Thursday 6 January 2011

Anorexia breakthoughs - the eating disorder is losing the fight...

What do smoked mackerel, After Eight mints, low fat spread and jam on toast, 5 varieties of biscuit and carrot cake have in common? They are all things that, 12 months ago, (teenage anorexia sufferer) Ben would have avoided like the plague but which he's eaten this week without any problem. And this Christmas, he had a chocolate advent calendar.

Battling against anorexia is a very slow process...

Okay it's not an ideal situation in that he is still counting calories and finds it virtually impossible to go over his current daily total by more than, say, 20 or 30 calories. But the other difference is that he's not resisting eating food that adds up to the calorie total. And unlike a year ago with the anorexia, he isn't cheating, fibbing, cutting down or secretly throwing food away.

Anorexia - We turn a corner with a definite attitude shift

A negative is that he still freaks out if he puts on weight on a weekly basis. NICE guidelines recommend a gain of 0.5kg per week for eating disorder / anorexia nervosa outpatients. After several months of LOSING weight consistently, Ben's weight has been pretty much consistent for the past couple of months. It's gone up by up to 0.5kg, but it's also gone down by that amount too. And again. And again. And again... So, in effect, he isn't gaining yet. But the big difference is a definite attitude shift which began back in late October. After months and months of fighting us and recovery, he finally embraced the need to kick the anorexia into touch. With anorexia, recovery is very slow and a snail-like step at a time. We all believe that with this attitude shift will come gradual weight gain. And unlike the quick weight gain he experienced at the start of the CAMHS treatment back in the spring of 2010 (which he promptly lost over the summer and early Autumn), he won't be fighting it. Well not most of the time, at any rate.

Recovering from anorexia will make us prouder than anything else could

I said to Ben that when he recovers from the anorexia he will make us prouder than any academic or sporting achievement could. He will have conquered one of the hardest things that teenagers ever have to conquer - a serious eating disorder. It is very, very hard for him to fight the anorexia. Newcomers to the horrible illness can't understand why the anorexia sufferer can't just 'snap out' of the anorexic thinking. I was no different. I thought I could logically persuade Ben to recover. But anorexia doesn't work on logic; the thinking is totally irrational. I even thought it would only take a few months of professional treatment and - hey presto! - he'd be better. I was wrong. Very wrong.

But right now, as I write, Ben is baking a carrot cake complete with cream cheese icing. Just before Christmas he baked another carrot cake for his birthday. 12 months ago, no way would he have baked a second cake so close to the first. Well he might have done, but he wouldn't have touched it. He would have offered it to us, like an indulgent grandma spoiling the grandchildren, while depriving himself.

Also, 12 months ago, any baking would have been completely free of fats or oils. With Ben, anorexia has meant a horror of all fats. It's taken a long time to change his mindset over fats and he will now happily eat all the 'good' fats (sunflower oil, olive oil, rapeseed oil, Flora, nuts, oily fish, etc); it's just saturated fats that he has an issue with. He still examines the nutritional guidelines on food packaging...

But that, in itself, brings me round to another breakthrough in the anorexia

12 months ago, supermarket shopping was a nightmare with Ben picking up items, examining the nutritional content, and then putting them down again. He'd return items from my trolley to the shelves in horror. He would also spend AGES choosing anything, moving from one shelf to another, picking things up, then putting them down... It was horrible and I'd hate watching 'normal' people shop, buying everyday items without batting an eyelid. Our situation was surreal...

Now we just go shopping, like normal people. Well, 95% normal. As I said, he still examines packaging and will reject one high calorific item for something lower. But the difference between now and then is acute. I can now go supermarket shopping without dreading the experience or feeling terrified of picking up something that will freak him out - and hating buying low fat or low calorie stuff when I could see him disappearing physically in front of my eyes.

An anorexia sufferer tucking into steamed pud and custard!

As well as the carrot cake, we have a steamed ginger pudding in the fridge and I'll be making some more custard to go with it this evening.

If I'd been able to look into the future 12 months ago, I would have been amazed.

And ecstatic.

But, as always with this illness, I need to be vigilant. There can be a 'blip' at any time and it's not plain sailing by any means whatsoever.

18+ months on in the fight against anorexia, I can be quietly and patiently confident. But not overly confident...

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