If you are a parent of an anorexic or bulimic and thinking about pursuing the Maudsley approach, reading Harriet Brown’s account of her experience will help you understand how much participation is involved. Harriet Brown is an author, teacher and co-chair of the Maudsley Parents, and her article, “One Spoonful at a Time,” was in the New York Times.
Brown writes, “That summer, Kitty was 14. She was 4-foot-11 and weighed 71 pounds. I could see the angles and curves of each bone under her skin. Her hair, once shiny, was lank and falling out in clumps. Her breath carried the odor of ketosis, the sour smell of the starving body digesting itself.” This is what anorexia looks and smells like. There is nothing stylish or sexy about it.
Anorexia is a killer. And what does a mother do when a killer wants to obliterate one of her children? She battles “the demon,” as Harriet calls anorexia. And Harriet and her husband waged an heroic battle against this deadly disorder.
Harriet’s daughter became anorexic when the Maudsley approach wasn’t well-known in the United States. So while researching the Maudsley method, Harriet writes that “…two studies showed that 90 percent of the adolescents recovered or made significant gains; five years later, 90 percent had fully recovered. (Two other studies confirmed these results.)” She wanted to find a treatment option that didn’t include the hospital, feeding tubes and as Harriet writes, “a parentectomy,” and she did: the Maudsley approach.
Using this approach was controversial, and as parents, they had no idea if it was right. It just felt better than the other options. But it was challenging, Harriet writes, “She [Harriet’s daughter] sat in front of the cake, crying. She put down the fork, said her throat was closing, said that she was a horrible person, that she couldn't eat it, she just couldn't. We told her it was not a choice to starve. We told her she could do nothing until she ate — no TV, books, showers, phone, sleep.”
I like another insistent remark that Harriet used when her daughter was being particularly difficult, she writes, “Food is your medicine and you’ve got to take it.” Amen. Re-feed the body and the brain starts to function properly: that is the main tenet of the Maudsley approach. This approach is not for the weak or impatient. Imagine the stress on a family repeating this routine for three meals and two snacks a day, Maudsley’s required meal plan.
After about sixteen months, the approach did work, but Harriet explains that it works best when there are two parents to share the burden. These devoted parents even brought their child to work to see that she ate her lunch and took turns being the enforcer at dinner. Of course not every family is in a position to do this. But if you are and believe you are strong enough, this approach is definitely worth a try.