Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Natasha, 12 years old

This documentary was produced by BBC3 and filmed at Rhodes Farm, a clinic in North London, UK, which specializes in treating children who are suffering from anorexia nervosa.

It is both startling and moving.

The children profiled in this documentary are very young and were admitted to Rhodes Farm because they were starving themselves to death.

I would recommend that all parents, especially, view this documentary.
It contains vital information on how to recognize disordered eating in children.








And a follow-up...

My little girl, anorexic at 12
By AMANDA CABLE (Daily Mail)

29th January 2007


Bryony with her mum Jacqui (above) and in the grip of anorexia (below)

Jacqui Flicker had every reason to feel that life was good as she prepared breakfast for her hungry children last February. Her recent second marriage had provided a loving stepfather for her children Oliver and Bryony, and the family enjoyed an idyllic life in their five-bedroom detached Devon home.

Pouring a fresh orange juice for 12-year-old Bryony, her only concern was that the blonde, sweet-natured child who shone at school and excelled in life had recently appeared to be tired and withdrawn.

But when Bryony pushed away the drink and insisted she wasn't thirsty, Jacqui's world came crashing down with a devastating realisation. She says: 'Bryony promised she would drink the glass of juice later. As soon as she said that, I remembered my days as a paediatric nurse in charge of anorexic girls who would bargain and promise to avoid eating or drinking.

'I realised that Bryony's thin frame wasn't due to a sudden growth spurt, and her weepiness and inability to sleep weren't down to pre-teen hormones, as we had assumed.

'In that awful, sickening moment I realised that instead of the bright, cheerful child I knew so well, I was staring at a 12-year-old anorexic.'

A trained nurse who enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship with her only daughter, Jacqui's reaction was to sit down and talk to Bryony - who immediately admitted she had been secretly starving herself for several months.

It was perhaps no coincidence that in the year she developed her eating disorder, Bryony's parents split up and both remarried. Jacqui had then become ill as she struggled to come to terms with her ex-husband - Bryony's father - having a baby with his new wife.

Jacqui says: 'In my naivety, I almost thought that because we had discovered the problem and discussed it together, it would be something that we could tackle and overcome. Instead, almost from the moment the word was first uttered, anorexia took over my daughter's life, becoming a demon which possessed her entirely.'

Jacqui's desperate battle to stop her daughter from starving to death had only just begun. But disturbingly, she was far from alone. An estimated one per cent of girls aged between ten and 20 in Britain today suffer from anorexia — but some anorexics are as young as eight and nine.

Last year alone, another 6,000 new sufferers were diagnosed with eating disorders. Many who have managed to escape the cruel clinches of this psychological illness owe their survival to a ground-breaking clinic, Rhodes Farm in North London.

It was here, behind the high walls and in the cheerful kitchens where calories abound and tables groan under the weight of mouth-watering food, that Bryony's slow recovery began.

The clinic - and the desperate battles with the children who reside there - is the subject of a shocking and moving new BBC programme, I'm A Child Anorexic.

And Bryony - now sitting back at home in Exeter - is a 'star' pupil. But her mother is acutely aware that help nearly came too late.

Jacqui, 48, says: 'As soon as the anorexia was "outed", suddenly it seemed to develop a life of its own. I was faced with a little girl who consumed no more than a pint of water a day, and nothing more than a morsel of food.

'Bryony seemed powerless in its grasp - I could see her being consumed bit by bit, with more and more anorexia and less and less of the old Bryony.

'She had been starving herself for months. Anorexia affects each girl differently and Bryony didn't make herself sick nor was she particularly deceptive - she just refused point blank to eat and I was powerless to do anything about it.'

Yet Jacqui kept trying to help her daughter: 'I weighed her each week, but she kept dropping kilos and kilos, shrugging as if there was nothing she could do about it.

'I tried keeping a food diary, and I warned her about the medical dangers, the fact that she could damage her kidneys and her heart, stunt her growth or affect her future fertility.

