‘Anorexia robbed our daughter of everything’, says St Albans mother

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sad girl - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A mother has opened up about her daughter’s battle with anorexia to encourage others to seek help as part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

Alarm bells sounded for Heather Relf when her daughter, who was in her early twenties, began obsessing over food and taking extreme exercise.

As a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder her family were aware of her occasional “irrational behaviour” but nothing would prepare them for how anorexia was about to rapidly take grip.

“Watching our child slowly disintegrate physically, mentally and emotionally has been the most frightening experience of our lives,” the St Albans resident said.

“Anorexia robbed our daughter of everything; her job, relationships, her personality, self-esteem and nearly her life. We became a family in turmoil as the illness impacted on us all.”

Heather recalls her daughter in the early stages of her illness collecting dozens of recipes, watching endless food programmes, and making frequent trips to the supermarket.

She said she would spend a lot of time in the kitchen but not eat anything she prepared: “As the illness took hold, the physical and mental deterioration was appalling. Ruthless malnourishment had a devastating impact on her capacity to function mentally.

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“She was unable to concentrate, process conversations or make decisions. She underwent an alarming personality change.”

For the concerned 59-year-old, the most agonising time was watching her daughter continue to suffer while she came to terms with her problem: “Because of the addictive nature of anorexia you have to wait until the sufferer is ready to recover.

“You cannot push anyone into recovery and that is the hardest thing for the parents to have to deal with. If they are in denial there is nothing you can do.

“It took quite some months before our daughter was at the stage.”

The family turned to The Hertfordshire Community Eating Disorder Service (CEDS) for help, which offers assessment and treatment for adults suffering from an eating disorder and support for their loved ones.

Heather found great comfort from the monthly carers meetings where she could speak to other parents going through similar experiences.

She also firmly believes without their assistance her daughter, who is on the road to recovery and has secured a place at university, would have been hospitalised.

“We are very proud of our daughter’s progress so far and equally impressed by her resolute attitude towards battling her demons on a daily basis.

“It is a long, hard, exhausting road and not without setbacks. Nevertheless, with continued support, we will get there.

“She has her whole life in front of her and there is no place for anorexia.”

For more information about CEDS visit www.hpft.nhs.uk/our-services/community-services/community-eating-disorders-service.