From the age of 8 to 15 years old, only 0.1 percent of children have an eating disorder. It seems that we do not have to worry.
But within 10 years, 5 to 10 percent of them will die. Within 20 years, 18-20 percent will have died. And 50% of them will never be cured. The reality of children with eating disorders is more than worrying: it is the harrowing nightmare from which half of our children may never wake up.
But there is still hope, and we say this because for every person whose life is ended by an eating disorder, there are four who live. For every person who never recovered, there is one who did. Recovery, for children with eating disorders, is not a brief medical prescription or two sessions with a therapy group; it is more than often a long struggle that is ultimately up to the person themselves. Yet things can get better, and we know this because of the stories of those with eating disorders who struggled, but survived.
Recovery, One and a Half Times:
Kristina Saffran didn’t recover once. She recovered twice. The first time she seemed better was by the beginning of her first year at middle school, after being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in her fifth grade. But by her third year of middle school, she had relapsed. She lost seven months of school to hospitalization, and when she returned to high school as a sophomore, she was faced with an agonizing choice. Kristina chose recovery over her eating disorder. But as she describes it, ‘there was no click’, and the process was ‘hell’. She had to obliterate everything that was her identity and life to make it work; she got rid of her measuring cups, fat intake limits, and most significantly, her scales. But the hardest part of it all was opening up socially to the world around her. It made her ‘miserable’, but Kristina began to go out with her friends for coffee and even ate pizza at surprise parties. It was these small, excruciating decisions that made her better. And this time, she got better for real. In 2008, she co-founded Project Heal, an organization for recovery from eating disorders. She graduated from Harvard College in 2014 and is now pursuing her career in clinical psychology at Stanford University.
A Journey to Herself:
Pauline Hanuise was a normal teenaged girl. She was conscious of her body and wanted to look pretty. But there was something that went a little beyond normal: her need for people to accept and love her became a fear so intense that she would do anything to make them like her- even if that meant purging almost everything she ate. And so, Pauline began her struggle with bulimia nervosa, the disease characteristic of its vicious cycle of bingeing and purging, at 13 years old. And recovery, in the grim throes of bulimia, didn’t come easy for Pauline. It took her 15 years of suffering with the disorder to finally defeat it. At age 24, her teeth were still breaking, her nose bleeding, and her hair shedding. Her face, arms, and hands frequently became paralysed, her heartbeat was irregular, and her menstrual cycle had long terminated. Pauline realized that she needed help- but she also realized that no doctor, medicine, or even family member could help her. She finally understood that “the only person she could rely on was [herself].” So she embarked on a journey to grasp what exactly was going on with her own mind and life, and to completely “reprogram [her] brain”. It wasn’t an easy journey, but after surviving to the end, she was freer, healthier, and more happy than she had ever been.
Pauline is now a certified Holistic Health and Recovery Coach and helps women around the world to recover from body image issues and eating disorders through her online program ‘Make Peace With Food’.
Health Beats Death:
“I would rather die than eat.”
Dana, from Newcastle, UK, was 8-years-old when she said this to her parents. A little after her eighth birthday, she had begun to slowly cut down on her food intake, without arousing any suspicion from her mother and father. But what started as an innocent break from chocolate morphed into fearfully hiding in the laundry basket at dinner time. Dana had anorexia nervosa, and as a young child who was not able to understand what was grappling her mind, the process of her recovery was more physiologically-oriented than anything else, and in some ways, more difficult.
At first, Dana was admitted to a hospital, where she refused to eat for 19 days and was force-fed by an IV drip. At the hospital, she would raise her arm so that none of the glucose could enter her body, making it impossible for her to get better. So, with no other option, her parents finally took her to Rhodes Farm, a residential clinic for children with eating disorders. There, restoring her normal weight from 42 pounds became her route to better mental health.
In order to meet her weekly requirement of 1 kilogram in weight gain, Dana was required to eat up to 3,000 calories a day, a strict goal that was satisfied by high caloric meals ranging from pasta and banoffee pie to risotto and baked potatoes. For twelve weeks, Dana endured regular weight checks and supervised mealtimes- both horrors for anorexics. Yet Dana made friends and appeared to be doing better.
One day, her mother got a call from the clinic. Dana had eaten chocolate. But to prove that she was indeed better and could go home, Dana would have to succeed at her test of finishing an entire meal and a large portion of dessert outside of the clinic. She didn’t leave a crumb of lunch on her plate.
Dana was released after 12 weeks, and although it is possible that she will always live with a predisposition towards anorexia, she is now happily eating again. Her favorite food include pizza and fried chicken.