Parent support for eating disorders

Parent support for eating disorders

Getting parent support when kids have eating disorders can make all the difference in treatment and recovery. Parents are not the cause of eating disorders, and yet the way they approach treatment and recovery can make all the difference in whether their child accepts and ultimately embraces recovery.

What causes eating disorders?

The first (very important!) thing to say about eating disorders is that families don’t cause eating disorders. They are complex disorders that arise based on a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. 

Biological: People who have certain genetic markers are more likely to develop eating disorders and other mental disorders. They are also more common in people who are neurodivergent. 

Psychological: Certain psychologies, including people who tend towards anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, are more likely to have eating disorders. They are also more common in those who experience childhood trauma.

Social: We live in a body-toxic culture that promotes eating disorder behavior. This means that our kids are surrounded by pro-eating-disorder messages from birth. They are also more common in those who are weight-conscious.

What does the family have to do with the eating disorder?

While they don’t cause eating disorders, families can and do influence eating disorder treatment and recovery. A family that is engaged in learning about eating disorders and supporting a person through recovery can make recovery more successful.

On the other hand, a family that outsources all care and makes no changes at home can accidentally impede recovery and may even accommodate eating disorder behaviors, making them stickier. 

Should the family be involved in treatment for an eating disorder?

Families, particularly parents, should be actively engaged in treatment for a child’s eating disorder. Eating disorders are heavily influenced by social groups, and families are an essential social group. Families that learn about eating disorders and find ways to support a child in recovery without accommodating eating disorder behaviors can boost the results of any other treatment. 

Your appropriate involvement in eating disorder treatment will improve outcomes. It is virtually impossible for a child to recover from an eating disorder if they are still living in the exact same home environment in which the eating disorder developed.

What to do if your child tells you they have an eating disorder

First of all, do not “wait and see.” Eating disorders of all types (even if you don’t think your child is “underweight”) are serious and require active treatment. Just like cancer or any other health risk, you need to be very assertive in seeking excellent care for your child. Unlike cancer, treatment for eating disorders is spotty and will require you to do a lot of research. There is a desperate lack of trained professionals for eating disorders. This is very unfortunate, but true. You’ll want at least four people on your team: 

1. Doctor

Schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor, letting them know that your child has an eating disorder. It is extremely rare for doctors to receive training in eating disorders. Unfortunately, they can cause harm with well-meaning but inappropriate comments. Give your child’s pediatrician a heads-up that you’re coming in to assess your child’s eating disorder and share this resource with them: Eating Disorders: Critical Points for Early Recognition and Medical Risk Management in the Care of Individuals with Eating Disorders

2. Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian

Check to see if your insurance will cover a certified eating disorder registered dietitian (CED-RD). In many cases, an RD is critical to the recovery process because they can support your child in getting their dietary needs met during recovery. If your child is not willing to see the RD, make an appointment for yourself so you can learn how to feed your child in recovery. Directory of providers.

3. Eating Disorder Therapist

Find a therapist who specializes in eating disorder treatment. This is an advanced specialty. A therapist who lists “eating disorders” in their bio may not have actual training in eating disorder treatment. Unfortunately, therapists can do more harm than good, so this is important. Ask questions, including what is their specific training in eating disorder treatment, how many clients have they treated with eating disorders, and are they under supervision for eating disorder treatment. Directory of providers.

4. Parent Coach

You will have a lot of questions, and your child’s treatment team will be focusing on their care, not yours. You can supercharge your child’s recovery by getting specific feedback and advice about the changes you can make at home to support recovery. Your child is less likely to make progress if you don’t make essential changes at home. It’s not because this is your fault, but it is your responsibility, as it would be with any other illness, to learn new things and make necessary adjustments for your child’s illness. Information about parent coaching.

Getting parenting support for when your child has an eating disorder

There are many things you’ll need to learn quickly when your child has an eating disorder. First, our culture is horrible when it comes to bodies and food. Parents who have kids with eating disorders need to learn to talk about bodies and food in non-stigmatizing and non-harmful ways. 

Next, people with eating disorders generally don’t want to stop using their eating disorder behaviors. Parents need to learn what is helpful – and what is not helpful – when it comes to balancing their kids’ autonomy with having boundaries around eating disorder behaviors. It is very easy to accidentally accommodate eating disorders, which unfortunately impedes recovery. 

Finally, you’ll need to support your child in learning emotional regulation skills, particularly when it comes to their big feelings of anxiety around food, eating, and body image. Parents are the single best source of emotional regulation for kids, but it can take time and effort to learn how to teach a child to become self-regulating. 

Free Cheat Sheet: Parenting A Child With An Eating Disorder

Get this free cheat sheet to help you parent your child with an eating disorder. It includes: 

  • Get ready for recovery and find out how you can prepare yourself for maximum success.
  • Find out the essential steps and family rules you need to have in place for recovery. 
  • Make your home recovery-ready with six simple steps that anyone can do.

Parent support for eating disorders

Getting parent support can help you be more effective in parenting kids with eating disorders. Parents who get support, training, and skills are more effective and less burned out. Drop me a note if you’re interested in learning more:

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Published by Ginny Jones

My mission is to help reduce body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

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