How Can You Help Your Child with an Eating Disorder? The Surprising Truth

child with eating disorder - image of woman and child in an embrace; both have their eyes closed, the child is smiling

When my child was diagnosed with an eating disorder, of course I wondered how I could help her recover. What I didn’t understand at the time was that checking my own baggage would help me help her fight ED. My daughter was 9 years old when she was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.

Nine.

It turned all of our lives inside out and upside down.

When your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder

If she had been older she would have been admitted immediately to the highest level of care for eating disorders at a residential treatment facility. But because of her age, we were guided and supervised by her specialists to do FBT: Family Based Therapy.

We were essentially in charge of restoring our daughter to health by re-feeding her. To anyone who isn’t educated about eating disorders, this might seem like a normal job for a parent. But it was the most difficult thing we have ever faced. Helping a child with an eating disorder can be terrifying.

Having an eating disorder can be described as having a dark passenger, who tells you all sorts of awful things. So when my child with an eating disorder was at her bottom, she was not herself. She was in essence possessed by this dark force.

Food and her meal plan was her medicine. But what happens when eating food is the last thing that the eating disorder wanted her to do? We found ourselves sitting with her in support for an hour, sometimes more, at mealtimes, until she ate. I had a flexible work schedule so I was the only one home with her. She wasn’t in school for awhile, and the days were long and challenging

Looking at myself allowed me to help my child with an eating disorder

My path of learning to be the best support was to read as much as I could. I ordered every book out there and sought out every article I could find. Also, I discovered inspirational podcasts and Instagram influencers. And I began to realize how my own baggage, thoughts, and views could be impacting my ability to support her.

Imagine my suprise when I discovered it was triggering my own feelings about my body, and my own relationship to food. As I looked closely at how food and body image were handled in my own family growing up, my eyes opened. Then I looked at my thoughts and owned up to them.

I had fatphobia.  And I realized I once struggled with orthorexia and that I didn’t have a healthy relationship to exercise. Also, I had some judgement about certain foods. Like most people, I had dieted at times in my life. 

I was proud that I didn’t own a scale at least.

Parents… DITCH THE SCALE.

Recognizing Diet Culture

It is not until I took the blinders off and clearly saw diet culture and its power and influence in our society, that I made the conscious decision to separate myself from its clutches. There was no turning back for me.  

I saw the negative impact that diet culture has on those struggling with, and trying to recover from eating disorders. For example, most if not all diets promote disordered eating, and the behaviors that are praised in dieting are seen as behavioral symptoms of EDs. These are very triggering messages to those trying their hardest to stop these behaviors for their very survival.

Once looked at our society through a different lens, I saw the influence of diet culture everywhere.



Making a change

I began to fill my Instagram feed with posts from Eating Disorder specialists and dieticians, body positive influencers, and recovery support pages.

We, as a family, discussed how to be the best support for our daughter ( who has two sibling). Daily meal times together became an important focus for us.

We made it clear that in our house all foods fit. We changed our language and were careful to never moralize food or label it in any way.

A family recovers

This was an equally challenging time for our other kids. They were only 7 and 5 when their sister got sick. They didn’t really understand what was happening, but we worked hard to keep supporting them through this as well.

As much as I wanted to and still want to protect my daughter from the messages of insidious diet culture, the fact is that I can’t.

What I CAN do is make sure our home is a safe space and I am a safe space. And that I am setting good examples. 

It is unfortunate that it took my daughter developing an eating disorder to help free my own demons. But I’m also so grateful because I think it has brought us closer.

She is almost 16 now and she has become her own advocate. Now she knows herself. And she is brave and asks for help when she needs it. My daughter uses her voice for activism and has been such a positive role model and support for her peers as she has shared her struggles openly.

Parents, if you are caring for a child with an eating disorder right now and you are reading this…

I see you, and recovery IS possible for your child.


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