An Anatomy of a Childhood Eating Disorder

I can’t bring myself to write about theology, women in the church, or spiritual abuse right now.  Compared to what I’m dealing with at home, when it comes to all these other issues,


All of those other issues are important, but other bloggers, tweeters, and anons can deal with that, while I go on a different mission: to keep my daughter fed.

I recently spoke to the intake nurse at a trusted eating disorder’s clinic.  They’re seeing more and more kids at this age, and she was very concerned about my daughter.  She validated every perception I had, and gave me a broader context for why my daughter was acting in certain ways.  “We can get you in the 1st week of May, and you can still call us any time you need help with anything.” I’LL TAKE THAT!

Then, my daughter didn’t refuse food for a while! She didn’t eat as much as her sisters, but she never has.  I started to wonder, again, if I was overreacting.  I wondered if she just had different tastes than I do, and if I needed to keep different food around the house.


However, after we had a wonderful family trip last weekend—just an overnight–my daughter didn’t eat at all on her first day back at school. She didn’t have breakfast or lunch, and only ate two tablespoons of cottage cheese for a snack. Dinner involved her picking over every little thing she said was “wrong” with the food, and saying that she wasn’t really hungry any way. The next day, she complained of dizziness, black spots in her vision, and said she was too sick to go to school. I got her to eat a piece of bacon….then said, “THE HECK WITH THIS.”

I got online and tried to figure out what I could do until we could get professional help. I’d heard about Maudesly re-feeding therapy, and I tried to figure out how it worked. From what I could gather, it basically revolves around higher calorie-density food, and parental involvement in *every* meal and snack.

To get an idea of what I have to do now, imagine every bit of diet advice you’ve ever heard, then do the opposite. “Cut juice, and replace it with fresh fruit. You’ll get more fiber, and fewer calories!” Well, that means I cut down the fresh fruit, reduce the fiber, and replace it with juice and apple pies. (Sometimes, the kids even load up on fiber and water so that they’ll feel full, and not have to eat.) The goal is to cram as many calories into every square inch of food possible, and for the parent to counteract *any* discomfort the child has while eating, with reasoning and adjustments.

The therapy also re-trains the parents to realize that they’re not dealing with typical child pickiness—that this is a mental disorder that will **kill them** if we can’t get food in their bodies. The goal is not “the healthiest diet possible.” The goal is to get enough calories in them to counteract their self-imposed starvation. Plus, since they’re used to eating so little, any amount of food can hurt their stomachs and cause them pain!!

How do I manage all these variables?

I knew where to start. “Hey, we’re going to KFC!”


Now, we got in the van with her two younger sisters, we got her **favorite food** at KFC, and armed with my new information, I got a snapshot of what I’m dealing with.

Remember, this happens at every meal—I just saw it with new eyes:

“Oh, I didn’t want crispy, I wanted original.” (even though she said she wanted crispy.)
“No problem, I’ll get you original.”
“But I don’t want you to have to drive back and buy another meal!”
“I don’t mind, it’s no big deal!”
“How much did this cost?”
“Don’t worry about it—I’m paying for it, not you.” (I said it with a big smile. She remembers the time I drove away from KFC in disgust because they wanted $14.00 for six chicken legs.)
After I get original: “It’s too hot, I’ll eat it later.”
“Here, I’ll cool it off for you.”
“It’s too greasy. I don’t think I’m really hungry.”
“Oh, I’ll just wrap the leg in a napkin, so you don’t get grease on your hands.”
“Mom, the grease is coming through the napkin.”
“I have more napkins, no problem.”
“But the grease will get in my mouth!”
“Hey, I got you a DR PEPPER, which will cut through the grease. Did you know that’s why soda is so popular? Because it cuts through the greasy feeling of burgers, pizza, chicken, and stuff like that—and if you eat 5 bites, I’ll let you have it.”
She takes her first bite, then, like Jonathan with the honey that brightened his eyes, she seems to wake up, and takes several more.
“Mom, I actually ate seven bites, can I have the Dr. Pepper now?”
I hold back tears as she tears through two chicken legs, using the little spork once the grease soaks through the napkins.
“Now honey, I read that your tummy may hurt, so I’ll get you a heating pad when we get home, okay?”
“Ok, yeah, I really think I’ll be able to go to school tomorrow.”

