A British news presenter has revealed how he told his anorexic daughter to “starve herself to death”, in a brutally honest account of his struggle to deal with her illness.
Television presenter Mark Austin said that in the early days of his daughter Maddy’s eating disorder he “failed utterly to grasp that she was seriously mentally ill” and thought she was being “selfish” and “pathetic” when she lashed out when challenged about how little she was eating.
In a first-hand account published in the Sunday Times, Mr Austin, best known for formerly presenting the ITV Evening News, describes watching his daughter “wilfully destroying herself” when she became ill as a teenager in 2012, and admits that he initially failed to deal with the situation in the right way.
“This was my daughter willfully destroying herself by not eating. I thought it was crass, insensitive, selfish and pathetic. She would lie about how much she had eaten and then explode with rage if we challenged her,” writes Mr Austin.
“She showered me with contempt. As a father you have to make a decision and I made the wrong one. I decided to go on the attack. I told her she was being ridiculous. I told her to get a grip and grow up, to ‘just bloody well eat, for Christ’s sake’.”
Maddy, now 22 and fully recovered, was a teenager when she suddenly stopped eating during her A-Levels, resulting in her weight plummeting by four stone and leaving her close to organ failure.
Mr Austin, 58, recounts in the article how he became so enraged that he told Maddy to starve herself, unable to comprehend that she was going through "serious" mental suffering. “I even remember saying, ‘If you really want to starve yourself to death, just get on with it'," he continues.
“And at least once, exasperated and at a loss, I think I actually meant it. What I failed utterly to grasp was that she was seriously mentally ill and could not see a future for herself.”
Following a failed spell as an in-patient at a private hospital that used forced feeding, Maddy was treated in an NHS daycare unit at Farnham Hospital in Surrey which, Mr Austin says, “saved her life”.
After giving his deeply personal and revealing account, Mr Austin talks more generally in the article about the impacts of anorexia on families — and in particular fathers — in trying to comprehend complex issues with body image and weight control suffered by their children.
He writes: “The impact of anorexia on families is devastating. As a father I felt excluded and hated. I found the issues of body image and weight control difficult to talk about. I floundered and, in the process, ended up poisoning her against me further.”
Mr Austin's article has received positive responses from hundreds of people on social media, who describe his words as "powerful" and "moving".
It is not the first time Mr Austin has spoken out about his daughter's illness.
Last year, the television presenter called on the Government to invest more money into combating the illness and said more specialist units should be built by the NHS saying they were “lucky” to be able to afford the care needed for her.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies