Mom’s mental breakdown because of daughter’s eating disorder

In this story, we look at parent coaching for Christina, whose daughter Olivia has an eating disorder, which triggered a mental breakdown for Christina. Olivia was originally diagnosed with anorexia when she was 11 years old and underwent treatment. Christina thought the eating disorder was gone until she found out that Olivia, now 15, has bulimia.

Olivia refuses to go back to a treatment center, and Christina has no idea what to do. She can see evidence of Olivia’s binge/purge behavior, but Olivia refuses to talk about it at all.

Christina has long struggled with her own mental health. She’s suffered from anxiety and depression since she was young. The stress of knowing about her daughter’s active bulimia and not being able to do anything about it is deeply painful.

Last week Christina was hospitalized for exhaustion. Her mental breakdown was triggered by thoughts about Olivia’s eating disorder. She was stabilized and returned home, but still feels anxious and depressed about Olivia’s health. Christina knows that she needs to get it together if she has any hope of helping Olivia, but she doesn’t see a path forward right now.

The background

Christina has had mental health issues her whole life. Her family was deeply dysfunctional, and her parents both abused alcohol. Christina did her best to manage. “I had an amazing high school counselor who really helped,” said Christina. “She gave me counseling and insisted that my parents send me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed anti-anxiety medication.”

After college, Christina began her career and met and married Mike. They had Olivia, and it seemed like everything was going really well. Then Mike had an affair, and Christina filed for divorce when Olivia was 10. “It was incredibly stressful, and I know it impacted Olivia,” said Christina. “I tried to shield her from the worst of it, but I admit that my behavior wasn’t the best during that time. My anger was huge, and I felt so helpless. I just didn’t know how to handle the betrayal Mike put me through.”

The start of the eating disorder

A year later, Olivia lost a dangerous amount of weight and was hospitalized. “I’ve had a lot of bad days, but finding Olivia passed out was definitely up there,” said Christina. “I had to call 911 and felt so much shame for allowing her to get to that point in the first place.”

Olivia entered a treatment center and slowly recovered her weight. She was angry with both her parents, especially Christina, whom she blamed for the divorce. “I don’t know why I was blamed – he’s the one who screwed around!” said Christina. “But I guess that’s just how she’s processing the divorce.

Olivia returned home, and Christina did her best to maintain a stable, healthy environment for her. But six months ago she realized that Olivia has been bingeing and purging, the symptoms of bulimia. She confronted Olivia, but Olivia shut down and refused to talk about it.

The breakdown

Christina had no idea what to do. When Olivia was released from treatment, they told Christina to look for signs of recurrence. But she didn’t feel prepared for a relapse.

Every day seemed to be getting worse. “I would go to work and it felt better than being at home,” said Christina. “And then I just felt more guilty for preferring work to being with Olivia. Mike has been absolutely no help. He has two toddlers with his new wife and has no time for us.” Christina felt her health declining, and had a feeling that the eating disorder might trigger a mental breakdown.

Sure enough, one day Christina couldn’t get out of bed. “I couldn’t even lift my hand to call in sick,” she said. “I just laid there, frozen in place. It was awful. My mind was going a million miles a minute, but my body was immobile.”

This time it was Olivia who had to call 911. Sobbing hysterically, she went in the ambulance to the hospital with Christina and stayed there as much as she could through Christina’s recovery.

“All I could think of is how this is just adding more trauma to Olivia’s life,” said Christina. “But I just don’t know how to cope. I don’t know what to do to make things better.”

Week 1: Turning shame into self-compassion

Christina felt she was as rock bottom. She had called a therapist, but there was a 5-week waiting list. Parent coaching was a way to bridge the gap and try to get her through the five weeks. She knew she couldn’t risk another mental breakdown while caring for Olivia’s eating disorder.

The first thing we focused on was shame. Christina was carrying so much shame that it was hard for her to even talk to Olivia. Shame is a deep and pervasive sense that we are bad people. When parents get stuck in shame, it’s hard to parent because we believe they will only make things worse by trying. This creates a negative spiral in which parent and child both suffer.

We did some exercises to address Christina’s shame. We started by talking about the difference between shame and guilt:

Shame: I am bad. >> This leads to thoughts like “I should just give up. I will just make everything worse. I’m incapable of fixing this.”

Guilt: I did something bad. >> This leads to thoughts like “I can fix this. I just need to think about how I can make things better. I’m capable of doing better in the future.”

I gave Christina some worksheets and asked her to practice actively recognizing and responding to her her shame thoughts with self-compassion every time they arose. She said that she entered more than 100 shame-based thoughts and the balancing self-compassionate thoughts in the week between our sessions. With time, this simple self-compassion practice will help Christina believe that she can make changes in her life and improve Olivia’s life.

Week 2: The hard conversation

Olivia and Christina have been gentle with each other since the hospitalization, largely avoiding each other. And they haven’t talked about what happened. Christina was too afraid of making things worse. After a week of self-compassion practice, we prepared some rough guidelines for the conversation that Christina needed to have with Olivia:

  • Recognize how scary it must have been for Olivia.
  • Let her talk openly about her fear and anger.
  • Hold in your mind that no matter what Olivia says it’s coming from fear. She needs her mother to validate her fear and thank her for enduring a scary situation.
  • Don’t interrupt her, shut her down, or defend against her thoughts.
  • Tell her what you are doing to get better. Tell her that you’re working with a coach to get through the next few weeks until you can get into therapy. Reassure her that you are taking care of yourself, and it’s not her job to take care of you.
  • Thank Olivia for her role in calling 911 and during your hospitalization. Tell her how much you appreciate what she did, and that you wish she hadn’t had to do that. Tell her that you hope she never has to do that again and you will do everything in your power to get better.
  • Let Olivia know how sorry you are for the sadness in your lives. Ask her if she wants to talk about the divorce, her dad, or anything else that is weighing on her.
  • Hug Olivia if she will let you. Pay attention to her cues, and try to provide physical comfort if possible. Even just holding her hand or even just touching her finger with your finger will make progress in your bonding.
It’s OK to get help for parenting

I gave Christina a copy of these guidelines. I let her know that it’s OK if Olivia knows that she’s getting help and has to write things down. The more that Christina feels grounded and safe, the greater her chance of connecting with Olivia.

