Eating Disorder Treatment: Going Back to School
I had to smile to myself one morning as I rode my young teenage daughter's bike through the street in our neighborhood towards home. To many on the outside, I probably looked like I was out for a pleasant morning bike ride, enjoying the weather on a white beach cruiser.
In reality, I had just come from my daughter’s school, where I had made her leave and sit with me in the car until she finished the breakfast she had left uneaten. I then retrieved the bike (that she had taken without permission), rode it home, and locked it up to the lawn mower so this scene wouldn't repeat itself again.
Definitely not a leisurely morning bike ride.
Back to school after anorexia treatment
When my daughter was in treatment for anorexia nervosa, we learned that recovery had to become our number one priority. Nothing else in life mattered if our daughter didn't eat.
We learned to set hard and fast rules around food. Rules that were inflexible and could not be broken. If she did not eat — if we saw other signs of anorexia — she did not leave the house.
Because of this mindset, most things that were typically front and center in our lives had to take a backseat for a bit, due to the effort required to stay in recovery. We had to let a lot of things go (schoolwork, sports, music lessons, and so on). While these things are all very important, facing a major crisis taught us what really mattered most in life. And if our daughter's health was in danger, none of those outside activities would matter, anyways.
When our daughter was discharged from the eating disorder treatment center and came home, we felt confident in our caretaking abilities. We had learned so much. Full recovery was our goal, and we were willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to get there.
We monitored meals and snacks six times a day, restricted her to a minimal activity level, and met with members of our treatment team several days a week.
Eating disorder recovery at school
When she was home with us and under our watch 24 hours a day, this was manageable. But once she returned to school after eating disorder treatment, we had to formulate a new plan. A few things that helped us were:
- We met with several staff members at her school to discuss things that were non-negotiable in her care (snacks, mealtime monitoring, and therapy appointments). They helped us find a way to weave these into each school day.
- The school nurse and counselor monitored her food consumption and activity level when she was out of our supervision.
- We simplified her class schedule and discussed her situation (briefly) with her teachers.
Thankfully, the school staff were caring and supportive. The front office lady even made me my own visitor badge to ease the process of signing in, since I was at the school almost every day. It was not convenient to make these daily treks to the school, but it was worth the effort and kept us on the path to our goal of recovery.
Through the help and support of many, our daughter completed the school year without sacrificing any of the headway we had gained. I strongly believe that this was only possible because we let nothing stand in the way of our daughter's recovery. We knew what needed to happen and went to great lengths to ensure success and completion.
As parents, it can sometimes be hard to set boundaries with and for our children. But we did it. We stood our ground on our rules and principles and held fast to our priorities. If our daughter had to miss school because she wouldn't eat or had an appointment, so be it. Our sights were set on recovery, and we knew the way to get there.
Sometimes that way even looked like an unexpected morning bike ride through the neighborhood after a breakfast had finally been eaten.
Sunnie Gruwell resides in Houston, Texas with her husband of almost 16 years and her six awesome children. She has immense gratitude for the life-saving treatment her oldest daughter received at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, Colorado, and recognizes the extremely important role that caregiver knowledge and education play in the treatment of adolescents with eating disorders. Sunnie has been able to share her story on two occasions at the Eating Recovery Center in The Woodlands, Texas where her daughter first began receiving treatment for anorexia-nervosa. Her continued support for her daughter reinforces the reality that recovery is not a one-time event, but a journey. She admires the strength, resilience, and growth her daughter has shown as she battles her eating disorder, and greatly appreciates the ERC for equipping her family with the tools needed to feel empowered in their fight.