Starving for Perfection: Jennifer

Final Days of Life?

"When Jennifer was a freshman, she started running cross country. She started experiencing acne. Jennifer started reading that there are certain types of foods that contribute to acne," explains Corrinne, of her 22-year-old daughter.


"Jennifer was systematically eliminating different types of food from her diet," says Mike, Jennifer's dad. "The signs were there but were we paying attention to them?"


Weighing approximately 68 pounds, Jennifer was diagnosed with anorexia. "When I see myself, I see someone who is often bloated and not lean enough, not toned enough, never just right," says Jennifer, who often takes over an hour to eat a tablespoon of food. "Chewing reminds me that I'm eating. Eating, for me, is so taboo." When she goes out to eat, she requests the smallest available serving plate or bowl, or carries her own condiment cup to eat from. 


Jennifer has sought help in the past. "I've been in and out of several different treatment facilities, all of which I feel have not been the right fit for me," she says. "I know it's a Jennifer problem and unfortunately my family is very much affected by this illness." 

"When you live with someone with an eating disorder, it's all about power and control," says Mike. "Jennifer makes all the decisions in this family. She decides when we're going to eat, what we eat, what restaurant we go to, what we put in the refrigerator."


"I am controlling. I do like to feel in control of situations," Jennifer admits. "My dad goes shopping at the grocery store, comes home with some food that I didn't approve of. I automatically come at him with the questions. 'Why did you buy this? We don't need this. We already have this.'" If she doesn't like the food, she will cover it with a grocery bag or throw it away.


Mike acknowledges that his relationship with his wife is also being affected by Jennifer and her behavior. "Jennifer is Corinne's best and only friend. It makes me angry," he says. "My wife does not conflict. She wants to be the peacemaker."


Corinne admits that her relationship with Jennifer is as her mother and her best friend. "I believe that Jennifer's eating disorder has affected all of us and we probably don't even realize how much," she says. "Our relationship pretty much right now is just focusing on trying to keep Jennifer alive."


"I'm tired of my illness being the blame game. And of course, the quick and easy answer for that would be, 'Fine, get over your illness, and then your family won't have anything to blame their problems on,'" Jennifer says, noting that there are deeper family issues that need to be addressed.


"Others have suggested that Jennifer be completely removed from our home," Mike says. He has considered leaving himself. "I almost feel like I'm living in a prison in my own home."

Jennifer recognizes that she could expire soon. "I could probably have a heart attack or stroke any minute and not even know it," she says.


"I firmly believe that Jennifer is on her final days of life," Mike says.


Corinne is concerned as well. "I don't want to lose my daughter, that's why it makes me feel very sad. It makes me want to cry, because I don't know if she's going to be with us very much longer if we don't get help," she says.


"Do you agree that if something doesn't happen soon, that you could die?" Dr. Phil asks Jennifer.

"I do believe that I'm in a pretty serious medical situation right now," Jennifer says.

Dr. Phil lists some of Jennifer's recent medical problems. In November of 2002, when she was five pounds heavier, Jennifer went into cardiac arrest. At the beginning of 2006, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis, and in July 2006, she was rushed to the emergency room for dehydration. "How do you feel about that?" he asks.

"I'm not in denial of it. It's unfortunate," she says. "I'm sorry that it's happened." She acknowledges that she is resistant to taking steps to overcome her disease.

"Isn't it true that a lot of the time all you want is to be alone with your disease?" Dr. Phil probes.

"Yes," she says.

"It gives you a sense of control," Dr. Phil says.

"Absolutely," Jennifer says.

Dr. Phil addresses Mike. "You were saying that Jennifer controls everything," he says. "Why do you allow her to do that?"

"We love her so much, and we're at a point right now, where the doctors have told us for two years that she could expire at any time. So, I go constantly back and forth trying to show her the right kind of love and compassion, if she is in her final days, and then also I wrestle with the difficulty of confronting her when she's doing something that the doctors have asked her not to do," Mike says.

"She gets mad at you?" Dr. Phil asks.

"She does," Mike says. "I have to keep the peace with Jennifer and my wife, and so sometimes it's easier now to retreat and basically walk away from a situation." 

Dr. Phil asks her if she dictates the schedule in the house.

"I know that I try to, and when I'm not able to control that, then I try to control other areas of this family situation," Jennifer admits.

Asked for her thoughts, Corinne says, "It's been a real struggle trying to tell her that she's in our home. She cannot control or manipulate anything that Mike and I do."


Dr. Phil points out that Corinne and Mike didn't want to be on stage because they said it's Jennifer's problem. "When somebody in a family gets a chronic disease, the whole family has that disease," he tells them.  "Whether she wants to recognize it through her defensiveness or not, [Jennifer] is absolutely at death's door here." He notes that he has seen people in similar situations to Jennifer's die from the disease. "Girls that are in this position, at this weight and this age do shut down and die," Dr. Phil warns. He stresses that even though Jennifer becomes difficult to deal with, they must do whatever it takes to stop her from continuing down the path she's on.

"Tell me why you've been in and out of six treatment facilities," Dr. Phil says to Jennifer.

Jennifer explains that the facilities she has gone to have been covered by her insurance, so they only give her a certain amount of time to stay in treatment.

Dr. Phil disagrees. "It wasn't that insurance ran out. You left because they intruded on your relationship with your disease. You left, because unlike your parents who are somewhat clouded by their love and i

nterest in comforting you, the treatment facilities wouldn't let you control them. They wouldn't let you manipulate," Dr. Phil says to her. "They started holding you accountable and making you confront the fact that you were killing yourself. That's why you left, is it not?"

"For two of the six facilities, I would say yes," Jennifer replies.

Dr. Phil shares his thoughts. "This is not y'alls fault," he says to Corinne and Mike. "This is so beyond what can be handled inside the family by laypeople who are close to her." He tells them that they are not qualified to handle this on their own.


Dr. Phil addresses Jennifer. "This is your choice," he says to her, noting that she can't just flip a switch and change. "This truly has got a grip on you. It's got momentum on you. Intellectually, you know what I'm saying is true, but yet emotionally, you just want to be alone with your disease."

Jennifer agrees.

Both Marlene and Jennifer join Dr. Phil onstage. "What does she look like to you?" Dr. Phil asks Darlene.

"She looks very thin, much thinner than I," she says.

"I'd say the same," Jennifer says of Darlene. 

"You both have to be willing to step up and turn over some of this control. You've got to let your intellect carry you here, even though your emotions say, ‘Run. Hide,'" he says.


Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Michael Berrett, CEO and executive director of the Center for Change. He has agreed to meet with Marlene and Jennifer after the show, to discuss the current, cutting-edge treatment options. "This is one of the best eating disorder treatment facilities in the country," Dr. Phil says.

"I believe they can both get well. I believe there is hope. I believe that to do that, they're both going to have to give up some control and let go a little bit," Dr. Berrett says.

"This is really what it all boils down to," Dr. Phil says. "You've got to be willing to give up some control. You've got to be willing to say, ‘You know what? I'm going to let somebody else make some choices for me for a time. I'm going to let my intellect carry me.'"

The women agree to speak with Dr. Berrett.

"You're not going to be able to manipulate it. You're not going to be able to control it. The only thing you're going to be able to do is get better," Dr. Phil tells them.

At the end of the show, Dr. Phil assures the women, "You can turn this around. You can get better."