Monte Nido’s Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia Primary Therapist Kate Funk shares a special review of the book Dancing with a Demon by Valerie Foster. Read on to see why Kate feels this book is an invaluable resource for families of loved ones struggling with eating disorders.
Monte Nido’s Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia had the pleasure of welcoming Valerie Foster to our site for an afternoon of casual lunch and story telling. Valerie introduced herself as, “a mother” and later explained how her career as a high school English teacher paved the way for her to become an author. Valerie was inspired by her daughter’s eating disorder recovery to write the book- Dancing with a Demon. The work tells the tale of a young woman who struggles to fully recover while her family feels held hostage by Anorexia Nervosa. Valerie’s warm demeanor and obvious passion for eating disorder advocacy intrigued me, but I knew I had to read the book when she highlighted it’s focus on the effect the eating disorder had on her family.
There are countless books that catalog the descent into Anorexia, but the focus on the family is something that is often missing. I took the copy she left our staff and devoured it in four days. The book encapsulates what so many of the families I work with experience: blame, misunderstanding, excruciating pain, debilitating fear, and feeling completely desperate for their loved one to get well. The author’s candor and courage to tackle such challenging topics make this a fantastic and hopeful read for those supporting someone with an eating disorder.
Valerie explores the frustration and misunderstanding that is associated with having a family member with an eating disorder. As the illness begins she finds herself mystified trying to decode the behaviors she observes. She searches for clues to protect her daughter but slowly realizes she is unable to outsmart the disorder. The author struggles with feeling responsible for the illness but also faces blame brought on by her community of friends and colleagues. She describes feeling like a failure not only due to her daughter’s illness but with her two sons who she admits were lost in the shuffle as her focus was primarily on Jenna’s health. Valerie finds herself completely devastated and isolated in the fight for her daughter’s life until she finds some relief in asking and receiving help, finding solace in prayer, and practicing self- care.
The importance of caregivers caring for themselves is vital and I appreciate the book’s focus on this element. At Monte Nido, we often see family members that are clearly drained. Unfortunately, it is rare for me to meet caregivers who have their own therapist to support them, let alone those who routinely practice self- care. Valerie discusses her struggle reaching out for help, feeling like she must justify a massage or a short weekend getaway all the while feeling completely exhausted and emotionally overburdened. Some of the most valuable insights in the book come from therapy sessions where the author learns to care for herself while also realizing she can’t force her daughter to recover, though she can be there for Jenna, she can’t walk the journey for her.
Dancing with a Demon by Valerie Foster is an excellent book for any parent whose child is facing an eating disorder. That being said, there are a few disclaimers I’d like to make. The family described in this story is incredibly close, which may be a turn off to some who aren’t as tight knit. Despite their clear bond, it is easy to look beyond their relationship and connect to the author’s pain and feel inspired by her harrowing experience. Another detail worth mentioning is the chapter titles. Each chapter’s title corresponds to her daughter’s rapid weight loss. These titles help the reader feel the sense of frantic urgency a parent must feel watching their daughter’s health decline. Due to this aspect, I would not recommend the book for clients who are currently struggling. These numbers may be triggering and validate the all too common feeling of “not being sick enough”. Despite these particular details, parents and families who are supporting a loved one with an eating disorder would find this book invaluable when navigating guilt, shame, and juggling life stressors while still holding hope for their family member’s full recovery and return to wellness.