F.E.A.S.T's Around The Dinner Table forum

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My D has been very private about her ED and I think it's time she opens up to a few of her closest friends so that they can better understand what she is going through (FBT for RAN, exercise compulsion) and also help her in simple ways (avoid talk of dieting and exercise; sit with her while she finishes eating; change conversation when needed in big groups; share some of their own struggles so that she sees not everyone is perfect; introduce her to new interests and activities; etc…)

She has been doing pretty well lately and wants to spend more time with her friends, though we're not sure she's ready to eat without us unless we pack her meal and/or snack. I'd feel better if her true friends were there with her during those times and understood how important it is for her to eat her whole meal or stop for an afternoon snack, though I don't want or expect them to police her.

I also think by opening up, she would no longer be able to live in a sort of denial or secrecy and this might help her want to work harder to beat the ED. She can turn her anger at feeling different and not being able to do all that she wants toward the ED and start fighting back a bit.

Can anyone offer advice or feedback on whether/how their teen's friends were able to help during recovery? 

TY in advance!

Mom of 16-y-o D diagnosed w/ ED-NOS (RAN, compulsive exercise) in May 2013. Hospitalized for 2 wks then IOP at UCSD through July. Now in FBT w/ team of therapist, pediatrician and psychiatrist (for meds.). She is WR & considered to be in recovery, though we are diligently watching her and working on relapse prevention on a weekly basis with her T. We can finally see true recovery as a real possibility [biggrin]!
Dear KM,

My D is the same age and pretty much all of her close friends know or have some idea of what's happening.  I just can't imagine how you could keep this a secret!  I'll bet most of your D's friends have already guessed, anyway.  Girls these days are pretty attuned to ED's.

D's best friend is a boy and he is, by her reports very supportive.  What I mean is that I am careful to never put him officially in the 'cop' role.  It is the job of H and I do supervise most meals. He is her loyal best friend and I would never ask him to cross that boundary. That said, she reports that he nags her about finishing food when we are not around and I DO rely on him without having ever asked him to do anything.

I have snooped in her texts when I was worried about self-harm and all the texts from him that I read (I'm sure she deleted many of their conversations) were very level-headed and kind.

It can be trying to be friends with an anorexic in many ways, so I think it's important for them to understand that she's not just randomly weird (or whatever) but that she is struggling with real issues.  Their parents might need a briefing, too.  I can imagine they might have concerns for their own D's stress maybe.

I think it is important for her friends to know.  I could not have her at anyone's house if the mum wasn't aware of her problems.  It would not be fair to her or me or the mum.  Of course I don't expect a mum to police a meal like H and I would, but I have asked that they let me know, maybe, what they are planning on serving for dinner and to let me know if they think she struggled to eat as much as other kids do.  

That said, I do think it is very important and wise of you to seek her permission before you tell people.  I'm a big mouth and cope by talking (maybe over-sharing???) and just lately D has expressed resentment at the number of people who know.  I am not at all ashamed of her illness but should have respected her privacy more carefully.

Maybe together you could think of a way she could 'come out'. Have a sleepover?  

Good luck and let us know how you go.

xo OTM
D in and out of EDNOS since age 8. dx RAN 2013. WR Aug '14. Graduated FBT June 2015 at 18 yrs old. [thumb]
in our situation, d did not tell her friends and I felt I had no option but to respect this, particularly as I am aware how gossip spreads like wildfire in secondary schools and not all teenagers are kind or understanding.  What I did instead is engineer situations where she was with her friends but I could supervise (first of all, I had to be there all the time, later just supervising food).  This involved thinking of - and usually paying for! - trips and activities that I had to drive them to, or that I could take younger siblings to (thus having a reason to stick around).  The friends, being normal eaters, t thought d had a super-generous mum, providing or buying cake, chips (fries?) etc to all and sundry, so they thought it was great.

There were two - very long term - friends who knew, one because she caught me crying and one because they had been the ones to phone me with their concerns after some really weird behaviour.  One of these friends is older and very mature, so could be relied upon to report back, get food with d when asked etc.  The other is a lovely girl but couldn't be relied upon for anything other than company.