I also asked Christina to do four days of 10-minute guided Loving Kindness meditation. Then, on the day of the conversation, do 20 minutes of Loving Kindness meditation before talking to Olivia. This would reduce Christina’s anxiety and increase her chances of connecting with Olivia.

She told me that the conversation was really hard. There was a lot of crying. But she felt as if she and Olivia connected in a way that they had never done before. “I think that being relaxed and confident, even when I was scared, really helped,” said Christina. “Olivia was all over the place with her emotions, but I stayed steady and I think she really appreciated that. And I feel like clearing the air about my mental breakdown will help us start to talk about the eating disorder.

Week 3:

Christina really wanted to start working on Olivia’s bulimia. Since she didn’t have a lot of experience with bulimia, I explained how it works and the common triggers for its development. For example:

  • It’s not uncommon for someone to go through treatment for one type of eating disorder and then develop a different eating disorder or other maladaptive coping mechanism.
  • Many people who have bulimia have a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Divorce is one of the most common ACEs, and even peaceful divorces can impact highly sensitive children.
  • Bulimia can be a form of self-soothing. While it may sound strange, the person using bulimia often finds it helpful in managing their anxiety.
  • A cornerstone of recovery from bulimia is learning to manage anxiety. This involves developing a toolbox of anxiety responses that become more powerful and preferable to the bulimia.

While I recognized that Christina really wanted Olivia’s bulimia to stop right away, we agreed to focus on building their relationship for now. Olivia recently had a medical check-up and is physically healthy. So while we don’t want the bulimia to continue indefinitely, we want to try and inspire Olivia’s own motivation for recovery rather than forcing her into treatment.

Christina spent the week continuing her self-compassion practice and meditation practice. She found ways to connect with Olivia, and they had several deep conversations. Sometimes Olivia was angry, but Christina went back to the guidelines we created for the difficult conversations and they helped move the conversations forward.

Week 4: Should we tackle the bulimia?

While she was glad we addressed her mental breakdown, Christina felt like she needed to address the eating disorder.Christina was understandably scared that Olivia’s bulimia would get worse. She agreed to give it a few more weeks to get herself into therapy and feeling stronger. After that, with her therapist’s help, she could figure out how to get Olivia treatment for her bulimia.

I told Christina that parents who have anxiety can learn to help their kids who have anxiety. Since anxiety is contagious, it’s important for parents to learn to soothe their own emotional state before engaging with a child who is anxious. I reinforced the importance of self-compassion and meditation to help keep Christina grounded and stable. She had already noticed that her anxiety level was much lower since we began these practices.

What parents can say when a child is stressed

Since bulimia behaviors are frequently triggered by stress, I gave Christina a few phrases and statements to say to Olivia when she is stressed to try and begin the healing process:

  • I can see how upset you are when you return from visiting your dad, and I’m sorry that you have to experience that. I’m here to talk if you would like to.
  • School seems especially stressful for you right now. Would you like me to sit with you while you do your homework tonight? I won’t interfere, but maybe it would be nice to have company?
  • It seems like you feel stressed after spending time with Dawn. Would you like to go for a walk with me to blow off some steam? We don’t have to talk about it at all, but it might make you feel better.

This approach will help Christina acknowledge and validate Olivia’s stress, which is the first step in helping a child who has an eating disorder. It’s important for Olivia to feel as if her mom doesn’t just want to take away her bulimia, but is interested in helping her cope with stress.

The wrap-up

Christina and Olivia had a lot of work to do, both together an individually. But I was glad to participate in a short-term engagement to help them connect with each other and soothe both of their anxiety after the trauma of hospitalization. After a month of therapy, Christina checked in with me and told me that she had kept up the work we did together and that, combined with her own work in therapy, Olivia agreed to go to therapy.

Olivia and Christina are both in therapy to address their anxiety and trauma from a lifetime of unfortunate circumstances. With time and effort, they can both make a full recovery to a life free from anxiety and eating disorders.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder and need some help, please reach out for private coaching.

This story is inspired by true events, but the names, identifying details, and other aspects have been edited for the sake of sharing the story publicly.


Resolve to accept your child’s weight

Weight is a major hot-button issue in our culture, and it can be hard to accept our child’s weight. We have been told that it’s our responsibility to keep our kids healthy, and it is. But the lie is that keeping kids healthy means keeping them thin. Those two things are completely different.

Raising a healthy child has nothing to do with weight. Our health is first and foremost genetic and environmental. We have no control over either. We do, however, have control over health behaviors. These are:

  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Meaningful human connection and belonging
  • Adequate nutrition
  • Exercise and movement

We have been told that we should control our kids’ weight, when in fact trying to do that is often harmful. Are you willing to break the current parenting expectations and bring a kinder, gentler, and more mindful approach to raising your child? Are you ready to help your child avoid, heal from, or reduce the severity of an eating disorder? Great! Here are some resolutions to help you accept your child’s weight.

