New book details mom’s fight to save life of anorexic teenage son
Jessica Goering has been through one of a parent’s worst nightmares and has lived to tell the tale. Fortunately, her son lived, too, but there were moments during his journey through anorexia that made future possibilities so terrifying that reading about them made my back shake.
Most of the children who experience anorexia are girls, so the last thing Jessica expected was for her thirteen-year-old son to suddenly decide he was fat and refuse to eat. Almost as bad was that her anorexia started while she was out for the summer visiting her father. When Jessica learned of his eating disorder, she flew in to find him and was overwhelmed to see how severely malnourished he had become in just a couple of months. Although horrified, she knew she couldn’t limit her attention to just the outer clutter she saw, but needed to focus on reversing the situation and finding ways to get her son to eat and change her inner way of thinking about his body.
I won’t go into all the details of how Jessica spent a year changing this situation. However, if it is true that it takes a village to raise a child, it is even more true when it comes to helping a child reverse an eating disorder. Jessica enlisted the help of her youngest son, friends, teachers and school counselors, psychiatrists, nutritionists, and doctors. In some cases, she found that people she thought were trying to help weren’t really helping, especially when it came to medical professions. He also had to make tough decisions about who he told about the condition and who he kept it from. For example, when her son was invited to another child’s party, which of course would include foods he did not want to eat, should she inform the other child’s parents in advance about their son’s anorexia? These difficult judgment decisions became an important part of Jessica’s life.
Furthermore, she was caught trying to understand and predict her son’s behavior. His son kept saying he was too fat and disgusting. He had delusional ideas about his body size and was afraid of hurting people and animals because of how big he was, when in reality he was a gaunt thirteen-year-old boy. Most terrifying of all was when he interacted with other children, and suddenly his behavior became irrational. While he was only violent to himself, at one point he started howling and climbed a tree, scaring other children he was with. His body and brain weren’t getting the nutrition they needed to sustain them, so his growth stunted and it was almost as if he was regressing in his intelligence and understanding. Jessica began to seriously fear that it would delay her long-term development.
Fortunately, through all her efforts, Jessica was able to help her son get back to living a normal life, and today he is a happy and healthy teenager. She has written this book not only to document what happened and to share the story, but also to give hope to other parents and people who have a loved one with an eating disorder. She offers lots of advice, lots of hope, and some insightful explanations on how to deal with these difficult situations, as well as understanding and predicting what will trigger such behaviors.
Each chapter of the book ends with helpful advice. For example, many parents may be obsessed with weighing their child to ensure that he is gaining weight, but such a practice is detrimental to the child who would be horrified by the weight gain, believing that he is already too fat. Jessica’s advice is: “Blind weighings are important. Avoid the scale and tape measure unless used by a healthcare professional and keep the information away from the child. Do not allow the child to fixate on a number or another comparative means. Avoid this as much as possible. “
Jessica also makes clear how vital it is for parents to understand that when it comes to an eating disorder, it is not their regular child they know and love, but a child whose brain has been taken over by the disorder. To make this clear, throughout the book, Jessica refers to anorexia as the terrorist Joey. From what she describes, it really felt like a terrorist had taken over her home and was holding her entire family hostage. Rational thinking cannot be expected from the child as a result of this terrorist takeover, be it in terms of eating, being heavy, or myriad other behaviors.
Fortunately, Jessica was able to save her son. And fortunately for all of us, she has written this book to help others do the same for their loved ones. Not only will people gain a better understanding of anorexia and eating disorders from these pages, but they will find hope and compassion for a disorder that we all must fight together.