Coping with Cliques

Or maybe she was stressed about the new dance routine she was learning; she tends to come down hard on herself when she doesn’t catch on to something as quickly as she wishes or if she flubs a step that she feels she should have mastered. When I discovered how skinny she’d become and how little she was eating, I realized that her headaches and stomachaches were probably hunger signals.

“I clung to every last hope that Holly didn’t have an eating disorder. She’d always been average in weight for her age and height. I reminded myself that she’d never before been obsessed with the size or shape of her body. Why now? What’s more, she’d just turned 12 the previous month. Wasn’t she too young to have an eating disorder? My pediatrician explained that although these illnesses commonly begin between the ages of 13 and 25, they have, over the past decade, started to afflict children at increasingly young ages. While no one knows exactly why this is happening, he said that improved awareness of parents is likely allowing more kids to receive help.”

Holly remembers the turmoil that marked her descent into anorexia. “I was on a diet before the fight with my friends, but afterward, I cut way back on my eating. Lots of girls dieted, so I never thought anything was wrong with it. I just wanted to look thin. At lunchtime in school, girls always talk about what they should or shouldn’t eat. Someone might say, ‘I can’t have that. It’s too fattening,’ or ‘I ate too much yesterday, so today I have to be good.’ When I first lost weight, everyone said how great I looked.

Then the diet kept going. My doctors said I had an eating disorder, but I didn’t feel sick. At the time, I thought losing weight would help me. That’s why I fought against gaining it back.”

Jordan’s memories of that time period are vivid. “Treatment was a team effort,” he says. “Holly started out seeing the pediatrician every week to have her weight and vital signs checked and to learn why it was important for her to eat more. She also had individual therapy every week, as well as an appointment with a nutritionist. At first, she was all smoke and mirrors around food.

If Marianne or I hadn’t been right there with her at every meal, she might not have eaten. She also put up a fuss about going to individual therapy. But over time, that changed. One day, I was driving her home from an appointment when she mentioned the possibility of using the same level of control to gain weight as she had to lose it. I liked that line of thinking, which, I figured, had come from therapy. Granted, she wasn’t yet ready to put that theory into practice, but she was processing it, and that was a good sign.”

Marianne adds, “Throughout every stage of treatment, Holly’s professional caregivers have made it clear to Jordan and me that we did not cause our daughter’s eating disorder. Given that I tended to blame myself for the illness, the reassurance was more than welcome. The thought that Holly was caught up in physical appearance at such a young age struck a sensitive chord in me.

When I was growing up, I too had idolized the sleek models in magazines. Even now, I have to think twice about buying in to the advertisements that connect happiness with skinniness. And my own mother had dieted. Maybe I’d absorbed some thin-is-in thinking from her.

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