I write this in hopes that a family dealing with this on the “boy’s side” of things might be encouraged and possibly even be helped. Although, I will absolutely preface this by saying I am NOT an expert here. What I AM, is a mom with a rock-solid mother’s intuition.
It started rather normally enough with a 15 year-old entering summer just as his body went through that growth spurt that 15 year-old boys do….5ish inches upward in a matter of 3 months. Summer for this particular child also meant days filled with skateboarding all over the city with friends. Pretty much EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. ALL. DAY. LONG. And I am talking 7 a.m until dark or later. A hearty protein smoothie to start his day off followed by hours of skating with bananas, water and protein bars were a recipe that concluded 10 weeks later with a 6 footer at just under 130 pounds. Down about 20 pounds and up roughly 5 inches. Truthfully, this kid was so busy all summer having fun that I don’t think we grasped the hugeness of the growing and changing until summer was almost over. I mean there were small signs throwing up red flags for me, but not enough to convince me I wasn’t just being a paranoid mother. Baggy shorts and big t-shirts hide a lot. or a little. We weren’t really worried though because when you burn those calories all day and grow at the same time, it’s pretty obvious what is going to happen. But still.
Anyway, the pediatrician didn’t seem concerned, even when I point-blank asked if this might be a bit too much, too quick. So it must be alright. Right?
When school started back up, our sophomore had a new-found enjoyment in his new physique as well as an interest in eating cleaner. It was a great opportunity to have many, MANY, MANY talks about food as fuel, getting enough calories, exploring new recipes, hitting the farmer’s market and finding new food blogs (a favorite being chocolatecoveredkatie). So you just don’t complain when you have a kid whipping up “healthy” desserts and various brussel sprout recipes. Because broccoli is good for you. And still that nagging persists.
A disturbing trend started about roughly the same time with an obsession involving food challenge videos on you tube. The crazy ones…the cross fit dudes who sit down and eat 10,000 calories in a sitting….that kind of crazy. I lost count and I lost interest after the first 2 or 3, but I didn’t stop taking mental notes of the fascination and the jealousy that wrestled together in the mind of this shrinking boy.
Slowly, other subtle things were occurring such as not partaking in the homemade cookies, being critical of what other family members were eating, small amounts of food being eaten at meal times, “I’m not that hungry” out of the mouth while the eyes linger longingly, etc, etc, etc.
Then came Halloween Horror nights. Creepy enough but then apparently our zombie lover had a bad Moe’s experience which ended the HHN trip 2 hours in. Fortunately, our good friend lives close enough that he picked him up and brought him home to vom and sleep. 2 days later we were in the ER with dehydration and down to 117 pounds. It just got real. And that’s a deep, dark, ugly hole.
Thus the beginning of the delicate dance of addressing the issue and guiding him back to normal. Many nights the Hubs and I lay in bed talking about what the hell do we do. Neither of us had an answer. And, I might add, it is NOT the time to get up and start googling boys and anorexia. Sleep and peace left on a vacation together after that.
I picked the brains of friends throughout the summer and fall. Friends who are nutritionists, moms, professional athletes, friends who suffered with anorexia and bulimia as kids and lingering body and food issues. I called around to find counselors that were familiar with boys and anorexic behavior. Pickings were slim, I’m here to tell you. By slim, I mean I found one counselor that sounded like he could potentially help us. Maybe.
The saving grace, and I do mean GRACE (capital GRACE) was that he was open to discussion. And mama likes to discuss, so we had many discussions with the Hubs letting me take the wheel on this as he wrestled with his own demons of where/how/why this was happening and the helplessness that is so intricately woven in those questions. While our son could not wrap his head around the physical need for 4,000 calories a day to meet his body’s needs, he DID hear what I was saying. At some point during a particularly frustrating conversation I flat-out told him that if he kept going with his plan that his body would fail him and he would die. Something finally clicked. Just a bit. The teensiest of a bit. But the seed was planted. His response to me was that he didn’t appreciate that I thought he would kill himself. To which I had to re-explain myself that it wouldn’t be intentional, however, if he didn’t start giving his body what it needed calorically and nutritionally, his body would take it where it could get it. Some fat here, when that ran out….some muscle here…and the heart, well….it’s a big ole muscle and if you take from it, it just doesn’t work.
He agreed to meet a sports nutritionist that I knew from the Y. Thank you sweet baby, Jesus!! We met monthly, measured, discussed, strategized and I just sat back and listened. The hubs and I could want it for him all day long but he had to take ownership and do the work. It was a grueling one step forward and four steps back process. By about month 3 or 4 he was finally making some gains. Up about 7 pounds and with a new-found vegan diet that made him feel healthy and satiated and less conscious of what he was eating, he was slowly coming back to us.
This past fall he bought a Jeep Cherokee. Working at Dunkin Donuts pays off (the irony, I know…believe me, I know) and the kid finally had wheels. After the wheels came dreams of “‘muddin”” and he joined a jeep club. His first foray out with the club finished with a good old-fashioned BBQ in the woods. Our vegan came home ecstatic, adrenaline-rushed and a belly filled with chicken. And cookies and ribs. He declared a vegan death.
The reality lies somewhere in between though, as he feels most healthy and energetic when he sticks to a mostly vegan and clean diet, however, he has FINALLY embraced the fact that he doesn’t need to firmly lie in one camp or another, but can incorporate them all to meet his needs. He’s found a happy medium. He’s also found a new job. Pizza delivery dude.
So was he a full-blown anorexic? As I stated earlier, I’m no professional, but he hit many of the behaviors solidly on the head. There was no obvious trauma or drama during that time to pinpoint why. Somehow, his grades never suffered. This kid may be in the current state of Prodigal Son with the Lord, but his parents, never stopped praying. Their friends, they prayed. His siblings, they prayed. Holy water…you know it. Blessed salt….right on in that dinner. There is no giving up. There is no black or white answer. Eating disorders can differ with each and every person.
For now, he’s good. Is he “cured”? He’s finally up to a 32ish waist from a 28 and I no longer see every vertebrae in his spine when he’s shirtless. However, I’ll say that addiction runs deep in this family, both sides. Addiction and control, they go hand in hand and he will always struggle with control. Of course we all do on some level and at some point, he will be mature enough to know it’s a demon he will always need to acknowledge. As for right now it’s one day at a time.
I’ll take it. 2 years later. I’ll take it.
Oh God bless you Tracy. I don’t have boys, but I can imagine what a blessing this post will be to other parents who are going through similar circumstances. And you are an inspiration to me, as a mom of two littles with so many scary possibilities on the horizon.
Thank you. Every stage brings new challenges and blessings and He prepares us accordingly, even when we can’t see one step in front of us.
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