Resolve to accept your child as they are

First, you must accept your child as they are, without trying to change them. This means accepting that they get anxious when you travel, can talk about game theory for hours, live in a larger body, are terrible at sports, slouch, get knots in their hair, or whatever else they are that you think, as a “good” parent, you should fix.

We don’t need to fix our kids. Instead, let’s accept our kids.

We live in a time full of parenting advice. And yet we really struggle to parent well. Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in child and young adult populations. Suicidality, self-harm, and eating disorders are reaching dramatic new rates. Parents are never to blame, but our kids are most definitely influenced by the environment in which they live, and how we parent our kids matters. This is stressful.

But don’t think “parenting” has to mean following every trend on the Internet. In fact, don’t follow every trend on the Internet! If you do nothing else, learn to accept your child for who they are. Learn to love that they love animals (and you are allergic). Love that they love to read (and you were a star athlete). Learn to love everything about them that makes them unique and separate and special precisely because they differ from you!

P.S. “Acceptance” is not the same as being passive or giving up. Accepting your child as they are is an active and challenging pursuit for most parents! It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Resolve to accept your child’s weight

Unless your child is medically underweight, in which case you need to work with a medical and psychological team to address the dangers of being underweight, don’t worry about your kid’s weight. Strive instead to accept your child’s weight.

Sound scary? I know. We live in a diet-centric culture. The belief is that it is healthier to “watch our weight” and that “childhood obesity” is something for which parents should be held accountable and shamed for. We are told that we must watch what our kids eat and control their intake to prevent weight gain and promote “health,” which in our culture really means low weight.

Almost all of us who have/had eating disorders remember feeling pressure to conform to a certain body type. Even the most loving parents can make mistakes when it comes to body acceptance because we live in a diet culture. It’s not your fault, but it’s time to change. When parents accept a child’s weight, the child is less likely to engage in eating disorder behaviors.

Learn about Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating. Internalize the lessons about fat acceptance and rebel against the narrative that dieting or any lifestyle change with the intention of weight loss is healthy. Intentional weight loss not only leads to regain most of the time, but it also leads to eating disorders and causes serious harm both physically and emotionally.

Resolve to admire your child

When we admire someone, we go beyond acceptance. We note what makes them unique. We think about them fondly. When we speak about them, we do so with excitement and say positive things about them. This isn’t bragging – it’s having admiration for the people whom we love most in this world.

As a culture, we think it’s better to complain about our kids. Even when they are doing well, we are hesitant to be too positive about their performance for fear of either “jinxing” it somehow or making other people jealous. But this is no way to raise a child. You love your kid. Now you just have to practice admiring them.

Tell your child you admire their diligence. That you admire their compassion. Tell your child you admire their determination. When you’re talking about your child to other people, mention the things you admire about them. Don’t fall into the trap of complaining or saying things like, well, she has lots of friends, but I’m not sure why with that attitude – ha ha! No! Say that you admire the relationships she has built!

Resolve to stay close to your child

There comes a point when many teenagers drift away from their parents. As a culture, we think this is normal and healthy. Many of us feel a little ping of pain when this happens, but since the cultural narrative is that teenagers are monsters and drive us crazy, we ignore the ping and allow our children to drift away.

Our children are always our children. At no point do they want to be our friends. They don’t want to be our acquaintances. At no point do they want to be our enemies. Our children (no matter their age) desperately want us to be parents who support them, accept them, know them, and love them unconditionally. If they are behaving as if they don’t want our love and attention, they are showing us that they are in pain and that they need more love and attention from us.

If your children have pulled away from you, don’t assume that’s the way things should be. It may be a sign that they need you to hold them closer. We must always take the high road and stay in the parental role, even when our kids push our buttons or push us away. You can get defensive and let them push you away, or you can get some help and figure out how to give them the love they desperately need.

Resolve to work on yourself

Many of us fall into the trap of pointing fingers at people who confound us, blaming their confounding behavior on something they are doing. This unfortunately happens with our kids, too. We say things like: she’s driving me crazy; I don’t know why he acts like that; she’s always so mean to me; etc.

This puts all the blame for a child’s behavior in their court. But we must always remember that we are in a relationship with our children. No matter how old they are, we are always their parents. This means that there is always room for us to learn something new and become better parents.

Needing to learn something new doesn’t mean you’ve failed – it just means you have more to learn. We all do!

Get some help from a therapist, counselor or coach who can help you learn more about yourself, your own family or origin, and how you think about your children. Remember that we are not meant to fix our kids, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a tremendous and positive impact on their lives by working on ourselves and our own behavior!

Resolve to stop dieting and trying to control your own body

If you have spent years of your life trying to achieve a certain body weight, even if the supposed reason is “health,” then it’s time to stop. Intentional weight loss is unhealthy. It puts tremendous stress on the body, and results in regain plus additional weight 95% of the time. It also sets a dangerous precedent for your children. Watching a parent diet instills diet culture in a child, making them more likely to diet, which makes them more likely (25%) to develop an eating disorder.

One of the most important things you can do for your child’s health is to stop dieting. Stop trying to control your weight. And stop hating your body. Try to find peace with your body. I know this is not easy in our culture, but it’s possible and so helpful for our kids’ health!

If you have a similar situation and need some help, please reach out for private coaching.


Why did my daughter lie about her bulimia?

In this story we meet Carol, who says her daughter seems compelled to lie about her bulimia. Carol knows that Jessie is purging frequently, but every time she brings it up, Jessie becomes aggressive, denies it or just ignores her mother.

Carol doesn’t know what to do. She’s scared that Jessie will permanently damage her body. But she doesn’t know how to have a conversation that Jessie seems unwilling to enter.

