Dealing with eating disorders in the home

As a parent, there are many things you can do to support your child’s eating disorder recovery—even if they are still resisting treatment.

Set a positive example. You have more influence than you think. Instead of dieting, eat nutritious, balanced meals. Be mindful about how you talk about your body and your eating. Avoid self-critical remarks or negative comments about others’ appearance. Instead, focus on the qualities on the inside that really make a person attractive.

Make mealtimes fun. Try to eat together as a family as often as possible. Even if your child isn’t willing to eat the food you’ve prepared, encourage them to join you at the table. Use this time together to enjoy each other’s company, rather than talking about problems. Meals are also a good opportunity to show your child that food is something to be enjoyed rather than feared.

Avoid power struggles over food. Attempts to force your child to eat will only cause conflict and bad feelings and likely lead to more secrecy and lying. That doesn’t mean you can’t set limits or hold your child accountable for their behavior. But don’t act like the food police, constantly monitoring your child’s behavior.

Encourage eating with natural consequences. While you can’t force healthy eating behaviors, you can encourage them by making the natural consequences of not eating unappealing. For example, if your child won’t eat, they can’t go to dance class or drive the car because, in their weakened state, it wouldn’t be safe. Emphasize that this isn’t a punishment, but simply a natural medical consequence.

Do whatever you can to promote self-esteem. in your child in intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to disordered eating.

Don’t blame yourself. Parents often feel they must take on responsibility for the eating disorder, which is something they truly have no control over. Once you can accept that the eating disorder is not anyone’s fault, you can be freed to take action that is honest and not clouded by what you “should” or “could” have done.

Supporting a loved one’s recovery

Recovering from an eating disorder takes time. There are no quick fixes or miracle cures, so it’s important to have patience and compassion. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on your loved one by setting unrealistic goals or demanding progress on your own timetable. Provide hope and encouragement, praise each small step forward, and stay positive through struggles and setbacks.

Learn about eating disorders. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one, avoid pitfalls, and cope with challenges.

Listen without judgment. Show that you care by asking about your loved one’s feelings and concerns—and then truly listening. Resist the urge to advise or criticize. Simply let your friend or family member know that they’re being heard. Even if you don’t understand what they’re going through, it’s important to validate your loved one’s feelings.

Be mindful of triggers. Avoid discussions about food, weight, eating or making negative statements about your own body. But don’t be afraid to eat normally in front of someone with an eating disorder. It can help set an example of a healthy relationship with food.

Take care of yourself. Don’t become so preoccupied with your loved one’s eating disorder that you neglect your own needs. Make sure you have your own support, so you can provide it in turn. Whether that support comes from a trusted friend, a support group, or your own therapist, it’s important to have an outlet to talk about your feelings and emotionally recharge. It’s also important to schedule time into your day for relaxing and doing things you enjoy.