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!