She called me to ask how she can address this problem. Although Jessie lives with Carol, she is a young adult. And Carol can’t compel her to seek medical or mental healthcare. Carol feels completely stuck.

The background

Carol and her husband Mike struggled with infertility for years before adopting a son. Almost as soon as they brought him home, they found out that Carol was pregnant with Jessie. It was a thrilling surprise, and they felt incredibly lucky. The children are just 10 months apart, and Carol and Mike were excited to have a family that previously felt out of reach.

But by the time he was two years old, they noticed that their son was developmentally different. He was diagnosed with autism, and the parents began a lengthy and intensive process of accepting and managing his diagnosis.

Carol recognizes that from the start they treated the children differently. “He needed so much more attention than Jessie,” she says. “It was just natural that we focused most of our time and attention on him.” He also had fits of rage, which Carol felt helpless to manage on her own. “I know that Jessie suffered as a result of his behavior and my inability to care for her,” she says.

While the parents tried to manage their son’s condition, Jessie existed as best she could. She dressed and fed herself from an early age, and got good grades. Jessie was well-behaved and easy to parent. “I just thought I got really lucky with her,” says Carol. “And frankly, I didn’t have the energy to put very much into parenting Jessie. I feel so bad about that now.”

The breakdown

Carol thought things were going pretty well until Jessie hit 10th grade. She abruptly changed friend groups. Rather than hanging out with the girls she had known since Kindergarten who were all focused on grades, she made friends with kids who smoked, had piercings, and rejected mainstream culture.

Jessie changed the way she dressed and behaved. She started ignoring and talking back to her parents. She refused to be in the same room as her brother, and blamed him for “sucking the life out of the family.” Carol started finding signs of smoking and drinking. Jessie’s grades dropped. And then Carol started finding evidence of vomiting.

“I didn’t know what to do or say to her,” says Carol. “I was so disturbed. And it hit me like a freight train that we had been ignoring Jessie all this time. I thought we were close, but really I had taken her for granted.” When Carol tried to talk about the things she was seeing, Jessie screamed, cried, or ignored her. They got nowhere.

Jessie went to college and had just begun to work at her first job when COVID-19 shut down the U.S. economy. Instead of beginning the life she had planned for herself, she moved home to live with her parents again.

Living in her old room, using her old bathroom, it quickly became apparent that she was still purging.

The confrontation

“It’s just that I clean that bathroom!” says Carol. “It’s impossible for me not to notice what she’s doing in there.” Carol tried to talk to Jessie, but it didn’t go anywhere.

The conversation went something like this:

Carol: Jessie, I know that you’re purging. I need you to talk to me about it.

Jessie: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

Carol: (crying) I do know. I can tell. I clean that bathroom!

Jessie: I have no idea what you’re saying. (closes the door)

Carol: (screaming) We have to talk about this! I can’t have you living in my home doing this!

Jessie refused to respond. Carol felt shut out, literally and figuratively. And she felt a little embarrassed about how she acted. “I didn’t mean to say she couldn’t live here, I mean, after all, my son lives here. I guess I just got so angry and didn’t know what to do.”

Parent coaching for a daughter who is compelled to lie about bulimia

Together we talked about how the family situation might have impacted Jessie’s mental health. I helped Carol understand the causes of bulimia and we discussed the challenges of overcoming an eating disorder.

I shared with her that many people who have bulimia lie about their eating disorder, and it can be hard to have a daughter who isn’t being honest.

We also talked about how the home situation might have been experienced as trauma for Jessie. While most of us think of trauma as a major, singular event, it can also be traumatic to live in stressful conditions. Having a brother with developmental disabilities was likely stressful for Jessie on many levels. And Carol and Mike didn’t have the knowledge or energy to give Jessie the care she needed in the midst of the daily household chaos.

What we worked on

This family had two stages of recovery:

1. The family system

In this family, we had to recognize that while Carol called me about Jessie’s bulimia, the foundational issue was within the family system.

  • Carol first needed some help with her own mental health. She had been focused almost entirely on her children for over two decades. She was exhausted and depleted, which made her less effective. We came up with some steps she could take to care for her own needs.
  • Carol found a job coach for her son and began exploring supported living programs that would give him a positive environment and a more independent lifestyle.
  • We established family chores for the first time ever. Carol had always kept a spotless, efficient home with almost no help from others. Now the three other family members were given chores and responsibilities.
  • Carol agreed to carve out one hour per day dedicated entirely to her own peace and serenity, and a 2-3 hour date once per week with Mike. During their date, they agreed to focus on each other and their marriage rather than talk about the children. In the future, she hopes to intentionally balance her time between herself, her marriage, and each of her kids.

2. Jessie’s issues

Once we addressed some functional issues, we focused on Jessie’s issues in particular.

  • Carol felt guilty about how Jessie was raised, but she hadn’t directly addressed the issue. Jessie needed her parents to address how it felt growing up in their family. We prepared some scripts to help Carol explore and address her daughter’s pain.
  • Once Carol began talking about Jessie’s childhood with her, Jessie broke down and admitted how hard it had been. Carol found a therapist who had experience working with children who had siblings with serious challenges, and Jessie agreed to go to therapy.
  • Carol attended several family therapy sessions with Jessie and Mike. It was hard, but Jessie seemed to appreciate the experience of being the center of their attention.
  • Carol focused her energy on Jessie’s sense of security and worthiness. Carol recognized that her daughter felt compelled to lie about her bulimia in part because of a lack of security and trust.
  • Jessie began working remotely in her chosen career, and immediately felt more independent and secure as a result.
  • After a while, Jessie decided to pursue recovery from bulimia without any pressure from her parents. As their relationship improved, she stopped lying as much and began relying on her parents for care and security.