My personal take is that you need to think carefully about why and whether you need to tell friends.
The future is not set; there is no fate but that which we make for ourselves.

"Not my daughter, you bitch." Mrs. Weasley
There are both benefits and harms in discussing ED's with friends. Especially with children involved either younger or adolescents, rumours etc. can make life more difficult rather than helpful. My D early on refused to tell all but three of her closest friends (they could be relied on not to tell), however she spent very prolonged periods away from school in hospital. In the end the rumours at school got so bad that the class had to be told (they thought she was dying). Only those friends that she told early on have been really helpful with her recovery. They all know how much she still struggles to eat (3.5 years in). She still goes to the school nurse for snacks and lunch, and these friends now often accompany her. More recently one was able to support her enough that D could attend the school formal, and on school excursions will eat with her as needed. They can lend an ear when she whinges about how tough things are, put some perspective in place. 

There have been negatives though. You cannot control the things that are said. Those typical teen I'm so fat comments. The diet remarks of school friends. The surprise when someone finds out D has AN," but you aren't thin enough". 

My general advice is allow D to have a say in who is told. She knows her friends much better than you. As Red has said, offer activities where you can supervise, but she can still socialise a bit. Unless your D has a very short lived illness it is likely they will know something of what is going on, and this will set the scene for their involvement later on. 
D diagnosed restrictive AN June 2010 age 13.5. Weight restored July 2012. Relapse and now clawing our way back. Treatment: multiple hospitalisations and individual and family therapy.
We treated our d's ED like one would have treated cancer. Her school and teachers knew, all her friends knew and were extremely supportive and our family and friends and he's running coach. Our attitude, including our daughter's, was that she hadn't chosen to get this illness and therefore there was nothing to be ashamed of. Right at the beginning with d 's blessing I invited her close friends for tea after school and we all had a chat about the illness and d very touchingly described what it was like for her to eat and how they could help. Without them my daughter would not have made the great strides that she has.
I am not one for secrecy and in our case being open about ED convinced d that this was a genuine illness that needed beating even if it was the hardest thing ever.
We also encouraged her then 14 year old brother to tell his close friends so he had them to turn to in difficult times.
I know that this doesn't work for many families as every family has its own dynamics but if at all possible I would advocate openness.
My D had to be taken out of school so most of her year group knew I think. When she returned, the biggest challenge was one of her best friends going on about healthy eating, GM free foods, diets ad nauseum. She couldn't stand it, and after a few days plucked up the courage to tell her that this talk was upsetting her and making it difficult to eat. The friend didn't think she'd said much until my D repeated back to her a bunch of comments from the last few days that had stuck in her head. Then the friend realised and very nicely said she would stop that talk. She did for about a week, but it started to creep back in, so now she cannot sit with her at any breaks which she is sad about , but knows she has to do. The 'fat' talk in school is horrendous.
Friends can also challenge the ED in other ways, like offering around a bag of tortilla chips. My D actually took some just to be in with the crowd, and was so proud of herself.
I have told her friends' parents not to invite her round for sleepovers, but she can do short activity things, once we have the snack sorted out.
The friends are very important I think, and I try to help keep her in the loop as best I can. 
I agree with Wornoutmummy. This is an illness like any other (well, OK, unlike any other!) and there is no reason not to be honest about it. I feel quite strongly that we all need to be more open about mental illness and not hide it, as if it's something shameful or as if, somehow, the sufferer is to blame. My daughter was reluctant to let me tell people at first but now, she is glad  - it helps minimise that awkwardness when she bumps into people she hasn't seen for a long time. She doesn't need to explain her absence. I've found everyone to be hugely sympathetic and sensitive. If you're not honest, people will guess and gossip anyway. More than anything though, my daughter knows that I am not ashamed of her or her illness. I am hugely proud of her and how she has coped and I don't want to hide that from anyone. Wishing you lots of luck xxxx
D, now 19. Diagnosed with anorexia July '13. IP August - January 14. Day patient till Mar 14. I year in recovery before relapse
We went with wornoutmummy's approach and never regretted it, even though I understand why people don't. It created a much larger safety circle around d with friends who were great at supporting her eating when out, reporting back to me etc. our other ds friends also knew and were lovely with an d as well. Just gave us a bit if a break once last the worst of it.
I feel if we had let it always be a secret, rumours would have eventually circulated which would have been worse than the truth. But my was 16 and I think there is a maturity in this age group which can cope with this.
PS wornoutmummy keeps reverting to workout mummy on my autocorrect!
Belinda Caldwell FEAST Executive Director. D 21 now well into recovery after developing AN in 2011. Inpatient 5 weeks, FBT and then just lots of time, love and vigilance.
Thanks very much for taking the time for all these fabulous responses!

