Eating disorders aren't just a 'girl thing'

On this page you can read an excerpt from my book: 'Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia'.

"I realise with horror that I no longer recognise my child. My darling son, my beautiful handsome boy who was thriving in every way... so talented... so popular... My boy has completely vanished and I don't know if I'll ever get him back." 'Please eat...' by Bev Mattocks

From the back cover:

Bright, popular and a star on the rugby pitch, 15 year old Ben had everything he could want. But then food-loving Ben began to systematically starve himself. At the same time his urge to exercise went extreme. In a matter of months Ben lost one quarter of his bodyweight as he plunged into anorexia, an illness that threatened to destroy him. Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia is his mother's heart-breaking yet inspirational account of how she watched helplessly as her son transformed into someone she didn't recognise, physically and mentally. It also describes how, with the help of his parents and therapist, and through his own determination, Ben slowly began to recover and re-build his life.

Excerpt

'Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia' by Bev Mattocks

The eating disorder arrives with a vengeance screeching, "I'm fat!" at the top of Ben's voice, bashing Ben's head with Ben's fists. Ben is in meltdown again. "I hate myself! I hate, hate, hate myself!" He smashes a fist onto his plate, mushing up the food so it's inedible.

On Monday Ben accidentally-on-purpose misses the bus, so I insist on driving him to school. A text is waiting for me when I get home. "I feel fat and horrid," it says. I ignore it, cross my fingers and hope he eats a proper school lunch.

Tuesday isn't so bad. We have a meeting with Linda which helps to take the pressure off for a while. But the eating disorder is never away for long and by the next day it's back, attracted by the half naan bread I'm trying to get Ben to eat with his curry. The prospect of "fatty" carbs-laden bread sends him into a spiral of panic which gets worse when he discovers we're having lamb kebabs the next day. "I can't cope!" His scream reaches fever pitch. "I'll be thinking about it all day! Is that what you want?" Yet again the eating disorder is punishing me for "force-feeding" him.

"Look," I insist, "You're strong. You can do it. Just give yourself a good talking to". He responds by slapping his face violently with his fists, over and over again. Eventually, to my surprise, he sits down and eats the meal, saying he doesn't want to talk about it.

The following day I bottle out and allow the lamb kebabs to be swapped for a low fat chicken burger. But even that doesn't placate the eating disorder. I can see it scanning the burger buns, relishes and toppings on the table.

"There's too much choice!" Ben yells. "I don't know where to start! I don't know what I should have. I can't tell if I'm having too much or too little. I just don't know!"

He begins to pick up stuff and put it down again, flitting from one dish to another. He crashes his fists down on the plate sending food flying. But, like yesterday, he eventually calms down and eats.

Unfortunately the eating disorder isn't happy with the way Ben's calmed down and eaten his meal. Later that evening Ben suddenly throws down the book he's reading. Crash, bang! "I'm fat!" he howls, smashing his fists onto the coffee table and thumping the furniture. "I don't need all this food you're forcing me to eat. My old diet was fine!" Arguing with him is useless; I might as well be talking in Chinese. He keeps repeating the same irrational words over and over again. It's as if he hates me.

By the next day Ben has calmed down. I keep him off school and we spend most of the day on the sofa, talking. I put my arm around his shoulder, trying to get to the heart of the matter. Much of the time he just sits and sobs, or curls up in a ball while I talk quietly and, I hope, encouragingly.

I pray he's listening and hope it's going in. But his mind is busy whirring around like a machine, calculating calories and fat, working out how much exercising he'll need to do to burn off the food he's just eaten and worrying about what we'll be eating later. "I can't eat those scotch pancakes you bought, mum," he says out of the blue. "They're 85 calories each."

All he's been thinking about are scotch pancakes.

He hasn't been listening to a single word I've said.

>Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia

"'Fat, fat, fat!' He gets up from the sofa, runs to the wall and bashes his skull against it, slapping his face with his fists, before charging upstairs and barricading himself in his room." 'Please eat...' by Bev Mattocks

The next evening Ben is sitting on the sofa when I'm suddenly aware of him looking down, eyes fixed on his belly. I know what's coming next. He lifts his sweater and pinches the "rolls of fat" and prods his "double chin". "Can't you see how fat I'm getting?" He squeezes the folds of skin viciously. "Can't you see you're making me fat! You, dad and CAMHS - you all want to make me fat!"

Arguing is pointless.

On Monday we have a meltdown over lunch. "I'm greedy!" he screeches, "Can't you see I'm overeating?" and suddenly we're back to pinching the stomach folds and "waist fat". He slaps his palms against his "fat" belly. "Can't you see that I'm going to blob out if I go on like this?" He looks at me desperately, as if I've gone mad, as if I don't understand the most obvious fact in the universe.

"Everyone's ignoring me, I'm a social outcast, I f*cking hate myself. And they say I'm fat! No wonder they do when I'm not being allowed to exercise!" For the time being, Ben's banned from PE and games, but he's still exercising at home.

He insists I weigh him. I refuse. He's itching to get weighed and charges out of the room desperately trying to find where I've hidden the scales. Thankfully I've hidden them well.

Then Ben discovers we're having curry for supper again. "You're destroying my life! I don't need to eat all this food!" he shrieks. "Can't you see how fat I am? Other people can!"

"Who can?" I ask aghast. No reply. I could throttle whoever it was who shouted "Run, fat boy, run!" on one of his many runs to the park and back. What are people on, for God's sake? Or the Year 9 boy at school whose gang crowded round Ben, taking the mickey, as he hid at the top of a little-used staircase to eat his packed lunch.

These days Ben pinches his "fat gut" virtually every evening. It is agonising for us to watch him scrunch those loose folds of skin, pinching them until bruises begin to show. "Look! I'm fat!" he screams the next evening, prodding his belly viciously. He begins to pull out his hair in clumps. "Fat, fat, fat!" He gets up from the sofa, runs to the wall and bashes his skull against it, slapping his face with his fists, before charging upstairs and barricading himself in his room. I rush after him and push against the door, but it doesn't budge. He's holding it shut. He weighs less than I do - and I'm only small yet, uncannily, he's far stronger than me.

Eventually I force myself into the room. Ben grabs me by the shoulders and begins to shake me violently. "Where have you hidden the scales?" Again I refuse to tell him. "I'm going to find them!" He begins to pull clothes and books out of cupboards and wardrobes. But even the eating disorder can't find where I've hidden the scales.

By Wednesday Ben is panicking about the size of his "fat gut". His entire happiness seems to centre round the perceived size of his belly which always leads to the need-to-exercise-it-off mind set. That evening he suddenly looks at his belly and prods it, yelling that he's fat, fat, fat... disgustingly fat. Then we're back to the head banging: the skull hammering that makes me grit my teeth as I wait for the sound of shattering bone. Good grief, the human skull must be strong. But, then, we've always joked that Ben's head is made from concrete.

Please eat... A mother's struggle to free her teenage son from anorexia

"The anorexia is raging. 'I hate myself,' it spits at me. 'Everyone hates me. I'm so fat and ugly it's disgusting. You're making me fat. CAMHS is making me fat. Everyone is making me fat. You just want to keep on force-feeding me until I explode. You're torturing me! My life is hell - I don't know why the f*ck I'm alive!' He wrenches himself free from the grip I have on his arm and flies up to his room screaming." 'Please eat...' by Bev Mattocks