Five Eating Disorder Truths and Tips for Parents

Five Eating Disorder Truths and Tips for Parents

Written By: Adrianna Rodriguez, MS, MFT, CFBT

Coming to the realization that your child has an eating disorder can be overwhelming.

It’s daunting and scary. Learning how to navigate the ups and downs of an eating disorder requires a great deal of self-awareness and patience. I have found that parents most certainly have the power to help their child begin to heal – even if the child isn’t fully ready.


In family therapy, we explore not only the best ways to communicate with one another but also identify and practice the most effective ways to show up for and support your child.

In this blog post, I will highlight the top five things to focus on as you walk alongside your loved one on the path to full recovery from their eating disorder.

1. Recovery is Long and it is not a Linear Journey

Recovery comes in waves like a roller coaster, involving progress and setbacks – both of which are normal. It’s important to set realistic expectations for what recovery will look like. Parents are eager to see their child return to being their true selves. It’s important not to rush the process to avoid relapse.

2. Be Strong, Calm, and Consistent

Most importantly, do not negotiate during meals. The eating disorder is masterful at manipulation, so it’s imperative that parents are on the same page and show up as a united front against it. Eating disorders thrive off heightened emotions and overreactions, so remaining calm is crucial. Maintaining a sense of calm during mealtimes will help your child have the confidence to recover. Additionally, being consistent with meal expectations can help alleviate anxiety and fear.

3. Maintain Clear Mealtime Rules

One way to minimize stress is to keep your child out of the kitchen when cooking and serving meals. This can alleviate anticipatory anxiety around the upcoming meal. Incorporating distractions at mealtimes, such as games or watching television, can diffuse tension and shift the focus away from the food. Encourage the completion of meals and avoid engaging in power struggles. By providing firm and loving support, you are sending the message that you will not let the eating disorder take hold and that recovery is the only option. A non-shaming approach can be much more effective than a shaming one, so encourage meal completion in a non-judgmental and tempered manner.

4. Externalize the Disorder

Externalization of the disorder is a critical tool that allows the parent to temper their anger and frustration towards their child. It involves separating the child from the chaos and ravages of the eating disorder. This is most helpful when the eating disorder is driving disruptive behaviors, anger, abuse, etc. It helps prevent getting pulled into power struggles and reminds parents that the behaviors stem from the disorder itself. Your child has not consciously chosen this; rather, they want and deserve help.

5. Steer Clear of Blame, Guilt, and Shame

Blaming yourself or your child does not serve either of you. It is common for both parents and children to experience guilt. One thing is certain: guilt reduces your self-efficacy as a parent and your ability to remain grounded. It also poses challenges to your ability to help your child overcome the eating disorder. Just as it is unhelpful to place blame or guilt on yourself, it is also important not to blame or guilt your child. Just like you would not blame your child if they developed diabetes or any other physical illness, the most important thing to do is to be involved in your child’s recovery and offer them compassion and unconditional love.

Supporting your loved one with an eating disorder is a challenging task. At Prosperity Eating Disorders and Wellness Center, our team is committed to walking you through and providing you with all the tools you need to help your child successfully reach full recovery from their eating disorder!

Virginia’s Premier Day Treatment And Intensive Outpatient Treatment Centers

Prosperity Eating Disorders & Wellness Center specializes in the treatment of eating disorders while offering evidence-based, comprehensive, ethical, and individualized treatment to all ages, ethnicities, genders, and eating disorders. Our goal is to help sufferers find a full recovery by meeting their psychological, nutritional, emotional, and relational needs. We specialize in treating Anorexia, Bulimia, EDNOS, Orthorexia, and Binge Eating Disorder. With locations in Herndon and Norfolk, Prosperity is equipped to serve the needs of adolescents and adults throughout Virginia. 

Get started with Prosperity Eating Disorders & Wellness Center today!