This is a complex case that is still in progress. The most important step was recognizing the weaknesses within the family structure and creating a more stable environment for both Carol and Jessie. A stable family structure can make a significant impact on eating disorder recovery.

Why did Carol’s daughter lie about her bulimia?

When a child lies, it is useful to consider why they feel they need to lie. Who and what are they protecting? Parents often assume the lie protects the child, but lies are often to protect the parent from a truth the child thinks their parent is unable to tolerate. Jessie lied in part because she didn’t want to burden her already overworked mom. She had pain, but she didn’t feel she could get support from her parents. Bulimia became her coping method. When her mother talked to Jessie about her pain, their relationship began to heal. Jessie won’t feel compelled to lie to her mom as much once she can trust that her mom can tolerate her pain.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder and need some help, please reach out for private coaching.

This story is inspired by true events, but the names, identifying details, and other aspects have been edited for the sake of sharing the story publicly.


Parent coaching: daughter gaining weight

In this story, we look at parent coaching for Gina, whose 8-year-old daughter is gaining weight. Her daughter Becca’s pediatrician raised alarms about her weight at a recent appointment.

Gina knows that she has a lot of fear about her daughter’s weight. But she also knows that her own body image and eating issues could create a much larger problem than the weight itself.

Gina doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know how to be a great mom and protect her daughter from two potential threats: gaining weight and developing body image issues or even an eating disorder. Gina needs help.

The background

Gina begins by telling me she has had food issues her whole life. Her mother was very large, and Gina spent much of her childhood convinced that her mom was going to die as a result. “It was a time when every news segment seemed to say something about how terrible weight is,” said Gina. “I tried to control my mom’s eating because I was so scared she would leave us.”

This fear shaped Gina, and she has always controlled her own food intake. “I know that at the very least I have disordered eating,” she said. “And I probably have an eating disorder, but there have just always been more important things to deal with.”

When she gave birth to Becca, she vowed to do better for her child. “My mom wasn’t great,” she said. “I can’t do that to my daughter.”

The doctor’s visit

Gina took Becca for an annual checkup. The pediatrician told her that Becca had gained too much weight in the past 12 months. He was concerned about the leap in Becca’s weight chart.

“All I could think of was that my baby would grow up to look like my mom,” said Gina. “It terrified me. But I was also pissed that the pediatrician talked about weight like it was a bad thing in front of Becca. It’s like I know that he’s not supposed to say stuff like that, but I’m worried about Becca’s weight, too.”

The situation at home

Things haven’t been great at home for Gina. She and her husband are in couples therapy. They are trying to make their marriage better and stay together for the sake of their kids.

Family meals almost never happen. “We’re just so busy, so we often feed our kids before we feed ourselves,” said Gina. As a result, the kids are eating a lot of chicken nuggets and mac and cheese. And the parents are often grabbing the kids’ leftovers and eating crackers and cheese or chips and salsa for dinner.

“We give them a lot of fruit and veggies, and they love them, but I know that their meals could be a lot healthier,” said Gina. “I just don’t know if I have the energy.”

But since the doctor’s visit, Gina can see that she is more aware of Becca’s plate and weight. “I’m afraid that my daughter is gaining weight,” she said. “And I don’t want to do it, but I’ve been trying to restrict her food ever since. I’m counting calories for her, and I know that’s not right.”

Mom, I know I’m fat

Two weeks after the doctor’s visit, Becca complained of a headache. Rather than using the weight they got at the doctor’s office, Gina saw an opportunity to check in and see if Becca has lost any weight since the appointment.

“It’s like I knew that I shouldn’t weigh my daughter in that moment,” said Gina. “I didn’t want to make her feel ashamed of her body. But I did it, anyway. I told her I need to know her weight for the Tylenol dosage.”

Becca had lost no weight. She looked at the scale, then up at her mother. “I know I’m fat, mommy,” said Becca.

“And that was it,” said Gina. “That’s when I knew I needed help. I know I’m going to mess this up, and I just don’t want to. I want to do better.”

“I don’t know what to do or how to do it,” said Gina. “But I don’t want her to lose that sparkle in her eye. I don’t want her to suffer from her weight for life. And I don’t want to live in fear of my daughter gaining weight.”

Parent coaching for a daughter gaining weight

Together we explored Gina’s history with food, eating, and weight. I helped her have more compassion for herself and see that many times she is framing issues as black and white when in fact they are multifaceted. There is often no single “right” or “wrong” answer, especially when it comes to food and weight.

Gina agreed to work with a therapist on her own food issues since they are deeply rooted in her childhood experience. As she worked with the therapist and healed her own relationship with her body, we made some adjustments to how she sees her daughter’s food and weight.

Meanwhile, we worked on practical strategies for improving the food environment in the home and addressing both parents’ fears about weight. It’s hard to overcome weight bias, but parents who do so have healthier kids for life.

We agreed that Becca’s weight needs to be a non-issue. After some discussion, Gina got rid of the household scale. Her therapist and I agreed that it could serve no positive purpose.

