My Father and ED

I have never written a great deal about my father and his ED. Certainly not in a public setting. But his story deserves to be told. He battled food, and his body for as long as I knew him. ED cost him his life, when he spent many months in the course of a year “fasting” as a means of trying to deal with Prostate Cancer. He started fasting as a practise in 1970, and it was the source of many a relapse into terrible ED states.

As is the case with so many people with long term Eds, refeeding syndrome caused acute renal failure, and he lost his life. He was 79.

Dad is on the right: this was the build he returned to (in adult proportions) regardless of his determined attempts to be thin. This photo was taken in the late 1940s.

His eating disorder started, I suspect, when his older brother Robin – aged 3 – died of diphtheria. Dad was only 18 months old, and in later years spoke of “the aunties” stuffing him with food at the funeral, so that he vomited and was rushed to hospital because his young mother thought he had diphtheria also. He went on to spend many months across the course of his childhood in hospital having painful operations; his parent’s divorce when he was 9 saw Dad and his 7-year old brother placed in an orphanage. Trauma, fear of food, fear of emesis, complicated grief, and displacement. A perfect recipe for a sensitive child with the right gene-set to develop ED.

Such a compelling image: Dad had never been thin. He lost a dramatic amount of weight after the first photo on this page was taken, having taken up long distance running and bodybuilding. I suspect his ED was activated then. His behaviour was increasingly erratic from hereon out.

A few years later, on his 21st birthday, he had all of his teeth removed. Probably because of BN, but it was never discussed openly. He continued to have classic BN behaviours until his death, interspersed with pockets of what look like AN to me in retrospect. He was never diagnosed with ED. And in his final months, his Dr didn’t realise that the 5 or so visits to the ER with refeeding syndrome were connected to his lifelong pattern of restriction and reactive eating.

Dad and his sister, in a remitted state. He never understood why his body returned to basically the same size and weight every time he gave in to his extreme hunger.

In his remitted states, he experienced extreme hunger – which no one else in the family understood, and gained a lot of weight very quickly, especially his belly, which embarrassed him immensely. But, when he was eating, his body image was not overwhelming, and we had pockets of joy as a family. And he had pockets of joy with his music and photography, philosophy and gadget-loving ways. It was in his well fed moments that he was capable of giving and receiving love to the best of his ability.

Dad died only a matter of weeks after my diagnosis. Reading Gwyneth’s research at those moments meant that for the first time in my life I understood his anguish and despair, and also, the terrible struggle he had in accepting his hunger. He was a very lonely man in his ED. In the last days of his life though, he enjoyed all the foods he loved the most, without fear, or guilt, and the memory of those moments eating along with him fuelled my determination to be free of ED, and to help educate others about it.

I witnessed my dad go in and out of remission all of my life. My own ED was launched in childhood because of his orthorexia – (not that it was called that in the 1960’s mind you).

His experience with overshoot mapped out a pathway for my recovery. And, the stellar research Gwyneth so freely shared over the last decade and more helped me understand the biological process involved, and also the need to address the anxiety underpinning ED, instead of focusing on my body and weight gain.

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