This is what Ben's dad said over and over again - and still does on 'bad' days. It's also what I used to say sometimes. "Did I overfeed him as a baby or as a child? Was it my fault he developed an insatiable appetite and got a little bit plump towards the end of his primary school years?" The general consensus of expert opinion is that parents DO NOT 'cause' their child's eating disorder; an eating disorder is far too complex to have such a 'straightforward' single cause. (See what the experts say on this video.)
These days, experts reiterate again and again that PARENTS ARE NOT TO BLAME for the anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorder. Instead an eating disorder is thought to develop as a result of a variety of issues - what I interpret as a 'toxic mix' of genetic make-up and general disposition exacerbated by a mix of external environmental factors.
In our particular case I believe the 'toxic mix' comprises a bit of my Dad's tendencies towards OCD, perfectionism and self-imposed isolation - and my husband's family's predisposition towards addiction and some mental health issues. On top of this is the fact that Ben got quite plump as a child and was bullied at primary school. Mind you, I believe he would have been bullied whatever size he was; unfortunately he was that kind of child.
As a baby and toddler, Ben was LOUD and inconsolable most of the time. He found it virtually impossible to 'play nicely' with other babies and toddlers at Mother and Toddler Groups and so on. Instead he'd either sit there with a face like thunder which instantly told any intrepid little 2 year old about to make friends with him to 'back off or else'. Or he'd scream blue murder, so much so that we'd have to make a quick exit. I was the mum the other mums looked at in horror; the mum with the 'uncontrollable child'.
Yet by primary school, Ben had gone to the other extreme. He was incredibly quiet, shy and serious, the kind of boy who'd make one good friend (a similarly quiet, shy boy) and keep a million miles away from the boistrous boys who'd play football and generally mess around. Also, for a reason we could never fathom out, Ben's confidence was at an all-time low. All of this made him an obvious target for bullying and by the final year at primary school Ben was already seeing a therapist about confidence and his fear of school.
Meanwhile I attempted to do something about the (psychological) bullying. Unfortunately the Arch Bully was also the Head Boy, chosen by staff for possessing all the qualities required by a trustworthy Head Boy. As a result staff found it impossible to believe that their Golden Boy and his 'side kick' were making my son's life a total misery - so much so that he needed professional therapy.
We nearly took Ben out of school and had found a place at another school if he wanted it, but it was so close to moving up to high school that Ben insisted he wanted to stay. Thankfully the bully went to another high school, so he left Ben's life for good.
Ben had a couple of issues with some unpleasant boys at high school, but these were quickly quashed by a zero tolerance approach to bullying and the support of a high school with a tremendous ethic. As I've said before, Ben thrived during those first years at high school before the eating disorder hi-jacked his life.
But deep down Ben was still essentially quiet, shy and serious. He still lacked confidence and had a low opinion of himself - inside and out. And he'd never quite been able to shake off an underlying depressive nature.
He always says that, having been overweight as a child, he dreaded becoming the 'fat boy' again. So he did everything in his power to ensure that would never happen. Even though, to people on the outside, Ben was incredibly popular within his peer group, Ben himself wasn't too certain. Something inside him began to nag that a sure fire way to gain the true popularity he craved, especially with the girls, was to 'get a six pack' and develop the kind of perfect physique he saw in 'Mens Health' magazines.
When he looked like this everything would be perfect. He'd be uber-confident and everyone, especially the girls, would love him.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
I believe a number of factors triggered Ben's eating disorder. His genetic makeup, his general disposition and a mix of environmental factors from childhood puppyfat to bullying.
There is nothing that we, as parents, could have done to avoid the eating disorder developing. I believe it would have happened no matter what. Or it would have manifested itself in some other way - like addiction, clinical depression or OCD.
So, as I keep having to tell Ben's Dad, "No, you are NOT to blame. It isn't anything you or I did - or didn't do. It just happened..."