Brave Girl Eating, written by Harriet Brown, is an incredible book about one family’s struggle with an eating disorder. This book was absolutely terrifying – which was probably not Brown’s attention. I know my daughter is only 4, but I fear the teenage years. What Brown faced with her daughter is so scary – and the story she tells in the book is one the whole family experienced. The title suggests that it was her daughter who was the brave one, but I believe it was really her (the mom’s) bravery and determination that got her family through this tough time. She followed a course that even her daughter’s doctors didn’t really support. But they did it, with the help of her husband they were able to help their daughter heal.
“I’ve never had anorexia, but I know it well. I see it on the street, in the gaunt and sunken face, the bony chest, the spindly arms of an emaciated woman. I’ve come to recognize the flat look of despair, the hopelessness that follows, inevitably, from years of starvation. I think: That could have been my daughter. It wasn’t. It’s not. If I have anything to say about it, it won’t be.”
Yet, somehow, her daughter did develop anorexia, and like most parents is completely baffled. How did this happen, and how were they going to get through it?? As their daughter developed an eating disorder, which didn’t exactly happen over night, there seemed to be a period of denial. As their 14 year old daughter diminished physically and emotionally, she and her husband weren’t sure what to do – and had a hard time accepting what was really happening. After the realization that this was indeed a problem to be solved, and tackled together, they set out on a course of treatment.
The scary part of dealing with eating disorders is how dangerous they can be. Her 14 year old was hospitalized and placed in the ICU. Hers is not an extreme case of anorexia, this seems common among those who suffer from the disease. Brown mentions that it can be the most deadly psychiatric disease. Not only is the death rate among those suffering incredibly high (20%, she reports), but the rate of recovery is low, and those who do make a full recovery face a lifetime of struggle.
The disease itself, as are other eating disorders, is incredibly complex. Making diagnosis and treatment even more challenging. What doctors were recommending were for her daughter to be in a full-time inpatient facility. And she just couldn’t do it. She wanted to trust their advice, but as a mother she wanted to be with her daughter. As a journalist, she had done the research – read just about everything there was out there on the disorder. She and her husband decided on a “refeeding” process, that was probably the most dififcult thing they will face as parents.
The refeeding process was arduous – feeding someone who doesn’t want to eat is not easy. Though she and her husband were responsible for making sure she was eating (and quite a bit, their goals was to make her regain the weight she had lost), it was closely monitored by their daughter’s doctors. There were weekly weigh-ins, causing anxiety about the progress they had possibly made. I loved reading this story. Although quite a different weight battle than what Andie Mitchell wrote about in It Was Me All Along, that we reviewed here not too long ago, it shows that body image is something that so many women struggle with.