At first, Ned and I kept Lisa's illness to ourselves and very few friends. All we knew about eating disorders was that if they didn't strike in early adolescence you didn't have to worry, and that turned out to be wrong. Our daughter was older, preparing to leave home for college, when her symptoms first became severe. When she started acting strangely around food Ned and I thought, "This must be stress, it couldn't be anorexia. That would've shown up already." Many denials and common misconceptions later, my editors at the San Jose Mercury News asked me to consider writing a story about our experience with ED.
A few months went by, and Lisa seemed to be getting better. We agreed to share what we'd learned. The story would bring a shameful subject out into the open and, who knew, maybe putting Lisa's improvement in print would make it stick. It happened to be Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, the Sunday in 2003 that the Mercury News published our dueling first-person account as the front-page centerpiece, with photographs of Lisa as a smiling six-year-old holding a soccer ball, a pudgy fourteen-year-old, a stick figure at nineteen.
Reader response was overwhelming and heartbreaking. Desperate families appreciated knowing they weren't alone. Like them, we had discovered that eating disorders are moving targets. Just when we thought we'd learned the rules and found the right strategy, the whole game would pack up and move to a new field. We'd been studying anorexia and the test was on binge eating. We had to learn to say, "Okay, that didn't help. Now we have to try something else."
"Something else" was at times a new medication, a therapist specializing in eating disorders, a nutritionist, another medication, a different therapist—all of which helped for a while and then didn't—and an eating disorders treatment center, which was a disaster.
"Looks like you've thrown everything at this," said one hospital doctor. I think he was trying to sympathize with our desperation, but all Ned and I heard was, "Look what you've done to this child." And when we went the route he recommended, it was a different kind of disaster. The lessons of the past several years never presented themselves in an obvious way.