Hair Grow

Holiday memories typically focus on good times with family and friends. But for Samantha (shown above, third from right), the recent holiday season sparked a different memory - a recollection of all she's been through in just one year.

Her story begins around Thanksgiving 2007. "I gained a few pounds and it started to bother me," Samantha, 18, explains. To compensate, she stopped eating dessert and drinking juice and pop. But then her efforts intensified. "I eventually started to skip lunches at school and avoided hanging out with friends because they liked to go out to eat." The only times she ate was at family meals, under her parents' watchful eye.

Not just about weight

Within a few months, Sam's weight dropped from 140 to 98 pounds, despite her 5-foot-7-inch frame. "I was always cold," she remembers. "My friends would be wearing T-shirts and shorts, and I would be wearing sweats and sitting on my hands just to keep warm." Her bulky clothes also helped her hide how thin she was. "I didn't like how people looked at me," she says.

Besides losing weight, Sam noticed her skin become dry and her hair grow thin and brittle. "My mom would always braid my hair and she could hardly do that anymore," she continues.

Friends speak out

"When my family and friends tried to tell me I was too thin, I knew they were right. But I couldn't change," she explains. "All I could think about was how to skip my next meal or burn off more calories. I felt trapped inside my own head." Sam coped by withdrawing from those who cared for her most.

Eventually, Sam's friends talked to her younger sister about their worries. Soon after, the girls' parents asked the school nurse to help. "The school nurse called me out of class and told me I should see a doctor. We went to our regular clinic, and they referred us to Eating Disorder Institute," Sam explains. That was last March, right before the family was set to go on a Florida vacation.

Stunning diagnosis

"I always loved Florida and my parents thought the vacation would help, but it didn't", she continues. After returning, Samantha went to Methodist Hospital Eating Disorders Institute for an evaluation. "When they diagnosed me with anorexia, I broke down crying. I didn't want to believe something was wrong," she says. Her parents reacted similarly.

When the institute recommended inpatient treatment, her parents explained how badly they wanted to help their daughter recover. Together, they agreed to outpatient family therapy. Once a week, for the better part of a day, Sam and her parents would meet with a treatment team that included a medical doctor, dietitian and therapist.

Parents taught to help

"The institute explained how Sam was unable to make choices and how we had to take over," says Shelly, Samantha's mother. "They also gave us a meal plan, and we were in charge of Sam, just like when she was little. We could see how relieved she was. The institute also taught us how to make the eating disorder the enemy - and not each other." (To learn more about the importance of family involvement, read "Treating children with eating disorders.")

After a couple of weeks, Samantha's personality started to return. "It was such a relief to have our daughter again," Shelly continues. After about five months of weekly visits, appointments finally stretched to every other week and then monthly. Just recently, Samantha "graduated" from the institute.

A bright future

"Things are so much better now," Samantha says. "I can actually look in the mirror and like what I see. I'm so happy to have my body back and feel comfortable with it." Today, Samantha also likes to go out with friends and feels confident she can take care of herself.

She's also busy planning her future - deciding which college to attend and thinking about a career, probably in teaching. In the meantime, she is glad to share what she has learned from her experience. "There are many great people who are trained to help people recover from eating disorders. You don't have to fight them alone."