Ingrid Montgomery, 54, Gordon, NSW
These jeans look shocking on me,’ I said to my daughter Victoria, now 23. ‘I’ve got to exercise more.’
Since having three daughters and going through menopause, my body had changed. So I hired a personal trainer, cut carbs from my diet and counted calories. But some days I still got down on myself. ‘I feel fat today,’ I’d complain. I thought my comments were harmless. Little did I know the reality…
I hadn’t noticed her shrinking before my eyes.
It was 2009 when a friend of Victoria’s first came to me. ‘Victoria’s really skinny,’ she said. ‘She might need help.’ At the time, she was 17 and in her final year at school. Exercising seemed to help her cope with stress. And I was sure she was eating properly. When I got home, Victoria often had dinner cooking. On weekends, she’d bake cookies and cakes. She was beautiful, clever and confident. But as the weeks passed, more people commented.
‘There’s nothing to her,’ my friends said. Seeing Victoria every day, I hadn’t noticed her shrinking before my eyes.
Then I realised, though she often cooked, I rarely saw her eat. She had also started wearing baggy clothes, spending more time in her bedroom and had dramatic mood swings. I was shocked by the realisation that my girl might have an eating disorder. How had I not noticed earlier? One thing was certain, she was no longer the happy-go-lucky daughter I knew.
‘I’m taking you to the doctor,’ I told her one night. Victoria was hysterical, trying to convince me I was overreacting.
‘There’s nothing wrong with me,’ she insisted. But I stood firm, dropping her off at our local GP. Minutes later, the doctor called with shocking news.
‘Victoria needs to be admitted to hospital,’ he said, explaining she weighed just 43 kilos and her heart rate was dangerously low. I was stunned.
Victoria put up a fight. ‘I’m fine,’ she yelled through tears. It was tough but I had to be strong.
‘I promise you’ll be back home later on tonight,’ I told her. It broke my heart to lie, but I needed to do whatever it took.
Victoria spent the next four weeks on a re-feeding program at the hospital. I was riddled with guilt and sadness. She was a shell of her old self. But slowly and surely, she made progress. When she came home the next month, Victoria was eating more and exercising less. She sat her final exams and then embarked on a six-month trip overseas. I worried about her, but the photos she sent assured me she was doing well.
I felt powerless to deal with such an all-consuming illness.
I hoped our battle with anorexia was over but sadly, it wasn’t. Back at home, daunted by the idea of university, Victoria’s weight began to plummet. The sparkle left her eyes and she’d again become thinner. ‘I’m just being healthy,’ she insisted. But that was far from true. My girl was disappearing in front of me!
I felt powerless to deal with such an all-consuming illness. Victoria was the only one who could fight it but the disease was clouding her judgement.
Terrified I’d lose her, when she slept I’d sit in her bedroom to make sure she was still breathing. Desperate to try anything, I found a counsellor who agreed to come to our house. Although Victoria was initially resistant, she finally agreed to do it. Miraculously, it ended up saving her life.
Victoria slowly got better, taking responsibility for her own wellbeing and developing more confidence. She cut back on exercising and started cooking and eating hearty meals again. I was so proud of how far she’d come that it forced me to reflect on my own body image. Suddenly, a horrible thought hit me. I’d always complained about my body around Victoria. Had my constant quest for perfection impacted on her?
You’re my role model,’ she said. ‘I replicated your habits because I wanted to be like you.’
I was devastated. Victoria didn’t blame me for her anorexia, but I felt bad. I knew if I wanted Victoria to accept and respect her body, I had to do that too. While I almost lost my girl, this journey has brought us closer together.
'I replicated your habits because I wanted to be like you.'
Seven years on, Victoria is healthy and happy. She has a great job, has moved in with her boyfriend and that sparkle in her eyes is back. It was a long and painful battle that we fought together but we’re much stronger for it.
I’ve now written a book, Love Her Hate Her, which documents Victoria’s road to recovery. We’re hoping it can help other families. If we hadn’t had help, the outcome could’ve been devastating.
As told to Kim Bonett
Originally published in that's life! Issue 8, 2016.