Supporting Your Child’s Eating Recovery: A Few Things Parents Can Do!
Parenting a child who struggles with food, weight, and their body can be very challenging. Parents are often worried and at times desperate to help their child but don’t really know how. Here are some things that they can do to support their kids and teens' eating disorder recovery:
Have conversations with your partner in private and outside of mealtimes about your worries and how you want to address different situations: meals, exercise, appointments with your treatment team, disclosing the diagnosis to friends and/or family, etc. Being on the same page is crucial for recovery. Staying calm and preparing for what you’re going to say to your child will help.
Make appointments to address medical, psychological and nutritional needs. Let your child know in advance why these appointments are important and non-negotiable.
Remind yourself that your sweet child is fighting an eating disorder. They are NOT the eating disorder. When they are angry and refuse to eat their meal or snack, it helps to think that you are talking to the eating disorder, not your child.
Be patient and avoid reacting – do not blame or judge your child, just focus on how they're feeling and validate their emotions. For example, you can say: “I can see how completing this meal is really hard for you right now.” Ask them: “What can I do to support you?”.
Validate their emotions even if you don't understand them by saying something like: “I can see how eating pizza is difficult for you. It makes sense because it’s one of your fear foods and you haven’t had pizza in a while.”
Offer support by making suggestions. This might look like saying: “Can I help you get through this meal? Perhaps we can play trivia or talk about the show you’re watching, make plans for our next vacation or play “would you rather” or UNO. What would be most helpful right now?”
Avoid talking about fitness, theirs, yours or other people’s appearance, weight, size, exercise routines and training, amount of food they or you are eating. Canceling these topics will support immensely!
Don't make negative comments about food and weight in general. Don't mention calories, don't focus on information on food packaging labels, or label food as "healthy or unhealthy". Food is just food. All foods have nutritive value, even fear foods!
Remember that even if you’re trying to say something nice your child's eating disorder will interpret it differently. What you might think is a positive comment on their food or body can lead to reinforcing their eating disorder. You can instead compliment their personality, intelligence, and strengths.
Avoid providing reassurance when they ask, “am I gaining weight?”, “Do I look fat?” – you can always say: “I see you are concerned about your weight and appearance, tell me more about it”, or just listen or say “let’s focus on getting you back to health. What can we do together to distract you from eating disorder thoughts that are unhelpful?"
Avoid blaming. Remind yourself that your child didn’t choose to have an eating disorder, but they can choose recovery. Support that! Remind yourself that we don’t know the cause of eating disorders, but we can embrace recovery now that it’s here.
Use “I statements" to express your concerns. You can say something like: "I'm worried because you do not seem like yourself. You seem irritable and unhappy lately. You also seem to be struggling to complete your meals and have been making more comments about your weight. I’m very concerned that your physical and mental health are declining". This is a much more effective approach than using statements like "you are so difficult", "You don't want to get better".
Don’t take your child's comments, feelings and reactions personal, and try not to feel hurt if they do not open up immediately, don’t know how to answer your questions, or share how they are feeling. The process of recovery can be very confusing for them.
Eating disorders can make individuals lie, be secretive, and even manipulative. Remind yourself that’s not your child, it’s the eating disorder. Use that frustration to set clear expectations and boundaries. It is part of their illness, not a reflection of who they are, their relationship with you or how you parent them.
Talking to other parents who are on the same journey or getting yourself individual therapy can help you navigate the ups and downs of eating disorder recovery. For more information about cost-effective resources, support groups and referrals, please contact the organizations below:
National Alliance For Eating Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Helpline: call or text (800) 931-2237
CAROLINA GAVIRIA, LMHC, NCC, CEDS
Eating Disorder, Substance Abuse and Trauma Expert - Sessions available in English and Spanish, Online and in person.
Please give me a call today for a FREE 30 minute phone consult at 561.305.2497, I’d be happy to provide more information about my services and discuss how therapy can help you. Setting up a session is easy and confidential!