TIPS FOR PARENTS WITH EATING DISORDERS
*Parents need to understand
what an eating disorder is, and its implications for self and family.
Parents with eating disorders need to take care of themselves by
asking for support from their loved ones, finding professional help for
themselves, and getting well.
Eating disorders are curable.
What is more, they are preventable in children.
*It is important to actively
listen to children and spouses, to recognize and acknowledge the family’s
questions, fears, misconceptions, and wishes to become supportive of the
*There is no greater fear than
that of the unknown; parents need to talk with their children about
themselves and the eating disorder.
The age of the child will play a big part in determining how a parent
should communicate and what he or she might say.
Parents must speak on a child’s level and to the child’s needs,
creating a forum for discussion that is comfortable, honest and open.
Similarly, such an open forum needs to be created with spouse and
*Parents need to dispel their
own and their children’s misconceptions about food and diet, such as . .
.eating fat makes a person fat, food is fattening, dieting is the best way
to lose weight, etc. The media confuses us with constant and conflicting
messages about how to eat, stay thin, and be successful and loved.
It is important to be discerning and savvy in taking in such
messages. This point is
poignantly brought home with the growing trend for well-intentioned and
conscientious young parents to feed their infants and toddlers skim milk
despite their need for dietary fat to grow nerve cells.
*Having talked the talk,
parents must walk the walk.
Parents must not be afraid to remain “parental,” staying emotionally
connected with their children and setting appropriate and respectful limits,
thereby creating a sense of security and safety that precludes the child’s
need for an eating disorder to provide internal regulation.
Parents need to model healthy eating, provide nutritious, balanced
and regular meals, and eat them together with the family as often as
*Parents must find clinicians
skilled in working with couples and families since eating disorders are
family diseases, interactional and systemic in nature and must be treated as
such. One family member’s
changes can be facilitated and sustained through parallel changes made by
other members of the family system.
In addition, when one partner in a marriage makes changes independent
of spouse or partner, resulting imbalances in the marital system can cause
*Recognize that eating
disorders are multi-dimensional diseases that are best treated by a team of
professionals and loved ones, including medical doctor, psychopharmacologist,
and nutritionist, individual and family psychotherapist.
*Parents with eating disorders
must forgive themselves, recognizing that though they have no control over
the past, they do have control over their present attempts to get well and
*Parents with eating disorders
must learn how to take time out of each day to recognize what they need and
to take care of themselves, to “feed” themselves both literally and
figuratively in every way that they can.
Most importantly, parents with
eating disorders must be aware that it is not a foregone conclusion that
their children will be adversely affected by their problems.
*When two parents can be of
one mind and present a united front to child, disease, and professional, the
strengths of one parent can compensate for the weakness of the other.
*If parents choose to face an
eating disorder and conquer it openly, inclusive of their spouse’s and
children’s input and understanding, everyone stands to gain, not only in
terms of how they eat, but also in terms of how they face and deal with
life, and the long-term quality of family relationships.