'Anorexia has many causes – and you're probably not one'

Parents often blame themselves when eating disorders strike. But these diseases are more complex than most people realise – and it is families that hold the key to a cure, believes counsellor and mother of a sufferer Lynn Crilly

When one of Lynn Crilly's twin daughters was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, the threat to her child was plain to see. But what Crilly didn't expect during that dark period in 2004 was a condition that would almost tear apart her family and a health system that would struggle to cope with a complex illness, leaving her to seek solutions by herself. Seven years on, after her daughter's recovery, Crilly has become a champion of the forgotten victims of eating disorders, which are estimated to afflict 1.6 million people in Britain. She has become a leading counsellor and has just published her first book, Hope with Eating Disorders, a self-help guide for the parents, carers and friends of sufferers.

"I never imagined I would be in this position but after three years of chasing the system, I decided to treat my daughter myself," Crilly says from her home in Surrey, where she lives with her husband, Kevin, and their daughters, Samantha and Charlotte, 20. "I never dreamed of the lengths I would have to go to get my daughter better – caring for someone with an eating disorder is constant, relentless, challenging and will push all concerned to their limits."

Crilly, 47, says she sympathises with the challenges eating disorders also pose to GPs and the system behind them. Too often, though, she says parents are left feeling isolated and useless – or even to blame. An estimated 10 per cent of sufferers are anorexic and 40 per cent are bulimic, while the remainder suffers from unspecified disorders. The variety of conditions and infinite range in the needs and natures of sufferers means treatment must be co-operative. "No two sufferers are the same and there is no right or wrong way to treat this illness," she says. "But the people around them are the most powerful tool in the recovery process."

Crilly encourages parents to read books by authorities in the field of eating-disorder research and to consult charities and organisations. She has recruited Janet Treasure, a professor of psychiatry and consultant psychiatrist who has specialised in the treatment of eating disorders for more than 30 years, to write a foreword to her book. Treasure emphasises the importance of "curiosity and an open mind and the refusal to accept stigma and secrecy".

Carers should not be afraid to explore other treatments if they are unsure about the course they are on, Crilly says. "Nobody knows your child better than you." Ultimately, she wants to give hope to people in circumstances that can feel hopeless. "Even when the sufferer's a long way into recovery, carers can be left feeling like they need counselling," she says. "But with time, energy, love and patience, an eating disorder should not be a life sentence for anybody."

Here is her advice for families:

 

Get reading

Do as much research as you can to try to get a real understanding of the mindset of someone with a disorder and take from that what you think is relevant to you and your situation. Many GPs are fantastic but they have a few minutes to see you and are not specialised. As with all medical conditions, it's important to be careful when doing your own research, particularly online, but there are plenty of charities, organisations and good books. There are links on my website.

 

Keep talking

Do everything possible to keep channels of communication open between sufferers and their carers and everyone around you, including siblings, who can sometimes feel just as isolated. People need to feel at ease talking about how they're feeling, without being judged. Parents or carers must listen to what the sufferer is saying, however illogical it might sound. Don't be shocked by what you hear. Be prepared for the sufferer to act out of character and say things they don't mean. Encourage them to talk about life away from the disorder, otherwise it will consume everything.

 

Don't blame yourself

As a parent or carer it's a natural reaction to blame yourself, but don't waste the time and energy, because it's very rarely anybody's fault. Eating disorders usually arise very innocently, often starting with one or two comments that tap into existing insecurities. Treasure's research has revealed that initial causes of eating disorders can include the sufferer's genetic make-up. In the case of anorexia, stress or trauma as early as during birth can play a role. She also identifies personality types often found in sufferers, including an obsession with detail or a strong competitive sense. There are so many causes of eating disorders – you're probably not one of them.

 

Focus on the mind, not just the food

Eating disorder are illnesses of the mind, not the body. They cannot be cured by treating the physical symptoms alone, or by focusing only on food. It can be tempting to weigh every mouthful and count every calorie, but as long as you've agreed a relatively stable food regime and you know the sufferer is safe (and knows he or she won't gain too much weight in the case of anorexia) then the priority is to get to work on the mind. Once the sufferer is stable, with time, love and positive thinking, the the mind can heal, allowing the body to follow.

 

Remember the other stuff

Eating disorders can take over everyone's life, but it's important to remember that there is life outside. Interacting with other people and living as normally as possible is paramount. To enable this, the sufferer and carers will need the support of the school and, if you're in work, your employer. Friends are important, too. Do normal things: go to the cinema, play games, sit around watching TV.

 

Look after yourself

An eating disorder can totally engulf an entire family and tear it apart. Talk to other carers, or find support groups or online forums – anything to feel less isolated. Find time to go out with friends. Taking yourself away from the situation helps you return to it with a clearer, more positive head. Be sure siblings have their time, too. For a relationship to survive, it's important to be united in your approach to treatment as well as life at home.

'Hope With Eating Disorders' by Lynn Crilly (Hay House, £12.99). To order this book for the special price of £11.69, with free P&P, go to inde pendent booksdirect.co.uk.

Lynncrilly.co.uk

ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power