Here's an interview with me about why I have written my new book...
We talked to Bev about why she feels so strongly about highlighting the issue of boys and eating disorders. Bev’s son (who she’s named Ben in the book and on her popular blog) began to exhibit classic signs of anorexia during the spring and summer of 2009, aged 15.
"I had no idea that boys got eating disorders," Bev says. "So I didn’t recognise the warning signs. I knew something was wrong and that it appeared to be getting worse, but I had no idea what ‘it’ was. As the parent of a teenage boy you don't expect your child to get anorexia. You don't even think about it."
The alarm bells began to ring during the summer of 2009. "But it wasn’t until late September or early October that I was prompted to take him to the doctor. You see, I hadn’t a clue what we were dealing with. I just knew something was very, very wrong. His mood was going downhill, he was cutting himself off from his friends, he was becoming fussy about food, he was decalorising meals and making ‘super-healthy’ options i.e. completely fat free - and he was losing weight, very, very quickly."
Bev took Ben to see the GP. "But of course GPs don’t always recognise the signs of eating disorders in boys. Ben didn’t look terribly thin; that’s the key point. Unless you’d seen him before when he was a big rugby player you’d probably just think that he was a normal skinny boy. After all, skinny boys aren’t unusual and don’t tend to set off the alarm bells in the same way they might if it was a teenage girl.
"We assumed we’d get instant treatment for the anorexia. By now I’d discovered that eating disorders are a potential killer. I mean, if they suspected cancer we’d be fast-tracked in front of a consultant. In the event we were horrified to find ourselves on a waiting list that could last 18 – 22 weeks, that’s almost four months. Meanwhile Ben was spiralling downhill at a rate of knots because you wouldn’t believe how quickly they can go downhill. I didn’t know where to turn. I was desperate because my child was disappearing in front of my eyes.
"Ben was doing strange things. You see, anorexia doesn’t just affect your weight, it affects your mood and your behaviours. He was becoming out of control at school when he’d always been the kind of boy who’d been top of his class, towing the line, very academically bright and respected by his peers and teachers. He’d transformed into someone we didn’t recognise. At home he was exhibiting terrifying behaviour, almost every day. It was a nightmare."
Bev explains that, with boys, it’s not always just about cutting back on food. "Ben became addicted to exercise, just as an alcoholic can get addicted to drink. And I don’t just mean the odd run or game of rugby; I mean serious exercise." This, together with the starvation, resulted in Ben losing one quarter of his bodyweight.
"We’re talking about a former ‘forward’ in the rugby team," she points out. "A position given to the biggest, toughest boys. By the autumn of 2009 his coaches were getting worried about his weight loss. I was worried that if anyone tackled him on the rugby field he’d snap in half.
"While we were on the waiting list for treatment we received no assistance or advice from the UK health services. All my husband and I could do was stand and watch, helpless, as the eating disorder threatened to consume our son. It was only when his illness took an unexpected and frightening turn that Ben was eventually fast-tracked into treatment.
"The point is: I know how terrifying it is to discover your child has a potentially life-threatening illness – and to discover that it’s been developing undetected for months. I know what it’s like to feel isolated, helpless and totally clueless about an illness that has the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. And I know what it’s like to have to wait for treatment while your child disappears down the rabbit hole in front of your eyes.
"When I sat down to write this book I was acutely aware that I wanted to do my bit to help other parents and carers – not only to identify the warning signs but to show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and to describe how we got there. And also to highlight the importance of early intervention and effective treatment for young people with eating disorders, wherever in the world you live.
"My son, Ben, has always been one hundred per cent behind this book. He is always nagging at me to 'do more' to help raise awareness of eating disorders in a society where the illness is often shrouded in secrecy, shame and misunderstanding - and where there is still too little awareness of eating disorders in teenage boys. He has read every single word in this book and made valuable contributions of his own.
"Even if we help just one family identify the signs of eating disorders in boys and overcome this devastating illness then we have done our job."
Please eat... The true story of a mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia is published in early 2013 and will be available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as well as direct from Bev's website.