When Diets Turn Deadly: Adult Eating Disorders
That's the hell in which Becky Marsella's family has been trapped. As her anorexia worsened, Becky continued to cook hearty meals for her husband and daughter, while she lived on coffee and an occasional steamed vegetable, secretly priding herself on her willpower. If Rey protested, there were angry arguments.
Finally, in the winter of 2002 -- three years after her eating disorder emerged -- Becky's brothers and sister decided together to confront her, intervention style. "She was so angry that we were forcing her to deal with this," her daughter Rachel recalls. "She had a mouth full of venom and spit it at everybody."
Her brother threatened to have her confined in a mental hospital if she didn't seek help -- something the law would allow if they could prove her to be a danger to herself -- so Becky began seeing a therapist. But in secret her regimen became even more extreme. Becky would creep out in the middle of the night to go running. She would claim she'd already eaten, then live on nothing but coffee and a powdered protein drink.
"Anorexics often feel out of control, as if they don't have a voice," says Becky's therapist, Deborah Poor, author of Peace at Any Price: How to Overcome the Please Disease, a book about the underlying causes of eating disorders and other addictions. "The one thing they can control is that no one can make them eat."
By October 2003 Becky's weight had dropped below 60 pounds and she was hospitalized for severe malnutrition. Poor convinced her to go into treatment at a center in Tampa. But Becky hated treatment -- the probing questions, the lack of privacy -- and begged to come home after the first month. At first Rey -- as advised by Poor -- told his wife that if she left the facility he would not allow her back in their house. But her pleas continued.
"Every time I talked to her, she just sounded worse," Rey says. "It was costing us an arm and a leg, the last bit of credit I had left. She wasn't getting any better, so shortly before Christmas, she came home."
Since then Becky has lost the few pounds she gained while in and after treatment. Her arms are covered with bruises, and much of the hair on her head has fallen out, both symptoms of extreme starvation.
Rey feels more helpless than ever. "I want to believe she's going to be all right, but how can I?" he asks. "She still looks like something out of a concentration camp."