What we worked on

  • Gina needed to heal her own relationship with food and her body. She had a lot of trauma in her history that was making it hard for her to be a good parent about food and body issues. As she healed herself, she could parent Becca from a more loving, compassionate position.
  • Girls need to gain weight to undergo puberty, and Becca was in the early stages of puberty. The pediatrician’s counsel was harmful and unnecessary. Pediatricians should actually rarely mention weight, especially in front of children. Medical weight interventions are almost always harmful.
  • Even if Becca’s weight gain was not because of puberty, we can still consider it “normal” for Becca’s body. Weight is up to 80% genetic, and Becca may naturally have a larger body. Gina learned that she should not try to control or reduce Becca’s weight, since parents who do this have kids who are less healthy and weigh more than parents who don’t.
  • Becca had a fairly sedentary lifestyle, and she was eating food throughout the day without planning or supervision. We worked to establish a feeding schedule that Becca could count on. Gina and her husband were responsible for when food was available and what food was available, but Becca was responsible for how much she ate. We also established “Family Fun Days” that involved the entire family doing something active together. Becca became more active and ate better. These improvements in lifestyle had nothing to do with weight, and they made a huge impact on her mental and physical health.
  • While Gina and her husband can’t always make family dinner work, we set a schedule for at least four family meals per week. I introduced Gina to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Labor, which was helpful for Gina when planning family meals.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder and need some help, please reach out for private coaching.

This story is inspired by true events, but the names, identifying details, and other aspects have been edited for the sake of sharing the story publicly.


Parent Coaching for Body Image

If your child has poor body image, then parent coaching is a great solution.

Almost all of our kids have poor body image. This isn’t because we’re bad parents – it’s mainly a function of our society. But yes, you as a parent can help your child improve their body image. You can even help them avoid a major body image crisis. Body hate can lead to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

When your child has poor body image you may feel helpless. It can seem as if there is no hope. This is mainly because most parents try to address poor body image by assuring their child that they are beautiful. This keeps the focus on the child’s body.

Unfortunately, this natural and instinctive approach backfires. Our kids simply don’t believe us when we tell them they are beautiful. A superficial, body-based response to poor body image misses the fact that poor body image is emotional and psychological, not physical.

It’s also a fact that almost all of us parents have our own body image issues and internalized weight stigma. Our beliefs about weight, health, and bodies can impact our kids’ ability to feel good about theirs.

Exercise: Take a minute to explore whether you are a Body Positive Parent.

Lots of beautiful people have poor body image

There are millions of people whose bodies are perfectly fine but who deeply believe there is something wrong with them. They spend hours each day trying to achieve perfection. These hours are wasted, because perfection is an illusion.

Poor body image is not about a person’s objective attractiveness, thinness, or beauty. It’s about how the person feels about who they are as a person and how the world perceives them.

This is the shift that parents need to make to help their children develop healthy body image.

Raising a child who has positive body image is harder than it needs to be. This is due to the fact that we have a $70B diet industry dedicated to promoting unhealthy behaviors and unattainable beauty ideals. Parents who raise body-positive kids must actively counteract the powerful societal messages that tell us our bodies are never good enough.

Coaching can help

Parent coaching for poor body image is a way for you to learn about what body image really is. And what it’s not. We can explore your underlying beliefs about bodies and attractiveness. You’ll learn what your child actually needs from you right now to be healthy for life.

You can share your fears – if you have any – about your child’s weight. We’ll review weight science and and work on any weight stigma you have. We’ll also come up with practical solutions and scripts to help you navigate body image with your child.

Parent coaching is a solution-oriented approach to helping your child have a positive body image. With coaching you will have access to:

  Information: Find out what it means to have positive body image and how you can help your child have a better body image.

  Understanding: Learn about weight science and the societal forces that have created a culture of body hate.

  Scripts: Get some help learning how to talk to your child about their body – and how not to talk to your child about their body.

 Techniques: Learn about the science-backed approaches of Health at Every Size® and Intuitive Eating

 Recommendations: Get recommendations to articles, books, and resources that are available to help you build up your child’s body image.

Parent coaching can make an immediate impact on your ability to support your child’s body image. This goes beyond “Body Positivity” and gets to the heart of how our children feel about who they are. Most parents get what they need in 1-5 sessions. Of course we can continue working together beyond that if you prefer ongoing support. Or I can just stay “on call” and be available for you as needed.

Our cruel society

Our society is cruel to bodies. Even when parents feel good about their own bodies and their kids’ bodies, our kids are surrounded by body shaming. It’s actually more normal to have poor body image than it is to feel good about your body!

Poor body image often begins early. Some Kindergarteners are already willing to trade playtime and beloved toys in exchange for being thin. It’s a sad state of affairs, but luckily parents can help.

If you’re seeing signs that your child is developing poor body image, don’t worry! We can start working on that right now! What you say and how you behave can make a huge impact on your child’s body image.

But what about health?

Most parents agree they want kids to have healthy body image. But lots of parents are afraid of the health implications. There is a lot of noise about the fact that being in a larger body is unhealthy.

But did you know that the science behind that is actually very thin? In fact, there is very little to show that higher weight is directly linked to poor health. While health behaviors (enough sleep, human connection, movement and nutrition) are modifiable, weight is often not something we can change.

Weight science is a lot more complicated than we think it is, but one thing is definitely true: kids who have parents who worry about their weight are less healthy and larger than kids whose parents don’t do this. In other words, weight isn’t the worst thing for your child, but even more important, if you actually want a smaller child, then don’t talk about weight like it’s a bad thing.

It’s complicated. That’s why coaching is so helpful. Parents want to do the right thing, and I can help you sort through your beliefs and feelings about weight so that you can do what is actually healthy for your kid.

I assure you that a weight-neutral approach is more healthy for your child. But that doesn’t mean you should force-feed donuts and potato chips.

Having a positive body image does not mean you don’t care for your body, it just means that you care for it from a place of empowerment rather than punishment.

