Mom Discovers When to Be Tough With Anorexia

After struggling for 10 years, a mom's ultimatum started to reach her daughter.

ByABC News
April 5, 2010, 6:26 PM

April 6, 2010— -- Emily Troscianko's anorexia was so severe that when she was 26 she was barred from a treatment program because her weight had dropped so low. Therapists said she was a medical liability; they were afraid she might collapse at any time.

Her mother, Susan Blackmore, tried everything she could. Then, by accident, she spoke some honest, harsh words.

"Your anorexia is not welcome at my house… I'm not having your anorexia wrecking my new home," Blackmore says she told her daughter, who is now 28. Emily was finishing her postgraduate studies in German at Oxford University at the time, and often came home during breaks.

When Blackmore and her partner, Adam Hart-Davis, moved from Emily's childhood home she decided she wanted Emily in her new house, but did not want to shelter her anorexia.

"For both of us it was a really pivotal statement, a turning point," said Blackmore."I liken it to the dementors in Harry Potter -- she would walk through the house and you could feel the cold.... you felt as though all the energy was being sucked out of you because of this waif."

At the time Troscianko didn't take her comment well. "I thought 'She's being stupid, how could she think that there is a me that isn't an anorexic me' because that was my whole identity then," said Troscianko. "It did make me think and it did make me upset and scared of alienating the closest member of my family."

Troscianko gradually began to eat again. She went from 83 pounds to 145 and feels she's finally healthy today.

The family shared their story with the U.K.'s Daily Mail, and Troscianko also writes about recovering from anorexia in her blog, A Hunger Artist, for Psychology Today.

Despite their success fighting anorexia, Blackmore said she'd hesitate to give other parents advice. For years she felt meetings with psychiatrists, in seminars and in treatment groups, didn't give a single good answer. Meanwhile she watched other parents "turn their lives upside down" trying to find the right treatment. A few mothers even quit their jobs to help with their children's treatment.

"They are telling an adult that we love you and we would love to have you in the house for visiting, but if you do not get treatment… you cannot come into our house," said Wooten. "That is an effective thing at her age.

"But to say that tough love will work for anorexia is a big misconception because it does not work," said Wooten. According to Wooten, neither does pouring love and attention over someone suffering from anorexia.

Wooten said he often sees parents go to extremes when they realize a child suffers from anorexia. One family tried duct-taping food over a child's mouth only to have child services remove her from their care.

At the other extreme, Wooten said parents "walk on eggshells, they don't want to upset anything because if she gets mad she won't eat, if she gets scared she won't eat."

"They often end up sleeping with the kid in the bed at night and what happens is that the kid starts to get really regressed," said Wooten.

In Troscianko's case, her parents didn't go to either extreme at first -- they sent her to a child psychiatrist.

"I was 15 and-a-half when I started to skip breakfast and I started to lie about other meals. Looking back at my diary, there were the (predictable) things about feeling fat and ugly and wanting to lose weight," said Troscianko. "But there were more complex things -- learning how addictive hunger can be."

"To the extent that parents can separate the illness from the child, that can be helpful -- you can love the child but not the anorexia," said Wildes.