Anyone who knows my style of writing knows I can ramble on. But, as a copywriter, I am also a dab hand at editing things down to the bare essentials so it fits within the allotted space on the website, brochure or whatever. So, in a bid to cram up on what needs to be at the front of my mind this afternoon, I've taken our Lorraine Kelly interview and other notes and come up with this:
Back at the start I had no idea that boys got eating disorders, I thought it was something that happened to girls. I thought it was a diet gone wrong and they just needed a good talking to and they’d snap out of it.
But of course it’s nothing like that.
Things started to go wrong for us during the summer of 2009. I just knew something was very, very wrong. Ben had been a keen sportsman and a prop forward in rugby but over the summer holidays his exercising regime got out of control.
It began with our summer holiday in France where he was swimming 100 metres of the villa pool every day and also going for gruelling runs in the heat. Back in the UK he joined the gym and went 7 days a week supplemented by yet more gruelling runs plus hundreds of daily sit ups, press ups and so on.
His mood was going downhill, he was cutting himself off from his friends and he was becoming obsessed with men’s health magazines and their various exercise regimes and diet plans.
He was becoming fussy about food in a way he'd never been before. He was decalorising meals and making ‘super-healthy’ options i.e. completely fat free, he was making sure I bought diet products and checking the nutritional labelling on everything. And he was losing weight, very, very quickly.
You know your child better than anyone else and you know when it’s not just teenage angst, you know when it’s something more than that. Over that summer he lost one quarter of his body weight and I had a gut instinct that something was seriously wrong.
It wasn’t until late September that I was prompted to take him to the doctor because I hadn’t a clue what we were dealing with. But the problem was that, to anyone that hadn’t seen Ben as a rugby prop forward, he didn’t look like the stereotypical anorexic i.e. skin and bones. He was extremely skinny, yes, but then that wasn’t that unusual with teenage boys… Nor was 'fussy eating'.
The GP basically said go away, eat more and come back in two weeks’ time. The GP said that to us two or three times – and I didn’t know what treatment was available for eating disorders; I was never told. In the end it was the school nurse who told me about CAMHS (the NHS Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services). So I went back to the doctor and I said “Hey, I know I can get this treatment, I need Ben referred”.
I assumed we’d get instant treatment but was horrified to find we might have to wait 5 or 6 months just to get an initial assessment. Meanwhile Ben was spiralling downhill at a rate of knots because you wouldn’t believe how quickly they can go downhill, and I didn’t know where to turn, I didn’t know what support was out there.
I was desperate because my child was disappearing in front of my eyes. He was doing strange things – because it doesn’t just affect your weight, it affects your mood, your behaviours, he was becoming out of control at school, basically everything was imploding.
In January 2010 while still on the waiting list for treatment he was admitted to hospital with a dangerously low pulse rate of 29. Thankfully this meant I was able to get him fast-tracked into treatment and he spent the next 2 years being treated for anorexia nervosa by CAMHS.
It took a long time. It’s difficult for people with eating disorders to acknowledge they have a problem and even if they do, they are often powerless to do anything about it. This is not an illness you can just snap out of. It is all-consuming and debilitating. Left unchecked it can destroy lives. Indeed eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness.
So it’s vital to get treatment as quickly as possible and also, as a parent, to know where to turn for support and information.
One of the best resources I found was a forum called Around The Dinner Table and its parent site FEAST – for parents of young people with eating disorders. Through this forum I was able to cram up on eating disorders and the latest evidence based treatment while being supported by a crowd of other parents and eating disorder experts, across the globe including many here in the UK.
In January 2011 I began writing a blog aimed at pointing other parents towards the forum and also to show that there are other parents out there who have been through the same thing, especially because there is precious little available about boys with anorexia and eating disorders.
Through my blog I want to do everything in my power to 'fast track' other parents through this massive learning curve, to point them to the good information and support out there and help them avoid what isn't helpful.