'But the anorexia convinced Bryony that I was lying to her - and ruining her life by trying to get her to eat even the tiniest scrap of food.'

After consultation with a GP, a referral to a psychiatrist and even a six-week stay in hospital in June 2006, Bryony continued to lose weight.

Jacqui says: 'It would take her over half an hour to eat the tiniest mouthful of a sandwich, and it was painful to watch. Seeing your child commit slow suicide in front of you by denying herself food, and actually watching her body disappear, is the worst torture in the world.

'I would actually have to physically stop myself from trying to ram the sandwich down her throat. I've never felt so sick and scared in my life - I would go to bed each night and dread the next day.

'Bryony would scream, scratch and bite if we tried to encourage her to eat. She started to run away - racing out of the front door and running down the road, so she would burn up calories. Sometimes I would be left searching the streets for hours, tears running down my face.

'I was utterly appalled that this was happening to such a little girl. Bryony was only just out of playing with dolls and holding my hand down the street. Suddenly, she was ravaged by a disease I thought affected only older girls.'

After losing more weight in hospital and with her skeletal body weighing a pitiful 3st 9lbs (23kg), Bryony was referred to Rhodes Farm for an 18-week residential stay - and she wasn't allowed to return home until she hit her target weight of 6st 6lbs (41kg).

Jacqui says: 'We drove there in silence and leaving her there was the hardest thing I've ever had to do - she clung to me, sobbing and begging me to take her home. But I honestly knew that this was our last chance. If I took my little girl home, I didn't know if she would even survive.'

Bryony had every reason to cry when she was shown around Rhodes Farm. Opened in 1991 as the first unit in Britain dedicated to treating children with eating disorders, it runs a zero-tolerance regime.

It aims to increase the weight of each child by 2.2lbs (1kg) a week. Food is weighed and set out on a long table, and trained staff watch the girls - who often weep as they spoon food into their mouths.

Children have to remove jumpers before they eat, to stop food being hidden up sleeves. The communal bedrooms are inspected every few days, with bags, shoes and socks checked for vomit. Those who make themselves sick or deceive the scales by drinking water before weigh-ins lose privileges such as visits from parents.

It's a draconian regime, which is needed to save the lives of pitiful youngsters like Naomi-— 13 years old and caught in the ravages of anorexia.

Naomi, who arrived at the clinic last May, says: 'My ideal weight is four stone. I know if I got to four stone I'd want to be less than that, but at least I'd be far happier in myself.'

Naomi refuses to sit - because standing up burns 40 more calories an hour than sitting down. She says: 'If I did sit, that would be the Naomi I was before - the fat Naomi and I don't want to be that. I want to be somebody different.'

Recently, she was placed on 24-hour watch after being caught exercising secretly at night - pacing her bedroom endlessly in the hope of burning calories. She says: 'I go to sleep at 11.50pm and wake up at four o'clock in the morning so that I can pace across the bedroom.'

Girls who refuse to eat are tube fed, and Naomi, it appears, is a veteran. She shrugs and says: 'I've been "tubed" nine times. They get full-fat cream and chocolate spread and peanut butter and liquidise it in a blender, then feed it through a tube from your nose into your stomach.'

Her problems include refusing to drink because she believes that even water contains calories. Disturbingly, she announces: 'When you are dehydrated, you feel the pain and it feels like an achievement.'

Eight months after being admitted to the clinic, Naomi remains at Rhodes Farm - a place where food and fat content dominates every waking moment.

Fifteen-year-old Philippa, for example, recites calories from memory as if chanting a religious mantra. She says: 'Muller Light yoghurts are 105 calories for cherry, 100 for vanilla, 113 for rhubarb. Pitta bread is 114 at Spar and 148 at Sainsbury's. Wholemeal bread is 17, apples are 50 and bran flakes 97.'

She pauses proudly and adds: 'I used to lie awake at night planning my breakfast for the next morning, and I wouldn't allow myself to go to sleep unless I knew exactly what I was going to have and how many calories it had in it. Not knowing was just such a terrifying thought.'