The Truth: Suffering With an Eating Disorder During Thanksgiving

Using our coping skills while suffering with an eating disorder can feel more difficult during the holidays, especially during Thanksgiving. This is the holiday that we envision in our minds that revolves around a lot of food and a lot of mentally tough choices we feel we have to make involving what and how much we eat. Thanksgiving is not easy while suffering with an eating disorder. The coping skills that we use daily can feel so much harder when we know we have so many people sitting around us. We feel that everyone is watching our every move; what we eat, how much we eat, and what our bodies look like in our Thanksgiving dinner outfits. Getting seconds could feel so easy to anyone else, but when you’re suffering with an eating disorder, you have a back-and-forth battle with the thoughts in your head. These thoughts want you to believe that you’re going to need to intensively work out for hours just to burn off the single plate you had at diner. These thoughts tell you that instead of getting up for seconds, you need to calm it down with how much you’re eating. These thoughts tell you that everyone around you is observing how your body looks in the outfit you chose to wear, so you probably shouldn’t fill up anymore on dessert. 

These thoughts are mentally draining and they are cruel.

This is the ugly truth about suffering with an eating disorder during the day we are supposed to be relaxed and grateful. We should be enjoying this time with our family, friends and loved ones, but instead, we are battling with the demons of our disordered eating thoughts.

We ask that you be patient with us. We ask that you please not pressure us. This is difficult for us. We ask that you love us for who we are. We are struggling, and we fear judgement. We fear this day. 

If you’re speaking to us, please remind us that you support us. If we look like we are struggling, please help us take a little breather. A 5 minute break away from the dinner table can feel like a minor part of your day, but this break could actually be the highlight of our day, allowing us to disregard any of our negative thoughts. Bringing our thoughts back into the present can feel impossible sometimes, but with your assistance, we can feel that we belong again. Going around the table and asking everyone what they are thankful for helps us remember to be mindful and thankful for all that we have and get to experience in life. It may sound simple to anyone else, but to us, this fuels our positive thoughts and helps us take this day in stride. 

Allow us to get through this day at our own pace. We are so thankful for your support, even if it may feel unnoticeable to you when we are struggling. We are brave warriors battling through recovery every single day.

Parents as Role Models Around Food and Body Image

Parents as Role Models Around Food and Body Image

  1. Why is it important for parents to model healthy eating?

Social psychologists have long explored how social experiences shape our cognitions and behavior. This type of learning, known as observational learning, provides children with the opportunity to watch a “model” (aka parent, sibling or authority figure) as they react to events in their environment. Observational learning is one of the most natural types of learning that we have available to us. The idea is we watch what the model does in a given scenario and then process that scenario or schema as desirable or undesirable; ultimately our behaviors are shaped by watching how others interact with their environment. We mimic and mirror what we see and have learned is valuable to our family system.

Food is a fundamental aspect of the human experience, we all need nutrients to survive and thrive. Unfortunately in today’s society, we have become hyper aware of image and perfection as a symbol for worthiness, resulting fad diets, preoccupation with weight / image, and a generalized sense of dissatisfaction with ourselves in comparison to a perceived ideal. Despite the negative impacts societal pressures can have on an individual’s image or self-esteem, there are many ways parents can buffer the effects of these pressures, not the least of which is healthy modeling. What does this mean? In short it’s teaching your kids to develop a healthy relationship with food by setting a positive example.

Our kids are watching us all the time (we aren’t as sneaky as we think we are), they see us reading labels and being conscious which is great! It’s a great opportunity for us to teach our children about food, nutrition, and healthy eating. Conversely, they see us cringing at calories, judging ourselves and our bodies in the mirror, and they sense the importance of image. We can be a gateway to a healthy lifestyle or we can inadvertently tell our kids that food is the enemy and image is everything. It’s easy to think this learning would have to be overt, that a dance teacher who pinches her students back would obviously result in an unhealthy relationship with food. But it can, and often does, happen far more subtlety, watching mom choose a salad time and again instead of getting what she really wants because she has attached a value to the food as bad. As with most things, moderation is key, it’s not so much what you are eating or feeding your family as it is the relationship with the food and experiences.

