. Between the work and a lack of sensitivity/awareness in this area, I missed all the precursor signs of anorexia nervosa. The fact that my daughter was doing great at school, in the swim team, as well as looking athletic, wrongly reinforced my belief that there was not much to worry about. During the summer, the overall situation got much worse: my daughter kept losing weight and my wife and our daughter were constantly arguing. There were no peaceful meals. I hated the atmosphere in the house and was upset as I had hoped for some relaxing time away from work. As a result, my wife and I started arguing.
Following months of tears and arguing, my wife, who had done significant research on her own, bought the book entitled ‘Eating with Your Anorexic’ and asked me to read it. It only took an hour to realize the similarities between our daughter and the anorexic daughter described in the book, convincing me that my daughter was indeed suffering from anorexia nervosa. I suddenly realized how my stubbornness had endangered my daughter’s life and created immense suffering to my wife, who had to battle both our daughter’s condition and my constant doubt. Having a united front between parents proved to be a key factor to her recovery. The sufferer will often try to find the “weak” link and divide parents. Intuitively every fiber of my being is still sometimes telling me that the tough love approach is not optimal although I have learnt to trust my wife on this matter.
A Few Valuable Lessons
- The condition of anorexia nervosa is very counter-intuitive and appears illogical as the child may be excelling in all other aspectsof life, except for when it comes to eating.
- In general it seems that mothers tend to be more perceptive and often detect first signs earlier.
- Both parents need to be united in order to tackle the issue effectively.
- A combination of unconditional love and “tough love” are required along with lots of communication/support. Spend as much time as possible with your child.