A tale of two cats: Hampstead author’s novel approach to addressing child eating disorders

Author Bettina Blume and her cat, Bignose. Picture: Polly Hancock

Author Bettina Blume and her cat, Bignose. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Bettina Blume tells Bridget Galton about how her debut storybook, Won Ton and Hissie, aims to help children as young as eight raise their self esteem.

A Hampstead author hopes her debut storybook will sensitively tackle the issue of eating disorders for children as young as eight.

Bettina Blume took inspiration from her own pets to create the characters in Won Ton and Hissie, about the healing journey of a pair of cats.

Featuring illustrations by her daughter Miriam, Won Ton is a large cat who eats everything he sees, while his sibling Hissie turns her nose up at every dish.

Their adventure with Methuselah the wise fox, Bartok the tomcat and the slinky prize-winning glamour puss from LA who moves in next door, teaches them lessons about inner strength, embracing wellness and coming to terms with their past.

“We have two cats, one is enormous he always eats, but his sister never eats anything,” says Blume, a piano teacher and music therapist who lives in Pond Street.

“I thought I would base the story on this big whale and little stick who were saved from being drowned at birth and are adopted by a family from London. In the story, Won Ton is just interested in food but has an inner emptiness and his sister feels he is a lazy lump but agrees to help him if he promises to lose weight.”

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Blume aimed the book at ages eight upwards because that was when she first experienced dissatisfaction with her own body.

“A study a few years ago followed 6,000 children aged 8-14 and showed that self esteem in eight-year-olds is quite a predictive factor for developing eating disorders later in life,” she says.

“Five percent of eight-year-old girls in the study already had body dissatisfaction issues, a figure which rose to 32 percent by the age of 14.

“Doing this book made me think about my own childhood. I was a keen gymnast but at 8 or 9 someone said something about my stomach being too big and that’s when I started to skip dinner and just have carrots. Since then I have always been careful about what I eat. I have been on all sorts of diets and joined weightloss clubs with lots of pressure to be under every week. On weighing days if I hadn’t stuck to the plan I would make myself sick.”

Now aged 55 the mother of two has overcome her issues but had the urge to write a book that might help youngsters early in life to think about the reasons why they might dislike their bodies.

“It’s such a serious issue,” says Blume, who believes good role models are vital for children maintaining a positive sense of self.

“There are so many triggers for eating disorders, from abuse, traumatic experiences and cyber bullying to those wonderful magazines with size 0 models and the pressure to be a high achiever getting into the best schools and careers. When you are in that state, even if you are thin you still see yourself as fat in the mirror. I thought if it was in a lighthearted package with a happy ending, I could get the message across about overcoming eating disorders.”

Won Ton and Hissie £9.99 is published by Hillman and launches on Tuesday January 19 at Daunt Books in South End Green at 6.30pm.