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I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi everyone.


My son has anorexia. He's 22 years old and I've been trying my best to take a step back but I just worry about him too much. I really struggle to let him make his own choices when I know it's making him sick. Recently he's got really bad. He's eating is not sustainable. He looks very unwell and pale and he can't stand up for long periods of time without feeling faint.


It's hard to find a balance without being controlling. Obviously I try to encourage him to eat different foods but he sometimes gets angry at me if I push him too hard. For some reason he accepts food more when he's just been feeling faint. He says he feels most comfortable eating high protein foods and liquid supplements. Unfortunately he's also scared of fat so he's limited to certain lean foods. I try to make those foods available because I'd rather he ate them than nothing at all. I also buy meal replacement drinks. It's the easiest way to get him to have enough food.


Deep down he knows he has a problem. He's seeing a psychologist but he mostly just talks about other things with her. He thinks he's not sick enough to get proper help but to me it's obvious that he's very sick, both physically and mentally. Once he threatened to do something very harmful to himself in relation to eating. Luckily I talked him out of it but I actually think that if I took him to a hospital they'd accept him, even just for his mental state.


I've thought about trying to force him into hospital because I believe he needs some intensive treatment. I've considered either just taking him to the emergency room or getting a doctor to come to the house and assess him but it would kind of feel like a betrayal of his trust. According to him he's not sick enough until he's almost dead.


I've also been questioning my parenting style. People say that I spoil him a lot which is probably true and I think I've got worse since he got sick. When he feels faint I get him to stay laid down and I sometimes put a movie on for us to watch together in the meantime. He also gets very cold so I make him hot water bottles and cups of tea. I've recently realised that he might be associating being sick with getting this positive attention.


I'm probably doing a lot of things wrong so I'm just wondering if anyone has any advice about how much I should be intervening. Would it be wrong for me to try to force him into hospital? And do I spoil him too much?


Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hello @MumOfAnAnorexic 


I dont have any personal experience with anorexia, so am unable to advise much about that.  But I am a carer myself, so very much understand how difficult it is to balance care and control.  Your son is an adult, so he is responsible for his own care.  There is little you can do other than to be there for him, gently try to persuade him to seek professional help, and be there to pick him up when he 'crashes'.  It must be so difficult to see someone essentially starving themselves.  You are doing all you can for him when it comes to providing essential nutrition.  But you cannot force him to eat.  Anorexia is such a sad MH disorder to see.  Usual treatment usually consists of psychological therapy, which it sounds as though he is already receiving. I commend you for likely pushing for him to seek that assistance.  Is it possible to also suggest he see a dietician?  That could be of some assistance to him as well.  Does your son have a regular GP who he sees, and if so would it be possible to encourage him to see him a bit more regularly.  They may be able to help monitor the situation.


Dont blame yourself for your sons anorexia, its nothing you would have done, and certainly nothing to do with your parenting style. Clearly you are concerned about your sons health, and you are doing all you can to care adequately for him, in the best manner you know.  The actual cause of anorexia is unknown, but likely to be a combination of a number of factors including biological, psychological and environmental.  Tells you nothing really ... does it?  In other words its all a bit of a mystery.  It is a disorder more common among girls than boys, and most often starts in teenage years.  As your son is 22, are you able to identify when his anorexia started?  Did it perhaps emerge at a time of personal upheaval, possibly a change of home or school, death of a loved one, or a family breakup? Periods of emotional stress can increase the risk of developing anorexia.


I hope other members with experience of caring for a loved one with anorexia will come here and discuss the issues you face, further with you.  But in the meantime, I just wanted to welcome you here to Sane.  I'm glad you found your way here, and I really hope that the support provided by Sane's online community can give you the strength to go on being the wonderful caring mother you obviously are.  Please remember to take care of yourself as well.


If you have any questions about navigating around the forums, or if you would like details of other threads you may be interested in ... please just ask.  And if you see other threads here that interest you, please do not hesitate to post.  You will be made to feel very welcome, and your input will be appreciated anywhere you wish to provide it.  If you have any specific interests, let us know and we can help direct you to those threads.  There is a great variety .. eg cats, dogs, crafts, jokes, etc.


Sherry 🌺

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi Sherry,


Sorry for the late reply, I had some technical difficulties.


I had a chat to my son a few days ago and did manage to persuade him to see a doctor. Unfortunately it's a different doctor to the one who referred him to the psychologist because we've moved house since then but we've decided to go in together on Saturday. I think it will give me peace of mind to know that there's someone else checking in on him regularly.


I don't know what caused his anorexia but he actually used to be slightly overweight in primary school and early high school and got picked on for it which might be partly why. He was also diagnosed when he was about 15 which was just after we moved from the UK to Australia. He loves Australia but I think the move stressed him out quite a bit.


The threads you mentioned sound good. My son and I both love cats so I'd be happy to see some cat threads. Cat Happy We have a lovely cat called Doc and he always manages to cheer us up on bad days.


Thanks for the reply Smiley Happy 

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi @MumOfAnAnorexic and welcome to the forums.


I am sorry to hear about your struggles with your son, but I am also seeing some positives here.


