“There’s one more option up for consideration,” My eating disorder therapist told us. My blank face stared back at her in suspense. Yes, one more option, I need one more so damn badly. “We can try the Maudsley approach.”
Maudsley approach—I wanted to say bless you in response because it sounded like a sneeze. My parents and I had never heard of it, but I was excited to learn that it was an alternative to being sent away to residential treatment or hospitalization. I was willing to do anything, ANYTHING not to be sent away!
The Maudsley approach (“weight restoration”) is an intensive outpatient treatment where parents play an active and positive role in order to: 1) help restore their child’s weight to normal levels, 2) hand the control over eating back to the adolescent, and 3) encourage normal adolescent development through an in-depth discussion of these crucial developmental issues as they pertain to their child. Maudsley considers the parents to be a resource and an essential component in successful treatment for anorexia nervosa. Basically, the parents are responsible for feeding the child and finding any acceptable way to be sure she eats. The parents are full members of the treatment process and an integral part of recovery. There would, of course, be modifications based on my age. I was an adult, so these standard rules would be customized toward my own needs, and not being an adolescent would make this a trial of sorts.
Now, imagine moving back home at the age of twenty-six and giving this approach a shot. Well that’s what I did. I withdrew any bit of control over food and put it into the hands of my parents. Having not lived at home since I was eighteen, this proved difficult for both my parents and I. We had to find a proper family dynamic that was able to work for everyone. I am not sure we ever achieved that specified dynamic as we constantly struggled, but we were at least able to make it work and plant the seeds for my recovery flower to start to FULLy blossom.
What I did find was that the results are even far more than recovery—it is a closeness and richness in relationships that become a gift, a silver lining of a very dark cloud. We are all better because we shared this process together.
First off, weight restoration happened with the help of an eating disorder specialist and therapist. Parents are by no means professionals and need the help along the way, so I wouldn’t suggest this approach without the guidance of a professional or professional(s). It was also extremely hard on them. They had to pause their lives for the time I was home to play food-police. I was able to get back to a healthy weight in five months, but hell, weight restoration was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. Take one entry from a journal I kept during this time:
Time: 12:45 pm
Lunch: Cream cheese and lox on Mom’s special nutritious bread and Dr. Brown’s cream soda
How I am feeling: I shut the door to my and my dad’s conjoint office space to block out all the people at work before we ate our lunches together. For some reason, I always feel rushed at work—afraid someone may come in and make a comment about “me actually eating.” Yes, believe it or not, people actually say that to me now that I am eating—Correction, being helped to force-feed myself. I ate it pretty quickly out of fear of those comments. I am finding that just getting the food down as quick as possible is my best method of ingestion these days.
During the meal, my dad called in Marie, our secretary, to retrieve papers on his desk. I was a little annoyed at him and afraid she would make a comment about what I was eating, but she didn’t. I felt relieved, but I am still very uncomfortable eating in front of people because honestly I can’t take their comments or the attention it draws to me. It makes me hate myself a little more and makes me feel even more sorry for myself. People think its okay to continue to jokingly put me down for not being able to do something so natural like eat. My condition is not a choice. I explained this to my dad and he said he understood, the best someone without an eating disorder could probably understand. He probably thinks I am crazy, but I would have to agree with that sentiment. My hands were shaking as I finished my sandwich. Then I went back to work, trying to distract myself from the never-ending dialogue playing inside my mind. You are so fat and worthless, Dani. No one will love you if you gain weight. Nothing I do is ever good enough for the voices. They always tell me that someone so horrible doesn’t deserve the food. It’s so hard not to believe them.
After the first two phases, I still had some soul searching to do on my own. I had to find myself not only as a healthy adult in society, which I had never been before, but re-build from years of depression and isolation. I ended up moving back to my apartment, working with my therapist, and was able to keep myself on track. My recovery came with many knocks, more than a handful of relapses, and it’s hard to restore a social life or any kind of normal life when you are coming from an ed-lifestyle: work-centric, depressed, and sick. It is possible though. Many others and I have achieved this and are living FULL lives without our eating disorders.
So, do I think this method is practical? Yes I do. With a good support system it worked for me and may work for someone you know. At the same time, I was in a place where I wanted to get better. It would have been much harder for someone who was more resistant at my age.
Would I recommend this to anyone? No way! Everyone has their own road to recovery, their own story, and their own journey. But I do suggest you don’t make this excursion alone.