I did send an email out to the mothers of my D's friends a few months into her recovery after school started, but it was a while ago and I think they've all assumed she's better now (?). My D also has not been able to attend sleepovers and when their mothers really pressed, I sent them an email with an article on AN to explain why it's so hard for my D to eat, etc. Neither sent me a response, which stung a little. (One told a another friend of mine that she thought it was horrible that I wouldn't let my D go to the sleepover because she believed my D just needed to eat with healthy girls and she would do the same -- if only it were that easy!)

Anyway, I am definitely leaving it up to my D to decide what she wants to share. I talked to her a bit about it and she said she'd think about it, but I could tell that she's rather just leave it alone. 

It helps me to share what we're going through, but my D is very private and also -- I think -- ashamed and a little in denial about how serious her ED is. I just know it would help -- especially if they could try to stop the diet and exercise talk and understand why she might have a hard time ordering food when out or finishing everything on her plate, even that last bite. 

We'll just keep being there when she goes out or she'll arrive late as she's been doing (so that she can eat with us) and maybe that will wear thin enough that she'll feel compelled to open up a bit with a few choice friends.

Thanks again for your advice and personal experiences!
Mom of 16-y-o D diagnosed w/ ED-NOS (RAN, compulsive exercise) in May 2013. Hospitalized for 2 wks then IOP at UCSD through July. Now in FBT w/ team of therapist, pediatrician and psychiatrist (for meds.). She is WR & considered to be in recovery, though we are diligently watching her and working on relapse prevention on a weekly basis with her T. We can finally see true recovery as a real possibility [biggrin]!
This was a tricky one for us. My d was 17 when diagnosed and missed almost entire spring semesters of both junior and senior years. She totally isolated from all of her friends and wanted to keep her ED a secret. It was complicated by a lot of things. She went to a small all girls' school with a lot of girls, including one of her former best friends, with untreated EDs. Without going into all of the boring details, I expected too much of her friends at first. They DID love her. Two years out now that my d is doing so well, a few of these girls still are her best friends and she has spent every waking moment with them over the last week before heading out of state for college.

The biggest benefit for my d in opening up about what happened to her was for HER. She has now spoken about her struggles in two different church retreats and it has been very freeing for her. She also is someone who has great faith and gets great satisfaction out of helping others. It helps her to feel like the almost unbearable pain she has been through the last two years is not without purpose when she sees how much she has changed as a person and if she thinks by sharing her story she can help even one other person. At first though being open backfired. Everyone at her school called her the "crazy" girl. Her AP calc teacher told her she needed more time on her final (in front of whole class) because of her "issues."

She has the most amazing and supportive group of friends, mostly from church and a few from high school. They know everything about what she has been through. However, they still skip meals around her and talk about fattening foods. It used to drive me crazy and was so triggering for my d. It helped me to see that they are just teenaged girls with their own insecurities and issues. My d was also taught how to handle these situations and in time they have become much less triggering and she is able to do what she needs to do.

I know that every situation is different, but that is what has worked for us!
Enjoying my 23 year-old daughter's achievement of active recovery that was made possible by the resources and education I found on this forum.