Well done on talking to him about going to the doctor with you ..... that’s a very good start because he is acknowledging that there might be a problem, and accepting that he might need some help.


The fact that he is seeing a psych is also very good.  If he appears underweight, this will not have escaped the attention of the counsellor, but they are working on the cause of the problem.  Eating disorders are not about food.  They channel themselves into food issues, but they are first and foremost a psychiatric disorder.


My hubby is eating disordered but lacks complete insight into his condition.  He has some form of EDNOS that is presenting in food and exercise issues of various kinds, all parcelled together into what he sees as a healthy lifestyle.  There are behaviours involved that make doctor’s eyes pop when I tell them what is going on, but unless he suffers a health crisis, or insight begins to happen, there is actually nothing we can do to help him, other than to walk along with his and care for him as best we can, which is what you are doing for your son.


And yes, as @Sherry @has said, this is not your fault.  There are a series of factors that bind together to produce eating disorders, and while you might suspect something you have done has contributed, know that o

anoyher child could have experienced exactly the same parenting and not become eating disordered.


To support him and help to make yourself feel better, it is a good idea to try to give him extra attention and positive responses when he is feeling okay, so it’s not just reserved for when he is unwell, or it becomes slightly more matter-of-fact when he is feeling unwell, rather than lavishing him will attention at those times.


It is just as important to look after you.  That’s a golden rule for carers, and important for your son to witness as well.  He will learn his own self-care practices through seeing what you do, as well as from support people.


Hugs Hon.  It is a very difficult illness to manage.

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi @Faith-and-Hope,


I'm sorry to hear about your husband. It was similar with my son, it started off as a 'healthy lifestyle' and it went unnoticed for a few months. Then I realised that he'd stopped actually caring about his health and it was just about losing weight. I guess EDNOS is a bit different but just as difficult.


To be fair to myself I do give him attention at other times but different types of attention. We love going to the beach together in the summer for example and when he was well we used to go out for meals, which is bittersweet now because he used to love his food but I still have hope that we can get back to that one day. It's difficult because we're very close and I have a natural instinct to intervene as soon as something is wrong so it's very frustrating to watch him suffer and not be able to do anything. I guess it's the same with your husband.


I really hope things go well for you and your husband in the recovery process

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Thank you @MumOfAnAnorexic   


Eating disorders are really difficult no matter which way they emerge, and they are about needing control, trying to make things perfect, when perfection doesn’t really exist.  


There are different levels of achievement / finish / polish, but it is a spectrum, and “perfection” sits like a mirage out there for some people.  It’s a different thing to trying to do things well.  Perfectionism is generally ruled by fear, a fear of not being good enough, not making the bar,   The eating disorder becomes like a self-punishment and goal all rolled into one.


Trying to do things well is different.  That is something pleasant and happy rather than fraught with anxiety, guilt and fear.  


The reason I am in this thread is that our kids have been affected, genetically and behaviourally.  They don’t have eating disorders, apart from comfort-eating which isn’t bad within itself if it’s balanced out with a healthy amount of exercise and other forms of life balance, 


They do struggle against the perfectionist mindset though, and are suffering anxiety, as their Dad’s need for control upended our household systems and became personally invasive over their lives.


Its a tightrope, but we are finding some balance and walking it.  Hubby not so much, but we live in hope.

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi @Faith-and-Hope,


My son is definitely a perfectionist too. I'm actually a single mum and have been since he was pretty young but his dad and I both have perfectionistic tendencies so it might be partly genetic. My older son is from a different father and their personalities are so different but we're a really close family and my older son is very good at calming my younger one down when he's having a bad day. He's been really helpful and supportive but since he's moved out it's just the two of us most of the time which isn't always easy.

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

I have a mix amongst my kids too @MumOfAnAnorexic .  It helps the dynamics because they all have different strengths, and different “areas for improvement”.


Once I realised they struggled with perfectionism traits I endeavoured to establish a “near enough is good enough” and “perfectly imperfect” mantra about the place.  They need help to not set the bar too high in themselves and then beat themselves up in the inside for not achieving a too-high (like, nearly impossible) bar.


They are getting it slowly.

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Hi @Faith-and-Hope,


That's a good way to be. I've noticed that my younger son focuses on the negatives too much, like 'I'm bad at maths' and 'I'm not very popular'. If I catch him making these comments I try to remind him that no one can be good at everything and remind him of his strengths. For example my older son is more confident and popular but my younger son is more sensitive and caring. I think he struggles with low self-esteem because he's not 'one of the boys' like his brother but when he does make friendships they're a lot more meaningful ones in my opinion. He takes after me a lot while his brother is more like his dad. I don't think one is better than the other but I think it's important to focus on their strengths and not compare too much. 

Re: I'm not sure how much I should intervene (anorexia related)

Yes, I had to teach my kids, the ones who are prone to perfectionism, to stop comparing themselves to each other, and others, and just be ..... warts and all ..... and celebrate differences and character ..... and not to sweat the small stuff.


Life has helped us along with that by swamping is in unexpected and traumatic circumstances, and you have to choose to hold onto the most important things as the rest keeps getting swept away, over and over again ..... but we are still standing.

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