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It’s okay to make your anorexic eat.

When you are emotionally attached to someone, it’s easy to give in.

I know because I’ve done it.

Negotiation becomes a part of your every day

and you want to give in, you want to say

“okay, you can just have soup today”

because it’s easier -

for the both of you.

Even though you know you are giving into the disease and that will ultimately mean more trouble than it’s worth.

Even though it really means you’ve given it the upper hand.

Everything your child was, you have to let go of because she’s not that any more

and even when she makes progress towards recovery

she will be changed, different somehow

and you are changed too, along with the kind of relationship you had before Anorexia came to stay.

That’s just the way it is.

Anorexia creeps into every part of  life – both yours and hers.

It’s confusing and contradictory.

In place of your “before” child is this

fragile wisp

who is suddenly upset at the prospect of eating some potato

(because potato is a carb and carbs are the enemy – carbs will mean that you will be punished and it’s easier to fight your mother

than to listen to Ana tell you that you are awful and fat and hopeless.)

This new person will always have some kind of inner turmoil going on in her being

because really, it is like harbouring a second person inside a singular casing.

There is the recovering girl (or boy) who is screaming to be heard, the one who wants to get better

and then there is Ana, who tells that girl (or boy) to do what she says, or suffer the consequences,

whatever they may be  -

physical pain by way of an unrelenting headache

or not allowing one sip of water to pass her lips

or  emotional abuse that comes in so many shapes and sizes;

that she will never be pretty

or that not making her bed in a certain way will cause her to crave ‘forbidden foods’ (and forbidden foods mean physical punishment)

or that her mother is trying to make her a slave and keep her tethered to the house forever

or that because she’s eaten toast that morning it would be better to kill herself.

Things like that take your breath away.

Breaking routine is one of the worst things you can do for someone who is under Ana’s spell.

Asking your daughter to go out for a celebratory lunch, when she has just passed her driving test will make everyone’s day crappy.

Especially when she has it in her head that she will be having soup that day (the only allowable safe food).

There will be no pride or happiness or anything but  feeling miserable because of food and the amount of food that is forced upon her on any given day, let alone a day that was already “Ana stressful **”

and you will feel bad on so many levels and wish that you hadn’t changed things up at all.

Here’s the thing you learn though -

it’s okay to make your anorexic eat.

It’s okay to be the mother again and to take the decision process away for now.

It’s okay to insist that she do it your way because your way will help her to get better and perhaps even stay that way.

It’s alright to say that it’s not up for discussion (even though that is entirely foreign to your old parenting values).

It’s hard having to deal with all of the turmoil that comes along with food intake and anorexia

but it’s harder to watch your child waste away to nothing

and so you don’t negotiate any more.

You won’t.

You  tell her it doesn’t matter what she says, that she will eat what  you tell her to

and surprisingly she does.

Recovery is long.

The average period is five years for an adult to learn to live with anorexia,

three for a child and anywhere in between for a teenager and you will need to be strong

for your recovery girl.

You need to give up self blame or blame of anyone or anything else because the truth is there was never anything you could have done to prevent this disease.

You  look at Ana like an angry, confused, at her absolute worst toddler

who will push you and push you until she gets away with murder or worse.

She’s challenging you, feeling her way, pushing buttons to see just how far she can go before you snap

and retaliate


if you stand your ground and give strict boundaries and don’t at all give in

then you see more of  that recovery girl peeping through.

A shy smile,

a moment of pride when they conquer a fear (and when Ana comes to stay there are suddenly many),

a kid who enjoys cheese again, if only one square,

someone who knows that a glass of water won’t make her weigh kilos more than she is

and there will be periods of normal (whatever that is, anyway) -

at least,

until the next meal time comes around.


This is a Maddy approved post.


** Ana stressful is anything that may induce an anxiety attack.


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13 Responses to “It’s okay to make your anorexic eat.”

  • Nadia:

    One of my best friends growing up had (has, I guess) anorexia. My Mum told me to make her banana smoothies, and she could always manage at least a few sips. I’ve heard that a person could live on bananas and milk in sufficient supply, and even though they *know* every single calorie that’s in it, I think some people find it easier to drink calories than to eat them.

    And if you’re up to the gills with advice, just ignore that paragraph and see it as sympathy and encouragement instead. <3

  • Anna:

    What a beautiful post, Tiff. About an awful struggle with a hideous disease. You’re both amazingly strong.

    Have you read The Boy Who Loved Apples? A similarly beautiful story – a mother’s account of her battle with her son’s crippling anorexia. You remind me of that mama – a strong, roaring mama lion who will fight Ana all the way.

    Best wishes to you both.

  • Belinda:

    You described our journey to a tee but we need a couple of extra lines – where 2.5 years on, meals are a pleasure, few foods are feared and our daughter is back. Yes we learnt a whole new parenting style, we learnt to insist and set boundaries. But we saved our daughter’s life and very few parents get that privilege. She hated us when sick, she loves us now. She was a tortured soul when sick and a pretty normal albeit anxious at times teenager now.
    All the best with your journey!!!

  • Dianne Nunn (56 comments.):

    thanks so much Maddy for approving the posting of this. – wishing you all the best.

  • Trish (42 comments.):

    Only you know what is best is Maddy xox

  • river (194 comments.):

    I’ve never understood anorexia or how it gets such a grip on people. I’m glad you’re able to insist on a small amount of eating, I’m glad your rules and boundaries are being accepted. Maddy is such a beautiful girl, all your children are, and she has a lot to offer the world. Would it help if you reminded her that carbs are the foods that fuel the brain?

  • nikki (1 comments.):

    my cousin had anorexia in (socialist) east germany in the 80s where it was simply not recognized at the time. my grandmother was raising her and she did not understand at all what was happening, having lived through postwar times, she could not even imagine, my cousin would deprive herself of food, for whatever reason. she ended up force fed in hospital, luckily made it. it took her years to fully recover.
    i wish you both all the best and a big compliment to Maddy for approving this post. x

  • Mum:

    Tough love is the hardest thing for any parent to practise, especially when it involves your child, but practise it you must, because most times it is all you have left to try to save them from whatever demons may haunt them. It is an all encompassing need to help them find themselves again.

    Once again, Maddy is showing her overwhelming wish to be done with Ana, to restore her true self and to be able to enjoy life again as a whole person, through her approval of this post.

    However long the battle rages, together you can do this and win the war. xoxo

  • river (194 comments.):

    P.S. love the pink hair!! My grand daughter has pink on one side of here head, the other side is black. Sounds odd, looks great!

  • Belinda:

    Get well soon Maddy. Hoping you can feel the love being sent your way, I can read the love from your Mum’s words. Wish you all the best

  • Marylin (173 comments.):

    Sending you both lots of love and strength xxx

  • Jennette:

    Such a beautifully moving photo and words too.
    Maddy your allowing your mum to share this shows your strength.
    And yours too Tiff.

  • Survived:

    Hang in there Maddy from one fully recovered ana survivor to another one in the making. You should be proud of who you are and all you can be x

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