Dr Dee Dawson, 60, the founder of Rhodes Farm, warns that the ages of girls suffering from anorexia is getting lower all the time. She says: 'We treat girls with anorexia at the age of eight or nine - and our youngest patient ever was just six years old.

'The average age of anorexic girls here is 13 or 14, but each year they get younger and younger. These children are being influenced by the magazines they read, and the sight of ridiculously thin celebrities - particularly the sick girls on the catwalk who teenagers look up to.'

She adds: 'Parents are becoming far more fitness and low-fat focused. Many teenagers have mothers who spend their lives jogging and going to the gym, complaining about GI this and that.

'Even Jamie Oliver is telling them that they can't eat chocolate now - so children are becoming obsessed with food and diet at a much younger age than ever before.

'It worries me that little girls who should be having fun and playing are becoming obsessed with their bodies and dieting instead. They say that one per cent of schoolgirls develop anorexia.

'Most girls who develop anorexia have family problems or upheavals. They are often intelligent and sensitive - perfectionists who strive to be the best at everything, including dieting.

'One in five people who develop anorexia will die - some of them my former patients, which is devastating. Some girls come back time and time again, and I never give up on them. One third who leave here continue to have problems, while two-thirds will make it in the end.

'When they come here, they are completely deluded. They will squeeze the butter out of their muffins in the morning so it runs down their arms. They scrape food into their hair to hide it, or squeeze it underneath their fingernails.

'One child even refused to feed her horse with a linseed oil cake because she was frightened the fat would seep through her skin and make her fat.'

Twelve-year-old Natasha - admitted to Rhodes Farm last August weighing 4st 6lbs - is intelligent and erudite. She says: 'You don't really mind if you die, because you are not that happy. When they were telling me I would die, I was thinking: "Well, you told me that a week ago and I'm still here, so you are lying."

'When you see that you've gained weight, you think you are a failure - that you are huge. When I get to my target weight I know I'll feel absolutely disgusting and horrible and I'll want to lose more weight.'

She shrugs and adds: 'It is very childish, I know.'

Recalling the anorexia which engulfed her with such terrifying speed last year, Bryony says: 'It was like this thing in my head that was controlling me. I wasn't scared or afraid, but something was telling me that I had to limit myself to a certain amount of food and I shouldn't eat any more than that.'

While so many of the girls at Rhodes Farm are dazzled and ultimately misguided by the images of stick-thin models and celebrities, Bryony was different.

She says: 'I didn't really want to grow up. I thought that stopping eating, or taking less food, would stop me from growing older. I just liked being a kid because it was fun and easy.

'A lot of things had happened at home - my mum and dad had remarried and Mum had been ill. When I saw pictures of myself looking really thin I knew I looked really bad, but I didn't care because nothing mattered.

'When I arrived at Rhodes Farm it was frankly a relief because they didn't give me a choice about what to eat or when to eat - and that was comforting.'

Eighteen weeks after she arrived sobbing and trembling at Rhodes Farm, Bryony was discharged to a new life and the challenge of living - and eating - normally once more. Jacqui recalls: 'I was delighted to be driving her home - I had missed my little girl so badly.

'We came home last November, but it was like driving a new baby home for the first time ever - I felt terribly vulnerable and terribly scared. I knew that anorexia could recur and there could be many setbacks, and I kept thinking: "Can we do this right?"

'We came home with a strict calorie guide to keep her weight steady, and we have to weigh her twice weekly and report to the clinic.

'Since we got her home, I've enjoyed all the "firsts". The first time we all really laughed at a family joke. Her first day back at school. The first time we all went out for a meal together.'

Jacqui pauses and adds with a smile: 'Now I watch her arguing with her big brother or chatting to her friends over the phone and I'm just thrilled the demon has gone - and she's a little girl once more.' "

LINKS: (Part 1)

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MrsMenopausal said...

It's frightening how many lives are affected by anorexia. Even more so when you see such young,anorexic girls struggling to recover.
Very informative set of videos and article. Thank you for posting them.

Medusa said...

