As a young girl navigating through her last year of elementary school, Marie-Jeanne was a smart and reliable kid with a strong head on her shoulders. But high school was just around the corner and with it came fears of not fitting in. “I was tired of putting myself down because of my weight,” says Marie-Jeanne, so she started to watch what she ate in order to feel better about herself. At only 12 years old, Marie-Jeanne’s battle with anorexia started with a simple diet. It quickly intensified and became an addiction. She was starving herself.
She lost over 40 pounds in six months. She could see her bones. She went to camp for two weeks and was constantly comparing herself to other girls. Marie-Jeanne developed ticks; touching her bones, measuring her wrists, sucking in her cheeks without noticing. She started feeling light-headed and unstable. She missed her period for four months. She suffered from nose bleeds and hair loss. She cried getting out of the shower.
And so it continued into the school year. “I was putting so much pressure on myself to be skinny that my grades were suffering. The disease was completely taking over,” recalls Marie-Jeanne.
Her blood pressure was low and she was on the verge of being hospitalized. Her doctor referred her to the Family Based Therapy (FBT) program of the Montreal Children’s Hospital’s Adolescent Medicine Division where they spoke about weight restoration. The battle between the voice of the anorexia and her own was raging in her head. Protective walls went up. “The idea of putting on weight was like torture. I was in total denial. ”
Nonetheless, Marie-Jeanne followed the program designed for her by the FBT team. As they had predicted, the more weight she gained, the less control the anorexia had over her. Things slowly started to turn around: “I realized my health and well-being were at risk. I didn’t want to miss school and fall behind. I finally saw gaining weight as a good thing.”
Marie-Jeanne chose to let her true voice win the battle and the anorexia voice to be silenced. She chose health.
Today, when she looks in the mirror, she likes what she sees.
“I know I’m not alone fighting anorexia. I want to tell others that there is hope: what you’re living now will not last. Anorexia will destroy you. It’s the voice of the disease talking. You have to be stronger than that voice, and you have to talk about it.”
She and her dad Benoit feel lucky they were able to express themselves within the FBT program. Her parents really benefitted from attending the parent support group, as they could exchange stories with other parents going through the same thing. “It was raw and real – and that undoubtedly helped us,” says Benoit. “The Montreal Children’s Hospital’s FBT program brought us to this successful point.”