Broadcaster Speaks out about the Difficulties of Dealing with Daughter’s Anorexia

ITV newsreader Mark Austin spoke in an interview on the ‘This Morning’ programme and described how difficult he found coping with his daughter’s anorexia.

Losing Weight

Austin was in America covering the presidential elections in 2012 when his daughter Maddy, then eighteen, began to show signs of an eating disorder. His wife, an A&E doctor, had called to tell him that Maddy had become obsessive about food, counting calories and skipping meals. She had started to lose weight, and by the time Austin returned home a week later, she had collapsed at school from being so weak.

Fortunately for Maddy, her teacher recognised the signs of anorexia, a diagnosis later confirmed by a specialist in eating disorders. She had been a promising athlete, winning national school events in the 800 metres, but after losing four stone in weight, she became an ‘emaciated, ghostlike figure’.

Difficulty Understanding Anorexia

As with many parents of children suffering from anorexia, Austin found it very difficult to understand how his daughter could starve herself, or why she was doing so. Often, the anorexia sufferer does not fully appreciate why he or she is so determined not to eat, and many sufferers feel that their weight is the only thing they can control in their lives.

Austin felt at a loss when trying to cope with his daughter’s illness, and exasperated once told her, “If you really want to starve yourself to death, just get on with it”.

Like many fathers of children with eating disorders, Austin found it very difficult to talk to his daughter about body image and weight control issues. Historically, these subjects have always been the domain of women, but anorexia is becoming increasingly common in teenage boys and young men too. In these cases, the illness is often going undiagnosed for longer, and in many instances, it becomes harder to treat as young men have, for a long time, been encouraged not to talk about their feelings.

Rock Bottom for Maddy

Austin described ‘rock bottom’ for his daughter as being an attempt at forced feeding treatment at an inpatient at a private treatment unit. She strongly resisted the treatment, even threatening to kill herself.

When she returned home, her mother was so concerned for her that she slept on her bedroom floor so that she could monitor her twenty-four hours a day, taking time off from work in order to do so.

Maddy credits her recovery to a local NHS nurse, saying “Eventually, it was a local NHS nurse who really understood me and saw the Maddy without the demons. I was lucky, but mental health treatment should not be a lottery.”

Maddy is now 22 years old and is hoping to campaign to raise awareness of anorexia, and how her treatment helped her to recovery. A cause her father wants to help her with.

Treatment for Anorexia

Anorexia is very much a mental issue, and research carried out in America suggests that it may have an underlying biological cause. The study, based in Ohio, has found that women who have recovered from anorexia have unusually high levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin present. Serotonin is the chemical responsible for making us feel ‘happy’. Those with low levels of serotonin often suffer from depression, but overly high levels of can be equally damaging, causing anxiety and irritability. Over three-quarters of anorexia sufferers experienced an anxiety disorder before developing their eating disorder.

The body needs the amino acid tryptophan in order to make serotonin, and so a restricted diet reduces the amount of serotonin the body can produce. For most individuals, this would result in feelings of grumpiness and impulsive behaviours, but for those who have heightened levels of serotonin already, starving themselves actually reduces their anxiety. This creates the beginnings of a vicious cycle, leading to chronic anorexia. When the serotonin levels drop, the brain responds by creating more serotonin receptors, so becoming more sensitive to the small amount of serotonin present, and so the feelings of anxiety return. The anorexia sufferer then restricts their food intake further, and so it goes on.

This cycle makes it very difficult for a chronic anorexia sufferer to return to normal eating habits, as increasing their food intake will enhance their feelings of anxiety.

Understanding Anorexia and Relying on Support

The treatment for anorexia developed by the team behind the research is proving more effective than previous treatments, and it involves the whole family. Rather than weekly sessions, everyone attends the residential centre for five days. The biological reasons for anorexia are explained, which allows sufferers and their families to understand the reasons behind the illness. Parents of young people are now trained to be their supports, and the young people decide on their meals, but they have to check with their supports that what they have chosen is enough. The food they eat is seen as their medicine rather than their enemy, as is so often the case for anorexics.

This treatment method has also proven successful with some young adults, an encouraging result as anorexia treatment in adults has a very low success rate.

If you, or someone you care about, is struggling with anorexia, Addiction Helper can provide the advice and support you need to regain your health. If you would like any information or advice, please contact us today.

Source: Mark Austin admits he told anorexic daughter ‘starve yourself to death’ (The Guardian)

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