This Mean Disease

Growing Up in the Shadow of My Mother's Anorexia

by Daniel Becker

Adult Eating Disorders: A Growing Statistic

In This Mean Disease, the first memoir written by the child of someone who died from an eating disorder, Daniel Becker shares the inner world of his mother’s anorexia nervosa and its silent impact on the family.

Eating disorders predominantly occur during the teenage years, however, adult onset is becoming more common than ever. “Mom was an unusual case,” he says. “She began dieting not in adolescence, but at the age of 34, with a husband and three young children.” In fact, Daniel’s earliest memory is watching his mother pack her suitcase for the first of many hospitalizations. Carol Becker, who is described as “charismatic and graceful,” had starved herself down to 74 pounds and was near death. In a few months time, she had gone from dealing with the ups and downs of married life in 1965, to desperately needing treatment for an eating disorder.

This Mean Disease explores how this could have happened and the challenges of treatment decades ago. “Back then, cases of anorexia nervosa were rare even in the most prestigious treatment facilities,” says Joel Yager, MD, editor-in-chief of the Eating Disorders Review. When Daniel’s mother entered the Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric clinic, she was the only patient suffering from an eating disorder. Today, not only have anorexia and bulimia become much more common, but research shows that there is a new segment of the population that is experiencing an increase: middle aged women. The highly regarded treatment facility Renfrew Center has reported as much as a 70 percent increase in admittance for women over the age of 35 from 2001 to 2003. Images of age-defying movie stars such as Sharon Stone and Demi Moore, and the constant emphasis on striving to look younger is greatly to blame for this deadly new trend.

Daniel Becker knows all too well the strain that a parent with an eating disorder can have on a family. “I think there was this message that if we upset Mom, we would make her sick...It wasn’t OK for us to talk about it. Her anorexia was the most obvious thing going on and we couldn’t talk about it.” While it is difficult to discuss eating disorders, their impact can be devastating, causing breakdown of both sufferers and their family. By sharing his family’s painful experience, he hopes to spare others from going through similar tragedy.

“This timeless story spurs us on to develop even better ways of understanding and helping patients and their families to deal with this devastating illness,” adds Yager. “It also reminds us how important it is to care for the children and other family members of those suffering from an eating disorder.”