  1. What language should parents use/not use, around kids, to prevent unhealthy eating beliefs and behaviors?

Try to avoid making comparisons or comments, especially image oriented ones. For example don’t say,”Oh, Molly is so small, and I am just fat” or “Your friend Jen is so small and cute” “Comparisons like this aren’t helpful in promoting a positive self-image.

Kids going through growth spurts often grow out before they grow up. When your kids are in these spurts, don’t poke at them or their chubby cheeks. In general, try not to use all or nothing statements. That ice cream will make you fat, or those cookies are going to go straight to my hips. No one has ever died from a scoop of ice cream, just like if you eat a cookie or a few cookies, it doesn’t mean you are no longer loveable because your skinny jeans got a little snug. Kids don’t always have the gift of discernment, that’s another reason healthy modeling is so important. We get to teach them that food can be a wonderful and connecting experience. If you wouldn’t want someone saying it to you, then you probably shouldn’t say it to your child, they’re people too, just younger and more impressionable.

  1. How do our kids (unknowingly) teach us how to eat healthy?

Our bodies have natural triggers that tell us when we are hungry and when we are full. People don’t have to be taught when to eat or not, it’s a natural process that occurs and that we can become mindful of as we develop. Children haven’t yet learned to ignore their inner cues and will often adhere to appropriate portions when they are allowed to choose. Kids listen to their bodies, if they have cravings they typically fulfill them and move on with what they are doing. They don’t assign value or judgement to foods which means they are naturally more healthy in regard to portion control and enjoying the eating experience.

  1. How can we achieve health while feeling care free in the process?

Barring an allergy, one scoop, or cup, or plate of anything is not going to leave an indelible mark on our psyche or bodies. Remaining mindful as you eat and making food preparation a process and an act of love for yourselves and others can be a great way to bring joy and peace to a moment. If you struggle with your relationship with food, affirmations can be a great way to break the negative thought pattern. It may feel artificial at first, but keep saying the words, internalize that sense of peace with the food and the process of being healthy. Exercise can be a great way to mitigate depressive symptoms, as the endorphins released during and after a workout boost mood. Additionally, this can be a great way to channel your energy by doing something positive and active with your body, see what you are capable of, know that you are a blessing and that your body is a gift.

By Ashley Steelman, MSW

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Eating Disorder Resource

The Alliance for Eating Disorders recommends a simple acronym to help you cope during your loved one’s recovery journey:

 

C
  • You didn’t CAUSE it.
  • You can’t CONTROL it.
  • You can’t CURE it.
  • You can learn how NOT to CONTRIBUTE to it.
  • You need to learn how to COPE with it.
  • Take CARE of yourself.
P
  • Avoid PANIC. It prohibits clear thinking and calm reactions.
  • Recovery is a PROCESS. Two steps forward, one step back.
  • PROGRESS, not PERFECTION, is the goal. PATIENCE is critical.
R
  • RESPOND instead of REACT.
  • REMEMBER to listen.
  • REFLECT and REASON before you speak.
  • RECOVERY is a journey, a long ROAD that may include RELAPSE.
  • REACH out to others for love and support.

 

For more information about resources for loved ones, or to contact Prosperity for assistance, visit our website at www.prosperityedwell.com.

*Adapted from The Alliance for Eating Disorderswww.allianceforeatingdisorders.com

Suggested Reading

  • Life Without ED – Jenni Schafer
  • Healing Your Hungry Heart – Joanna Poppink
  • 8 Keys to Eating Disorder Recovery – Carolyn Costin, MA, MED, MFCC; Gewn Schubert
  • Eating by the Light of the Moon – Anita Johnson
  • 100 Questions and Answers About ED – Carolyn Costin, MA, MED, MFCC
  • Brave Girl Eating – Harriet Brown
  • Eating With Your Anorexic – Laura Collins
  • Father Hunger – Margo Maine, PhD
  • Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders – Marcia Herrin, EDD, MPH, RD & Nancy Matsumoto
  • Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder – Johanna S. Kandel

*Adapted from the Alliance for Eating Disorderswww.allianceforeatingdisorders.com

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