I’m honestly in shock. Through the time we spent together yesterday, she told me that, EVERY TIME SHE EATS, she goes through the reasoning process I just described that tells her **why she shouldn’t eat it.** I honestly just thought she was being disobedient, controlling, and whiny. No, she has an eating disorder. **She** is no longer in control. The disorder is.

I’m still so proud of her.  I’m amazed that she’s been able to eat *at all* when she has this kind of aversion to food.  I’m amazed that she has still accomplished so much, and kept a measure of good reasoning skills, despite having so little nutrition.  She’s still on the honor roll, she still writes amazing stories, and she just started writing her own songs. I love her so much…and I don’t care what we have to do, I’m going to make sure she has everything she needs to get better.

Even though I can’t get her in the clinic, the nurse (that said I could call her any time!) said that this is the *right* thing to do until she can be seen.

I went to Kroger, put her and her sisters in the mega-family-sized cart, and bought every high-calorie food that I could think of that she would like.

Yet, even with things she picked out, like ice cream, when it came time to actually eat, she had a meltdown over the little chunks of chocolate, or the texture, or the temperature. It was a horrible ordeal—but she still ate more calories in one meal than she’d eaten the entire previous day.

This is going to be hard. Please pray for all of us. I had no idea what we were dealing with, but with God’s help, we can conquer this. I have the skill level when it comes to cooking, the patience when it comes to mental illness, and the determination to make sure she stays alive.

I’m just exhausted. And I have three other kids that still need their mom.

Obviously, Captain XianJaneway has a different mission right now.  I wanted to start a Bible study series w/ “Governor Pappy” to help people coming out of controlling churches.  I wanted to apply for a few writing jobs. I wanted to submit my screenplays to some competitions.  I wanted to have a demo of original songs ready by the time summer came around.  But I don’t want to do any of those things with a dead daughter. 😦

The statistics scare me. Kids with eating disorders have a 50% chance of dying. With good therapy, it goes to 20%. Regardless of how much work we do, my little girl has a mental disorder that could kill her. Please pray for her, and for our whole family.


7 thoughts on “An Anatomy of a Childhood Eating Disorder

  1. This can’t be easy for your daughter or your family. I wish you the best in treating her disorder. On the bright side, you’re tackling the disorder early in life, before it can escalate, which is great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Ahab. It could have been so much worse–she could have gone down the road of deception. And good Lord, can you imagine if I was still in a church that advocated child-training practices, like the Pearls or the Duggars? Gosh, I can’t think about that right now… 😦


      • In that kind of belief system, the results would have been horrific. You’re responding to your daughter’s disorder with compassion and a cool head, which is much better.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my word – you all are definitely in my prayers and I hope your daughter can get better. To kind of echo what Ahab said, and I’m not sure how this is going to come across, but I’m glad that your daughter was given to you as opposed to someone else who wouldn’t / couldn’t make the effort to understand and treat her.

    I admire your compassion and your patience!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What an ordeal. I’ll be praying for YOU too–having the mental and emotional stamina to support her and yourself through all the worry and fear.

    Don’t stress about the songs, or the writing, or anything else. As a writer and an artist I get it: there have been times when I had goals! and fans! and projects! and a goddamn schedule! But something else happened and I couldn’t meet any of it. And usually, it ended up with those blogs or stories coming out at just a perfect time later, or thinning the fans to the loyal ones, or getting a new schedule that worked even better with my new life.

    Your artistic side will not leave you. The muse–and we your fans–will wait as long as it takes.

    Liked by 1 person

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