Mother Struggling to Find Help for Teen’s Anorexia

By December 11, 2012

My 14 year old daughter has been battling anorexia, deep depression and anxiety for a year now. I can’t seem to find her help. We’ve tried Remuda Ranch, several hospital stays, regular counseling, appointments to Registered Dietitians, and stays in Behavioral Wards. We live in a rural area in Illinois and so most of these stays have been far away and have depleted all funds that we have. I feel so bad for her because she has lost many friendships and is missing her first year of high school. Anyhow, I have 3 questions for you. Firstly, I was told that it won’t matter what kind of help we get her because she won’t start recovery until she is ready. Is that true? If this is true then what do we do in the mean time; watch her waste away? Lastly, the doctors here really do not understand the depths of anorexia and such. How can I help educate them and their nursing staff? My daughter sees her M. D. weekly and they are great and try hard to help but willingly admit that they really don’t know how to help. – J.G.

Dear J.G.,

My heart hurts to hear your struggle. I’ve witnessed firsthand many families who are aching and grieve over their daughter’s eating disorder. There are no easy answers, but here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Qualified Eating Disorder specialists have the ability to work with clients at any level of motivation and it is possible to work with even the least motivation. You do NOT need to helplessly sit by while she “wastes away.” You can also employ the resources you do have. Primarily, I would encourage you to practice parenting based on natural and logical consequences. Along with your treatment team there needs to be an agreed upon weight and basic behaviors. This can be in the form of a recovery contract. If you daughter does not meet these requirements then there would be “natural and logical” consequences. You should try to identify what motivates her (other than her eating disorder) and use this to change her behavior. The hope is that the ED will become more uncomfortable or “painful” than the consequences.
  2. The above strategy may not work if she is too depressed to find any other motivation so you will have to be willing to draw the line at her weight. If she goes too low then she will need to be hospitalized. Unfortunately, many hospital settings simply re-feed and do nothing to address the emotional/mental aspects of the disorder. The best case scenario is getting her inpatient at a treatment center again if she can’t make progress at home. I recognize that you have done this in the past, but unfortunately there are situations where girls come for multiple treatments. Financially this probably seems impossible. Inform the treatment centers of your situation and they will do their best to work with you. The prospect of going inpatient again itself may motivate her enough to make changes.
  3. Another resource you need to have in place is a full treatment team. This must include a doctor, therapist, dietitian and psychiatrist. Do all that you can to stabilize her mood through food and medications. I can’t tell you how important this is in the recovery process.
  4. As for educating your medical team, the FINDINGbalance website would be a great resource to give them. Additionally, there are many other sites out there that have lots of information. See “Finding Treatment.”

Don’t give up. Do all you can to look beneath the behaviors your daughter is doing and believe she is a delightful child of God. The more you remind yourself of that, the more hope she has.


Travis Stewart, LPC