Ginny Jones is a Parent Coach who helps parents handle kids’ food & body issues. Learn more


Feel your feelings to help your child recover from an eating disorder

Sometimes when something goes wrong with our kids, we think that we need to clamp down our feelings and just get stuff done. And that might be necessary sometimes. But a big part of eating disorder recovery is learning to feel feelings. Your child is going to learn to process their feelings, and it will help if you learn, too.

ACTIVITY: Take a minute to think about how you feel about your child’s eating disorder. We often forget that there are many words we can use to describe how we feel. Most of us get stuck on the easy ones like “sad” or “mad.” But it helps to define the broad range of feelings you’re having. Take a minute to select which of the following negative feelings you’re having about your child’s behavior in this survey.

Print out your answers so that you can refer back to your feelings and process them!

Feelings Wheel

You can use the Feelings Wheel to increase your emotional literacy. The more words we can use to describe our feelings, the better able we are to process them. Consider printing this wheel out and posting it somewhere like on your refrigerator so that everyone in your family sees them. The more you can correctly name your feelings, the more likely you are to actually feel them as they arise.

Name and feel your feelings

Most of us were raised to repress our feelings, but it turns out that there are some serious ramifications for suppressing feelings. It’s much better to name them and feel them. While it may feel overwhelming at first, the more you process your feelings in real-time, the less terrifying they are.

Articles about emotional literacy

I write about feeling feelings and building emotional literacy a lot on Check out some articles that might be interesting for you:

Emotional repression, the gateway to eating disorders

Emotional repression can be considered the gateway to eating disorders. Parents who are interested in preventing and healing eating disorders can help their kids feel their feelings. Read more

10 self-care tips if you’re struggling to deal with your kid’s eating disorder today

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you are likely seriously overwhelmed and stressed out. The best way to deal with this is to accept that having a child who has an eating disorder is really, really hard. Read more

How to handle yelling, crying and arguments during your child’s eating disorder recovery

Many parents who have children who have eating disorders are surprised to discover that their child’s disorder is about emotions, not food. The underlying issue that needs to be addressed is their emotional wellbeing. Read more

Ginny Jones is a Parent Coach who helps parents handle kids’ food & body issues. Learn more


Parent Coaching for Eating Disorders

If your child has an eating disorder, then parent coaching can help you navigate their recovery.

There’s no way to avoid the fact that eating disorders are hard on families. They’re hard on the person who has them, and they’re hard on siblings and extended family. But let’s not forget that eating disorders are really hard on parents.

An eating disorder can make parents feel as if they have failed (they haven’t), and as if the future is bleak and hopeless (it’s not). You might feel angry, sad, irritated, furious, and hopeless. You may feel betrayed, persecuted, or manipulated. Whatever you feel right now, it’s normal. And it can get better.

Exercise: Take a minute to write down your feelings about your child’s eating disorder.

If your child has an eating disorder, you’re in a tough spot. On the one hand, your child’s behavior is terrifying and you desperately want it to stop. On the other hand, getting into power struggles over food can hurt your child’s eating disorder recovery.

So what can parents do if they have a child who has an eating disorder? Lots of things! But most of them are not intuitive or natural. It’s time to learn some new skills and try some new approaches to parenting.

Coaching can help

This is why coaching can be so helpful. While a therapist will dig deep into your child’s history and the meaning behind their eating disorder, you are on the front line with your child every day. You need some immediate coaching to help you make decisions that can positively (or negatively) impact your child’s recovery.

It sounds daunting, but don’t worry! You can totally do this! Parent coaching for parents who have kids with eating disorders is structured so that you have a safe space to share your greatest fears and get some practical tips and scripts for handling the challenges of recovery.

Parent coaching is a solution-oriented approach to eating disorder recovery. With coaching you will have access to:

Information: Get answers to your questions about eating disorders. What are they? Why do they happen? How long will it take to recover?

Understanding: Decode your child’s behavior and learn how to interact with them in a way that minimizes stress and optimizes your home for recovery.

Conflict Resolution: Learn how to resolve conflict with your child over eating and other struggles.

Responses: Get ideas and scripts for how you can talk to your child about food, weight, and eating disorders.

Techniques: Learn about the science-backed eating disorder treatment approaches Health at Every Size® and Intuitive Eating

Recommendations: Find the books, articles, and resources that are available to help you navigate recovery with your child.

Parent coaching can make an immediate impact on your ability to parent your child through eating disorder recovery. Most parents get what they need in 1-5 sessions. Of course we can continue working together beyond that if you prefer ongoing support, or I can just stay “on call” and be available for you as needed.

Parent coaching can help your child recover

A lot of parents assume that if their child has an eating disorder, then it’s the child who needs treatment. And it’s definitely true that your child should be treated by qualified eating disorder specialists.

But if you ask any eating disorder specialist, they will tell you that treatment is most effective when the whole family, and especially the parents, get involved.

This is because eating disorders are biopsychosocial disorders. This breaks down to three components:

Bio (biological) There are biological components of eating disorders that may be addressed with medication.

Psycho (psychological) Eating disorders are psychological disturbances and are often treated with psychotherapy, counseling, and coaching.

Social: the social environment, beginning with the family, often shapes eating disorder development and recovery.

The third element, social, is where parents can impact recovery.

There was a time when parents were blamed completely for eating disorders. In fact, many parents were told to just “stay out of” eating disorder treatment. Parents recall horror stories of being told they had “done enough” already and should just stay away.

We now know that this approach is rarely effective. In fact, it’s best if parents are involved in treatment and recovery. The key, however, is to learn how to be involved appropriately.

Appropriate involvement in eating disorder recovery

Most parents spend more time with their child during recovery than the child’s treatment team. So it makes sense that when parents know how to help it makes a huge impact.