Don't give up hope!
My D is 12 and when she was dx and hospitalized, both school and softball season had just started, so we had to tell the admin and her teachers, and her coaches. With my D's acceptance, the whole softball team and their parents were informed. Other than that, I left it entirely up to her, as I tried to take the approach that she was a girl who happened to have an issue and not an issue that happened to be a girl. When she was asked where she'd been, she had two responses: for the ones she considered close friends, she'd tell them flat-out; for the others, she'd say "it's a long story" and leave it at that.

Two months later, she's had a couple of overnights and a couple of lunches/daytrips with other friends. (We discussed with OP therapists first.) On all but one occasion, I let her know I was going to have a conversation with the parents and given them instruction, and get a report back. I even gave the menu to one mom. While I am fearing relapse all the time, the all-important social connections of her 12-yo life have been restored and the family part of FBT is being expanded a bit. It seems to be working, as her mood is up and she remains WR. 

As a side note, I am a little handicapped in that her mom and I are not together, and I have learned that her mom does not "get it" with AN. So, my d is with me and my wife most of the time, although I am the primary caregiver.  
'The more I let her be who she is, the more she is.'

- 12 yo d dx AN 9/10/2013, 15 days IP, 25 days Partial, ongoing OP, WR 10/2013.
My D first developed AN at age 11 and that was over a decade ago. In those days no one understood anorexia, like we parents on the forum do.  But many out in general population still don't understand this illness.

We were always open and honest about my D's illness to her teachers, counselor and closest friends. 
Again, when she relapsed at age 13, we were open and honest and my D spoke to her class about her struggles. 

Unfortunately, she did not have the same caring response that we all hope for in peers/friends. 
Much of her honesty backfired on her - because middle school and even 15 year olds don't often have the ability to comprehend an illness like AN.   They also easily become pushy about eating, or feel it is their responsibility when their friend is not eating.  In my D's situation, they used her vulnerability to bully her. 
Yes, there might be one or two mature young people to share this with, but it should be carefully thought through who to tell and how to educate them.

In hindsight, I wish we'd kept much of this to ourselves, so the whole school did not know about my D's suffering.  Rumors, ignorance, and immaturity is pretty common for teens.  She became known as the "anorexic girl" taking the brunt of bullying.  When left to eat with peers, she never ate, and no one came to us.

If only I'd known then what I know now

WenWinning (formerly wenlow) - a Mom who has learned patience, determination, empathy, and inner strength to help her young adult daughter gain full remission after over a decade of illness and clinician set inaccurate weights

It was very interesting to read the very different experiences people have had. I was very pleased especially to read that both HopefulMama and HannabeatsAna had positive experiences in telling church friends as this is something I am really struggling with at the moment. Our d's church friend have been the ones who have really let her down once they knew. The response was 'she is just doing it to gain attention from boys' and despite several chats with the youth leader the group pretty much ignore her now and just don't even bother to speak to her or invite her as she has missed so many socials. D is unable to speak about her illness or her struggle, so would never open up about it to her friends or youth leader, which is another thing they hold against her; I have tried to explain that this is all part of her illness, but they just don't get it and the youth leader has never even asked us how they could support our D. We have made suggestions, but nothing has been implemented. It breaks my heart really and I struggle to understand. I am so pleased that there are friends out there who are able to understand and support someone with AN. Let's hope that there will be more good news stories here!  

MamaJ The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. Psalm 34:18
My D initially told only her "bestie" (who is also anorexic...and no, I don't think it's "catching").  And, I am also wonderful friend's with that girl's mother....it was very helpful to me to have that type of immediate support.  Today, D and her bestie are mutually supportive of one another, making sure that they finish all meals and snacks.  It's very sweet, actually.  And, both her mother and I are on careful patrol for any "pro ana" support that might go on!

D at first said she didn't want people to know, but gradually, she broadened the circle of people who know, and I think this is good.  She has found nothing but warm support and encouragement from everyone.  Perhaps people are secretly gossiping....I do not know.  All I know is that both she and I FEEL supported, and that is wonderful.
D, age 18, first diagnosed March 20, 2013, RAN, at age 13 Hospitalized 3 weeks for medical stability. FBT at home since.  UCSD Multi-family Intensive June 2015. We've arrived on the other side.  :-)  D at college and doing great!