'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

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Day In a Page

    Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

    Caught in the web of legal imperialism

    The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda