When L was first diagnosed with anorexia, I was asked by her father if I thought it was because I had lost weight and she thought that it was a good thing to do. I responded, frostily, that I didn’t, that L had been making herself sick after meals for over a year, before I started a diet. But dieting is surely a toxic activity for the mother of an anorexic? Well, yes, and no.
Let me explain. I do think that my relationship with food may also have shaped L’s. Even though that is a bizarre expression – ‘relationship with food’. What I mean is this: I love food and I love cooking. I hate being overweight and wearing size 16 clothes. Those two statements clash against each other and cause misery. I want to eat what I want and weigh what I want, and if I loved food less, or wanted to weigh more, that would be ok. For years, I have bemoaned my weight, but laughed it off over cake. But inside I have been really unhappy and wanted to change things. I also love clothes and shopping, but hated how clothes looked.
So in January, along came Slimming World. Not really a diet as such. It favours excessive eating of fruit and vegetables, lean meat and fish, pasta and rice, but limits some foods. Nothing is banned. Low weight targets are expressly forbidden and it advises that if you want to just splurge and eat what you like, for an event or a holiday, just do it, but for goodness sake don’t feel guilty, enjoy it and move on.
I like this plan, and it works. The weight starts to come off, slowly but steadily. When I go away for a weekend, I eat what I like and return to healthy eating. I don’t beat myself up. And
L and I chat about my new eating regime, she reads recipes and cooks them for me. I think how lucky I am. On Mothers Day this year, L planned a whole day of healthy meals as well as baking a low fat cheesecake. I tell colleagues about this and they say what a lovely girl she is.
I just had no idea. It was before I knew about the vomiting. Once I did know about this, I thought I was modelling good eating patterns of three large meals a day. Lots of fruit and yogurts. The same love of recipes and flavours, and a sense of how food celebrates events in life. I was wrong, all along, my weight loss must have acted as a trigger, not a cause, for the anorexia.
When I realised, I stopped. I cooked higher calorie meals and ate them. L didn’t, but I did. Occasionally I cooked healthy low fat meals. L still didn’t eat them. Nothing worked, because L was so in the grip of anorexia. She is now eating, but I know enough to understand that this just means she eats, not that she is better.
So, her BMI is 15.9 and mine is 26. Both of us are gaining weight. Neither of us wants to, although
L does know that weight gain equals recovery. I talked to her nurse about what we should eat and whether it was ok to eat low fat food whilst expecting L to gain weight. He was unequivocal – eating together was the important thing – but any questioning from L about why I am allowed low fat food should be dealt with firmly – that she is underweight, but I am not. That she has anorexia, but I do not. That we need to be in control, so Ed is not.
This makes sense to me, so my healthy eating regime is back. It will not help L if I gain weight in solidarity. But I will not talk about it. I will just do it, and when L comes home for meals, I will plan food we all can eat. One day, I want a future when we cook together and eat together, and pounds and calories are immaterial, what matters is the occasion, or just enjoying life itself. That day is a long way off yet, but part of recovery, for L and me, is knowing where we want to be and what recovery looks like.