Each family that I have the privilege of working with is heroic in its own way. Refeeding a child is hard work—which is probably the understatement of the year to those who are in the midst of it. When you, as a parent, are confronting the fear of eating induced by an eating disorder, monsters feel like they are being unleashed in your own home, from a child you used to think you knew. Wrestling your child back from the all encompassing, vice-like grip of an eating disorder is a Herculean task. As overwhelming as it may feel, however, it is doable. Don’t run for the hills. Instead, read the inspiring story below.
A very young patient of mine developed a fear of eating after having a medical incident which involved choking episodes. The fear of choking led to a gradual elimination of many and finally all foods and liquids and significant weight loss. When this patient first walked into my office, none of us—myself, her parents, her pediatrician—were certain if hospitalization could be avoided. She was immobilized by fear. The great news is that, with proper intervention, this patient is on the road back to health.
At first, every meal and every snack was a battle. That meant, getting to school late some days, homework left unfinished, later bedtimes, earlier wake-up times, school lunch with mom and disruption of almost all of the family’s typical routines.
At times, the parents feared that they had or would lose their daughter forever. They worried that confronting their daughter’s anxiety head on—by asking her to eat her most feared foods— would send her over the edge, never to be recaptured. Despite their fears, they hung in there. With love and kindness, but also with firmness and consistency, these parents became my heroes this week. Their daughter is now enjoying her favorite foods again, eating lunch with friends at school, and the fears are starting to become a distant memory.
Below are some of the key elements of this family’s refeeding success that may help to inform your own family’s refeeding strategy:
1. making a plan
2. sticking to the plan
3. retooling the plan based on learnings from earlier successes/failures
4. refusing to negotiate with the eating disorder
5. rewarding success
6. encouraging their child when a food was difficult to eat
7. maintaining a sense of humor in very tense moments
8. putting doubts to the side and jumping into treatment with both feet
9. putting other priorities on hold to fully attend to the needs of the child
10. creativity: even the family dog got into the act as a supporter for my young patient!
The battle is not over yet, but it certainly has been a great start. This family gets five gold stars on my imaginary sticker chart. I hope it will help you build your own.