Wednesday 30 January 2013

Sermon #2: Food is medicine, but how do you get it into your child?

Carrie Arnold's 2nd point on her excellent and informative list is: 2. Food is medicine. You have to eat in order to get well. You don't have to like this, and eating may make you feel worse at first. That's okay. Keep eating. So the topic for my #2 sermon is inspired by my Text for the Day which comes from my new book:

The crazy thing is that I could save his life. I could get all that lost weight back on in a matter of weeks, maybe even faster. And the even crazier thing is that it should be so ridiculously easy. It seems grotesque - criminal, even - that I am sitting here, in England, in the 21st century, watching my son fade away from malnutrition while bucket-loads of food are all around us. Huge, massive, obscene mountains of food. Cakes, ice cream, bread, pies, puddings, pizzas, curries… Up the road are three enormous supermarkets with shelves piled high with every food imaginable. Down the road are restaurants and take-outs specialising in every cuisine on the planet. Yet my son refuses to eat. Or at least he refuses to eat anything other than the bare minimum needed to keep him alive. I want to punch the wall. I want to kick, scream and shout. I want to get the medical staff to force-feed him and insist that he stuffs his face with life-giving food, even pop a funnel down his throat and pour it all into him.
Recognise that feeling? Walking around the supermarket, looking at the shelves piled high with goodies that, only a matter of months ago, your child would eat without a second thought? Yet now, here you are... surrounded by all that food... food you know can save your child's life... yet the anorexia demon (as I came to refer to it) refuses to let them eat it. Never in a million years could any of your fellow shoppers ever guess what was buzzing round in your head as you push that trolley around the supermarket, discounting this product and that because you know it'll send your child into a frenzy.

Do you go for the 'safe' options? The diet foods? Slimline this, that and the other? Your gut instinct as a mother desperate to rescue your child is a huge emphatic NOOOOOOO! Yet you also know that, if you buy the 'standard' or 'high fat' option, they'll refuse to eat it. So, says the logic inside your head, better to get something he or she will eat rather than have him or her sit there and eat nothing. So, much against your better judgement, into the trolley the low fat item goes.

You feel like a traitor, colluding with the enemy. A hypocrite. Or, worse, someone that could be helping your child to stay ill.

Yet what can you do?

I remember when my son, Ben, first started treatment for his anorexia, I requested a re-feeding plan. The nurse dug an A4 printed sheet out of her briefcase. Eating Plan 6, it was called. I always wondered how it differed from numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5...

On it were items like custard and sponge puddings. And, of course, full-fat this, that and the other. Butter, doughnuts and so on...

But what no-one told me was how the heck you're supposed to get these foods into your child when they're sitting there with their mouth rammed closed, threatening to kill themselves if you don't back off.

In fact no-one ever showed me how to re-feed my child with these foods.


So we ended up 'tweaking' Eating Plan 6 into a low fat, high carb hybrid that my son would eat. Better low fat food than no food, I figured.

Not a great decision, but, with precious little support when it comes to learning how to re-feed your child, it was all I could do.

Meanwhile every time I went to the supermarket, there I was faced with shelf upon shelf of 'medicine'... food I knew could make my son well, and make him well faster.

Yet there I was, playing traitor, by colluding with his eating disorder and returning home with bags laden with low fat this and that.

Why wasn't the re-feeding plan seen as very important?

Because my son's BMI wasn't thought to be low enough. Or at least that's the impression I got. Yes, he was out of the 'healthy range' on the official charts, but not massively so.

But - and I will be talking about this topic later on in my 10 sermons - the key thing for me is that, no, my son's BMI wasn't rock bottom. It was low, yes, but always hovering just above the diagnosis criteria for official anorexia.

What they failed to take into account, I believe, is the fact that - pre-eating disorder - Ben was a big, burly rugby player. His anorexia (and, yes, it WAS anorexia... full-blown anorexia...) was triggered by the fact that he lost one quarter of his bodyweight, very quickly.

This, in my mind, looking back, warranted being shown how to properly implement Eating Plan 6.


  1. I'm really sorry that they didn't offer you that help because I think it could've been extremely useful. What's the point with providing someone with a meal plan but not the tools to use it? As for the BMI thing, it just sounds like they're hideously uninformed because losing that great a percentage of weight is extremely dangerous and malnutrition can kill irrespective of BMI. Plus, like you say, BMI is extremely different for tall sporty men!

    I actually think the hows of getting food into someone is probably one of the most useful things to know. I honestly wish someone had been able to funnel food down me the moment I got ill and stop the nightmare I went through, as stupid as that sounds. Nutrition (i.e. food) really is the way out of this, that's one thing I learned.

  2. We weren't given an eating plan 6 (or 1,2,3,4 or 5) but WERE expected to feed our daughter full fat high nutrition food - indeed to know intuitively what this was and how to get our own child to eat it. When I caved in to the AN's threats and gave lower calorie stuff or didn't push a snack I was made to feel terrible about my failure as a parent to re-feed but was still not given any ideas on how to do it better because to give suggestions would have been undermining to our authority as parents???!!! I honestly don't think that professionals actually know what is going to work but am sorry they didn't even try very hard with Ben because they hadn't seen many (any?) rugby players before.

  3. Crazy... Eating Plan 6 became known as "Mum's eating plan" which "didn't work" because Ben "wasn't ready" for that kind of thing and found it "too stressful".