But how does a parent know what is appropriate? There are so many moving parts to eating disorder recovery. You want your child to stop having an eating disorder, but what can you do?

For example, parents are involved in feeding and eating with the child. Should they talk about food? Insist on a clean plate? Cater to rigid dietary restrictions? Then there’s body talk. How can parents talk to kids about bodies without triggering them? This can be tricky, and it helps to become educated about your child’s unique needs as well as eating disorders in general.

There is no single path to recovery, and there’s no single rule book for eating disorder recovery. But there is a lot that parents can learn about eating disorders and parenting to help. And that’s what parent coaching for eating disorder recovery is all about.

Ginny Jones is a Parent Coach who helps parents handle kids’ food & body issues. Learn more


Parent coaching: an adult child with anorexia

In this story we take a look at parent coaching for an adult child who has anorexia. We meet Lee, mom to Olivia, who was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at age 13. Lee can’t sleep, and refuses to speak with Olivia until she gets treatment for her eating disorder. But Olivia is 26 years old, and cannot be forced into treatment. Their relationship is suffering, and this dynamic is making things worse, not better. Lee needs help.

The background story

Lee’s daughter Olivia was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at age 13. Lee and her husband sought treatment as soon as they could, and Olivia was hospitalized and then underwent inpatient treatment. The entire family sighed in relief when Olivia returned home, supposedly cured of her eating disorder.

But it wasn’t that simple. Olivia still struggled to eat and hid her low weight from her parents by wearing baggy clothing and avoiding them. “We just hoped things would get better,” Lee said. 

Olivia left for college and seemed underweight. Her family was concerned, but she refused treatment. After college, Olivia left the U.S. for China, where she got a job and seemed to appreciate being far away from her concerned parents. 

Parenting a young adult in eating disorder recovery

Today Olivia is 26 years old and has returned home from China. She seems very thin, and Lee is deeply concerned about her daughter’s health. “I worry every minute of every day,” she says. “I just need her to get over this, realize how beautiful she is, and move on with her life.” 

Olivia insists that the problem is that she has digestive problems. She completely refuses that her eating disorder is problematic or even exists. But many visits with gastrointestinal specialists have cleared her of any medical diagnosis. Lee feels like she is watching her daughter waste away, and she feels powerless to help her.

“Mom, why do you treat me like I’m a problem?” says Olivia. “You never appreciate who I am. I’m successful, I’m smart, but all you can do is obsess about my weight and eating.” 

Olivia says that the eating disorder treatment center was a traumatic experience for her as a person of color and absolutely refuses to enter another treatment center. Parents who have adult children with anorexia can’t insist upon treatment and can rarely get their children to eat through force. The only path forward is to build a relationship of trust and support into which the adult child may seek recovery on their own. 

So while Lee can continue to worry and complain about Olivia’s weight and eating, she is only driving her daughter further away from her. Thus, Lee’s task as a parent – the only thing she can do to help her daughter get healthy – is to repair their relationship. 

The parent-child relationship

So I asked for some more information about Lee and Olivia’s relationship. As with many mother-daughter relationships, there’s a long history of Mom seeking a relationship and feeling rejected. When Olivia was hospitalized, Lee was terrified that she would die. Her father and brother both died when Lee was young, and she has residual trauma about those events.

She became obsessed with watching Olivia constantly for signs of the eating disorder. She prepared elaborate meals and watched Olivia eat anxiously. 

All of this makes perfect sense, but the trouble is that Olivia felt resentful and resistant to her mother’s pressure. She pulled away. The more she pulled away, the more insistent Lee became. When we started talking, Lee had decided that she would not speak with Olivia until she enrolled herself in inpatient treatment for her eating disorder. Since Olivia refused, they had not spoken in weeks. Lee was beside herself. 

“You try to control my life too much,” says Olivia. “You are trying to push me into a treatment center, but you are not understanding me.”

Lee can’t sleep. She went to the doctor because the stress is becoming too much for her. She can’t do anything but think about Olivia’s weight. “I can’t be nice to her,” Lee says. “If I do that, she’ll think I approve of the eating disorder.” 

Parent coaching for an adult child who has anorexia

Together we explored the mother-child relationship and I helped Lee understand more about anorexia, parenting, and separating what she can do from what she cannot control. Importantly, Lee can build her relationship with Olivia, but she cannot control her weight or eating. 

Once this was clear, we came up with strategies for improving the parent-child relationship. Lee began reaching out to Olivia without focusing on her weight and eating habits. We practiced releasing her fear before and during encounters with Olivia. 

Olivia had desperately missed her mother. While she was reticent at first, she gradually accepted her mother’s love and care when it came without strings. Coaching helped Lee and Olivia build a loving, supportive relationship. It is within relationships like these that children heal from eating disorders.

What we worked on in parent coaching for an adult child who has anorexia:

  • There are many paths to eating disorder recovery. People can recover outside of eating disorder treatment centers.
  • Lee’s insistence that Olivia enter a treatment center was interfering with their relationship and was not improving Olivia’s condition.
  • Olivia was resisting recovery, in part because of the power struggle that had emerged with Lee. As long as Lee insisted on the power struggle, Olivia would remain stuck.
  • Lee cannot control Olivia’s weight and eating, but she can improve their mother-child relationship. By focusing on what she can do, Lee made strides towards reconnecting with her daughter.
  • We cannot compel adult children into eating disorder recovery. But parents can make a tremendous impact by building a safe, loving family relationship for children at any age. This relationship may become the platform upon which recovery occurs.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder and need some help, please reach out for private coaching.

This story is inspired by true events, but the names, identifying details, and other aspects have been edited for the sake of sharing the story publicly.