'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
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • 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

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?