Thanks so much for your comment, MrsM.

Having a child with anorexia must be horrific. My heart goes out to all parents who face this nightmare.

Prudentia said...

One of the most sobering programs I've ever seen. Thank you, Medusa, for your relentless focus on this awful disease.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog about this horrific matter. My friends and I are doing a project on anorexia and its harmful effects and I am currently focusing on child anorexia, what causes anorexia to show itself at such a young age, the harmful effects etc..
I was just wondering if i could use your page as a source for the project? This would include taking quotes from it and possibly pictures. You page would of course be stated as a source. The information would be displayed on our project which will be shown at the YSI (Young Social Innovators) showcase in the RDS, Dublin, Ireland.
I will check back on this post for a reply [=

Tilly Taylor,
Bandon Grammar School,

Medusa said...

Hi, Tilly!

Thanks so much for writing me.

I would be delighted if you used this blog post/page for your project. You are welcome to use any and all quotes and pictures for your project.

I think it's wonderful you and your friends want to spread the word about how dangerous and deadly anorexia is.

Good luck on your project, Tilly!

Best wishes,


Tessa said...

Hi Medusa. I very much enjoy reading your articles despite the saddening matters it discuss.

I am a recovered child anorexic myself so naturally I feel strong about the topic. In my case the trigger was not so much troublesome family issues as other parts of my social life such as school. After moving to a new comunity I started a new school. As the newest kid in the class I was immedeatly selected the new favourite victim by the bullies. While being called all sorts of names the ones that really stuck on me was "Fat, ugly and disgusting". Later on, long after the bullies voicies had died away I keapt repeating it to my self as some sort of mantra. Partly becouse in some weird way I missed them when they disappeared; at least they had cared enough to hate me I thougt, but mainly I keapt on reminding myself of what I was (Fat and repulsive) becouse I figured that it was something I could change. So I tried to change, I tried real hard for as you can imagen being accepted by the other kids was important to a 12 year old girl hitting an early puberty and all.
So I started to starve myself waiting for the other kids to say stop, you are good enough now. They never did, but then again what can you expect from a bunch of 12 year olds... At first they found it fun, that they had such power over me. I was their brand new living toy but then they got sceared seing my ribs and hip bones stick out here and there, whatching me faint in the staircase, bumping in to things and dropping stuff as my balance quited to function properly and when they got sceared they grew angry. The namecalling started all over again, only difference was they would scream "thin, ugly and disgusting" after me instead, but I kept hearing FAT and went on starving. Eventually I heard people whispering fatfatfat evry where I went. I never recived medical care for my eating disorder, but somehow managed to get well for a while anyway. Much thanks to my brilliant mom I think. Then other problems kicked in and after some years I was admitted in a theraphy program after a four months long hospitalation. Now I am done with theraphy and finally starting to lead a functional and happy life.

Well now I have written a whole lot more then I was supposed to. But what I was meaning to say to start with is that its frustrating that there is still such a large amount of luck that has to be involved for children with these problems to get proper help in time. Luck and real fighters to parents in many cases and not all are blessed with that.

Medusa said...


Thank you so much for sharing your story. My heart broke reading of what you went through in school.

I am so happy you're recovering. Your recovery is such a testament to your strength. And how fortunate you are to have such a wonderful, supportive mom.

Sending hugs your way...


T.S. said...

I think you might also be interested in this documentary about anorexic BOYS at Rhodes Farm!

The full documentary used to be uploaded in 6 parts but apparently got taken down.

However I have the parts, but I don't want to upload them myself, could send them to you though if you are interested.

Contact me through my lj if you want!

Medusa said...

T.S., thanks so much! Yes, I'm very interested in the videos.

I'm leaving tomorrow on vacation, but will be in touch when I return.

All the best,


Unknown said...

Im only 15, and have been struggling with Anorexia since i was 11. Its horrible and i see therapists who are talking now about sending me somewhere for my anorexia. It isnt fun, its like being torchered :(

Unknown said...

What's Natasha's last name? How does she look now?