Zadie today. Photo courtesy of Lisa LaBorde.
To help raise awareness as part of National Eating Disorders Week (Feb. 22–28), Yahoo Parenting is featuring a pair of mother-daughter essays. This one, as told to and edited by Beth Greenfield, is by Toronto-based high-school freshman Zadie LaBorde, 14, who was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 10. Read her mom’s story here.
When I had an eating disorder, I was 10 years old, and the weird thing about it is I was the first one who said to my mom, “I think I have an eating disorder.” I knew that I had it. I just knew there was something about what I was doing that wasn’t normal. And I know I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted help. I needed help to get better.
I remember my mom came up to me when I was at the doctor’s office. She said, “Hey, you’ve been diagnosed with this thing.” It was explained to me as a biological brain disorder. She told me I didn’t bring it upon myself and I think that was really important for me to hear. And then the more I went into treatment, the more I kind of understood it. Because it seemed kind of surreal at first, you know?
My sister’s friend had had an eating disorder, so I was kind of familiar with the idea through that. But I just remember I was searching a lot of things on the Internet, like about how to lose weight and stuff if you’re really young. And I remember people would post things like, “You shouldn’t be losing weight if you’re really young, you shouldn’t be thinking about it,” and that kind of spiraled me into thinking: Is this normal? Is this weird? And to be honest, I don’t know how it all came about, you know?
A lot of people think an eating disorder stems from wanting to be thin and having the need for self control, but it’s not like that at all. I think I had just wanted to lose a bit of weight, and then my brain went into that mode. It didn’t come from my wanting to have control over anything or wanting to be skinny. It came from me just being wired like that. I think a lot of people don’t know that, and that the kids themselves can make themselves better if you just, like, leave them alone. But that’s not the case at all. I don’t even think I would be here right now if my mom hadn’t stepped in and helped me.
I spent a month on a [hospital] floor with nurses and doctors, and they basically told me, “You have to eat — you have to.” I didn’t have a choice. Then at home my mom was in charge of all my meals, and made sure I wasn’t ditching them or not eating them. It was hard. It was really hard. Because when I got out of the hospital, the thing I wanted the most was not to eat. I was really scared of the food because I thought it was going to make me bigger. It was just an irrational fear, but it was so big at the time that I would just sit at the table and I would start crying. I couldn’t eat it and was so scared of it that I would throw things. It was a bad time for me. But I had to go through that.
I wanted my mom to just kind of leave me alone, and she didn’t. She helped me through it. I know I probably said a lot of things that were coming out of my sickness, like “I hate you” and “I don’t want your help,” and that can be really hard for a parent to hear. But I wouldn’t be this healthy now if my mom had backed off then and not given me what I needed. Food was the medicine. We’re really close today, and I think, partly because of that experience, we came out stronger.
The funny thing is, the more that I ate and had somebody watch me, the easier it became. The more you do it, the more normal it becomes, until you are fine, but that can take a long time. My mom watched me for about a year, and last year I relapsed and now I’m much, much better, even more so than when I first got treatment when I was 10.
Zadie and her mom Lisa.
I wasn’t myself when I was sick. I isolated myself from a lot of my friends, I wasn’t going to school, I was not particularly nice or funny, and I wasn’t being social, which I normally am. I think a lot of people started to realize I wasn’t myself. I only told my close friends that I was in treatment, because a lot of people have misconceptions about what an eating disorder is, and I didn’t want to be judged. We were all young, so I don’t think a lot of them fully understood at first what it was.
To others in that position I’d say: You need to do at this point what the hardest possible thing is, which is to eat, and to get weight-restored. That’s going to be something that’s hard to hear and even harder to carry out, but you need someone to help you. You can’t do this alone.
Recovery is so possible. Like, now I don’t even think about food. You just really need someone to step in and help you.