The Preface describes a day in the life of our son when anorexia had taken over his life. He was obsessed with rituals, he could only eat and drink tiny amounts, he could hardly walk up the stairs and he couldn't think straight. One day is bad enough but when it goes on day after day you start to think your life is never going to return to normal. Luckily my husband was extremely supportive, but I could see the effect it was having on my younger son. He was becoming more and more withdrawn and his schoolwork was suffering. His school knew about the problems at home but they couldn't do anything to improve his concentration at this difficult time.
As a family we felt incredibly isolated having an anorexic boy in our midst. Everyone knows about teenage girls getting anorexia, but don't understand that boys can suffer too. I scoured the Internet for books, but I couldn't find any literature on eating disorders in teenage boys. I found some American books about eating disorders in men, which were useful as background reading, but didn't give me any practical tips on how to cope with an anorexic boy. We felt guilty. Most families who experience anorexia feel guilty at some stage, but we felt extra guilty because our son had anorexia. We must have done something extra bad because: 'Boys don't get anorexia.'
Once we had got over the initial feelings of guilt we were able to focus all our energy on helping our son to get better. In this chapter I describe some of the common features that families face when anorexia comes to stay. Much of this chapter is drawn from our own personal experience, but I have also included some traits that anorexics often display, but that we didn't experience first hand.
Anorexic boys don't behave like normal boys. A prolonged period of starvation causes chemical changes in the brain, which can lead to dramatic changes in character and behaviour. Anorexic boys often develop strange habits and superstitious rituals. They become withdrawn from their friends and many become very clingy to their parents. As anorexia takes over they become irrational and have terrible mood swings and temper tantrums. Living with an anorexic boy is exhausting and can push the strongest family to breaking point. The more we read around the subject, the more we realised that Joe's behaviour was fairly typical of an anorexic teenager. Whilst it was still difficult to cope with, it made it easier to know that other families had faced similar challenges and survived. Of course, virtually everything we read described the behaviour patterns in girls, but as Joe's illness developed we came to realise that there are many similarities between behaviour traits in boys and girls. In our experience Joe was more ritualistic and obsessive than many of the girls we came across, but on the other hand he wasn't as secretive or manipulative either.
In this chapter, I describe Joe's anorexic behaviour and commonly occurring anorexic behaviour under the following headings:
• Moods, tantrums and irrational behaviour.
Some of the habits and rituals might make you laugh; others might make you cringe. If your son is showing signs of developing anorexia, then this chapter should prepare you for the worst. It is better to be prepared and to face up to the effect that his behaviour might have on the rest of the family. Families that stick their heads in the sand and let their anorexic child do whatever he wants are soon likely to find that his anorexia is thriving and the whole family has been taken over by his anorexia.
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