Two years ago, Sandy Rautio had it all: a wonderful husband, four healthy and beautiful children, a fulfilling career as a nurse, and an ideal life filled with wonderful friends and family. But what she didn’t realize was that a stranger was slowly entering their lives, someone she knew well, but at the same time, someone she didn’t know at all.
She calls him Ed, this unwelcome stranger in her home. Ed appeared when her oldest daughter Katie* was 11 years old. Suffering from bad allergies, Katie was missing a lot of school, so Sandy took her to seek alternative treatment. The practitioner, who was also a nutritionist, asked Katie about her diet, and suggested Katie eat less sugar because diabetes runs in their family.Two weeks later, Sandy was diagnosed with possible gestational diabetes. “Katie said we should eat less sugar, and more fruits and vegetables,” Sandy says.
Slowly, however, Sandy began noticing a change in her daughter’s eating habits. The two regularly made chocolate chip cookies together, but Katie was now only eating just one or none at all. She stopped eating red meat.
At Thanksgiving, she refused the turkey and mashed potatoes. “She was restricting more and more foods,” Sandy says.“She also spread her food around and picked at it. And she got very interested in recipe reading and cooking, which they say is a classic symptom.” But it was the evening when Sandy prepared lasagna for dinner that Ed suddenly andshockingly appeared, changing the course of their lives to this day. “Katie disappeared that day. And in her place was Ed. It’s what I call her eating disorder,” says Sandy, recalling that frightening moment when Katie, at the sight of the lasagna, became angry, yelling and swearing, throwing things and accusing Sandy of trying to make her fat.
She said I was trying to kill her. Then she ran out of the house and down the street in a rage. I immediately knew she had an eating disorder,” Sandy says. The situation worsened from there. Katie continued battling food and her family until she dropped to an alarming 79 pounds, her thinnest weight yet. Sandy knew she had to get help. However, after visits to doctors, nutritionists and eating disorder specialists, Sandy only found herself more frustrated. She was told Katie would just grow out of it. Additionally, she was told there was a problem in their home that was causing this behavior. She was told the eating disorder wasn’t about food, it was about control.
Katie was no longer the rational and thoughtful child she knew, which convinced her that the problem must be stemming from the lack of nutrition to her brain. “For us, the weight loss, the skin and bones, was the very last symptom,” Sandy says. “Your brain becomes malnourished before your body does. Once the body lets go of the weight, you’re already very sick.” Sandy heard about a new approach to treating anorexia called the Maudsley method, which uses a system of “refeeding” to bring the body back to health.“I refed her from 79 pounds last August to 125 pounds in January,” Sandy says. “It was the most difficult thing of my life. This is when you see the psychosis and depression.
There’s Katie and there’s Ed. Her whole brain was diseased at this point.” It will be a year in August since Katie was at her worst condition with anorexia. She’s been weight restored since January, but according to Sandy,it’s still an ongoing struggle. “She still resists me at meals. But every once in a while, she might say, “This tastes good,’ which is huge. If she ever goes back for seconds, that’s a great thing. I’m still waiting for that.”
Convinced that Katie has a gene that makes her prone to eating disorders, Sandy is now approaching Katie’s anorexia as a medical condition. Not a psychological one. She’s intensively studied and researched this topic, and says her prime focus is to create awareness and get the word out to both parents and experts in the medical community. “I’ve studied this every waking moment of my life. My child’s life depends on it, so my life depends on it.”
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of those involved