When food controls a mother’s love: ‘I fear anorexia will destroy their lives’ (CORRECTED)

Amanda, 34, developed anorexia as a teenager. Now her two children refuse to eat.

MEALTIMES are a battleground in our house because my two children never want to eat. My eight-year-old daughter, Kate, says she’s not hungry and her brother James, aged six, just copies her. They’re both tall for their age and each is almost a stone underweight. I’m worried that their growth will become stunted but I feel completely powerless.

I never have breakfast, but I get up early to make breakfast for my husband, John, 40, and the children, who take longer over it every day. Sometimes I sit with them for three hours. The tension’s unbearable. In that time, if I’m lucky, Kate might eat three Grape Nuts without milk. James sometimes has a spoonful of Corn Flakes but only if I feed him like a baby.

The school’s worried because they don’t eat there either. James’s class teacher found a whole pile of packed lunches rotting at the bottom of his desk. Kate had done the same, although neither knew about the other. It made me feel sick with fear when I got a call from the head. The school has promised to keep an eye on them, but that won’t change anything.

For supper we all eat different things. Being anorexic I like to be careful. I panic if I go over six stone. John, who weighs 14 stone, is a real meat-and-two-veg man. The children are impossible. I’ve tried everything – pizzas, burgers, quiches, fish fingers. They just play with their meals. I feel so rejected when they refuse to eat my food. Then I feel guilty because I think I’ve brought the problem upon them.

Last week it was Kate’s birthday. I organised a party and she invited 10 school friends. I went up to town and spent a fortune on food. There was something for everyone. I baked a magnificent cake and had it iced professionally. Throughout the party Kate avoided the food. Foolishly, I thought she might be saving herself for a tiny slice of cake. When I brought it out, as everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’, she ran out of the room crying and shouting that everything was my fault. I wanted to weep with her, for her, for us.

Their eating problems began as soon as they went on to solids at around one year old. Like James, Kate refused to feed herself up until about a year ago. It was nightmarish having to be so involved in her feeding.

With a daughter like Kate, I feel as if life has come full circle. My own mother was anorexic. When I was little she told me she was allergic to sugar, but that didn’t stop her forcing it on me. She gave me money for sweets every day. I ballooned out. At 16 I had reached my adult height – 5ft – and weighed 14 stone. I felt like a beached whale. Dieting seemed the obvious solution.

Eight months after I began dieting my weight had halved, although Mummy didn’t seem to notice, which hurt more than anything. A month later I was down to just over five stone. I wasn’t happy. I kept thinking maybe when I reached four stone I’d feel better.

A friend went to the school nurse and they put me in hospital. I spent a month in the intensive care unit with people dying around me. Then I was put in a geriatric ward because there were no other beds. I left weighing seven stone and thinking I’d recovered, but then, at 19, I started seeing a married man, who turned rough when I refused to sleep with him. After we broke up, I lost more weight and went back into hospital.

Shortly after I came out I met John. It sounds awful but I knew he was right because he never nagged me about eating and he wasn’t pushy about sex.

I was desperate for children. The trouble was I hadn’t had a period since I was 16. We tried for five years and then decided to have private fertility treatment. No one at the clinic seemed that bothered about why I couldn’t conceive. They just wanted quick results.

I gave birth to Kate when I was 26. At first I was disappointed because I worried about a girl becoming anorexic. Then James came along. I was determined to bring them up differently.

When they were little I never gave them sweet things – I thought that would stop them from going like me. I cooked all their meals to make sure they had the healthiest possible food. When they went out to other people’s houses, I asked the hostess to keep them away from sweet things. Once or twice I said they were diabetic.

I honestly expected them to have the odd sweet. Instead, they boasted to me about how they refused sweets. Secretly I was mortified – I felt as if they were competing with me and each other in the dietary stakes.

Some days I feel like screaming until the house falls down. The worst thing is that there’s no one to turn to. My relationship with John has really suffered because of the children. I feel he blames me, although he denies it. My biggest fear is that my own anorexia will come out in them and destroy their lives – just as it has destroyed mine.

All the names in the three case studies on this page have been changed.

CORRECTION

EATING DISORDERS Yesterday’s Focus page on children affected by their mothers’ eating disorders was written by Christina Kent. We are very sorry that her byline was left off the page.

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