Thursday, May 26, 2011

Give Food a Chance: A New View on Childhood Eating Disorders

By Julie O’Toole

Portland, Perfectly Scientific Press, 2011

294 pages Non-Fiction

If I had a child that had been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or some other eating disorder, Give Food a Chance by pediatrician, Julie O’Toole would be my first source of information. It is extremely down-to-earth, comprehensive, and practical. I learned so much.

At the outset, I must say that I had no practical experience with anorexia nervosa, but I have had plenty of experience with children who overeat (my own childhood eating patterns) and children whose diet is extremely specific and narrow (a grandson and a nephew). So, I can understand the trauma that parents experience over the eating (or non-eating) patterns of their children.

O’Toole is very direct in saying that anorexia nervosa is a disease of the brain, and it is “neither a lifestyle choice nor a result of poor parenting, it looks organic, it acts organic, it is organic.” Therefore, it must be treated like a disease; it is biological rather than behavioral. She says, “Diseases of the brain are too severe, the brain being the core of who we are; too affecting of family, school, and social functioning for any approach but a holistic one to work.” In other words, parents, the child, and a team of medical practitioners are needed for an afflicted child to heal.

The major misconception of eating disorders O’Toole dispels is that somehow the disorder is the parent’s fault or that the child is being willful. She affirms strongly that parents seek medical intervention for all sorts of diseases in their children, and anorexia nervosa needs medical intervention as well. Psychological intervention is needed, of course, but the first acknowledgement must be that the child is sick. Parents do not let a child determine whether they receive medical treatment if they have a high fever; parents must not let their child determine whether they will receive medical treatment if they develop an eating disorder.

O’Toole runs the Kartini Clinic in Oregon, which specializes in the treatment of children with eating disorders. In a step-by-step fashion, she outlines their clinic’s methods—diagnosis, food plans, inpatient and outpatient treatment. The book discusses individual cases and individual families, because O’Toole emphasizes that treatment must involve the entire family in order for the child to heal. Eating disorders run in families, and an afflicted parent can influence the entire scheme of treatment.

Throughout the book O’Toole throws in lists of “Clinical Pearls” which summarize the chapters. Because I knew virtually nothing about the subject, I thought the plan for treatment outlined by O’Toole seemed logical and intuitively right. Reviewers have noted that although some of her thinking may be at odds with conventional wisdom, her body of work provides irrefutable results.

I would think Give Food a Chance should be required reading for pediatricians who are on the front line of diagnosis. I plan to give this book to a mother of my acquaintance whose 10-year-old daughter has been diagnosed and is being treated for anorexia. As Dr. O’Toole suggests, this mother needs to be her daughter’s strongest ally.

I received Give Food a Chance through the publicist. It is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 Website for the Katini Clinic:

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