A news presenter has written a candid and painful account of his struggles to come to terms with his daughter’s eating disorder, revealing that he once told her to “starve herself to death”.
Mark Austin, best known for hosting ITV’s Evening News, said he “failed utterly” to grasp that his daughter Maddy had a “serious mental health disorder” in the early days of her illness. Instead he thought she was being “selfish” by not eating.
In a piece for the Sunday Times, he wrote: “This was my daughter willfully destroying herself by not eating. I thought it was crass, insensitive, selfish and pathetic. She would lie about how much she had eaten and then explode with rage if we challenged her.
“She showered me with contempt. As a father you have to make a decision and I made the wrong one. I decided to go on the attack. I told her she was being ridiculous. I told her to get a grip and grow up, to ‘just bloody well eat, for Christ’s sake’.”
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 5, 2017
Maddy is now 22 and has made a full recovery. However, her weight plummeted by four stone during her A-levels, leaving her body on the brink of suffering from organ failure.
“I even remember saying, ‘If you really want to starve yourself to death, just get on with it’,” Austin continues.
“And at least once, exasperated and at a loss, I think I actually meant it. What I failed utterly to grasp was that she was seriously mentally ill and could not see a future for herself.”
Maddy was eventually saved after she was treated at an NHS daycare unit.
Speaking about the impact eating disorders like anorexia have on families in general, Austin concluded: “As a father I felt excluded and hated. I found the issues of body image and weight control difficult to talk about. I floundered and, in the process, ended up poisoning her against me further.”
Response to the article has been overwhelmingly positive on social media.
Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people keep their body weight low by dieting, vomiting, using laxatives or excessively exercising. According to eating disorder awareness charity B-eat, more than 750,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder.
“Like all eating disorders, anorexia is a serious mental illness, and not the fault or choice of the person suffering,” a B-eat spokesperson told LB. “Its causes are very complex and the exact reason that someone develops anorexia will vary from person to person, but research suggests it’s a combination of a biological predisposition towards the illness and a social or environmental trigger.
“The good news is that anorexia is treatable – the most important thing is that they access treatment as quickly as possible, because the earlier they can be treated the greater their chance of full recovery. Encourage them to make an appointment with their GP and reassure them that you’re there to support them. They or you can also get support through the Beat helpline or website.”
Those who are concerned about a loved one who may be suffering from an eating disorder are advised to call the B-eat helpline on 0345 634 1414 (adults) and 0345 634 7650 (under 18s).