Eating disorders like orthorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or anorexia are complex mental illnesses that often require intense professional intervention.
As a parent, you want to treat her illness, but many times you do not want to treat her as if she is ill. One of the most common ways of treating eating disorders today is externalizing “ED” and maintaining the sweetness of your child as separate from his or her disordered behavior.
Strengths-based leadership is commonly used in organizations to optimize performance, but it can also be applied to parenting a child with an eating disorder. If you are able to focus on her strengths, rather than weaknesses, you can help her continue to develop her innate talents even as she recovers from her eating disorder.
Gallup’s 40-year-study of human strengths, which was converted into a test and book called StrengthsFinder 2.0, involved surveying millions of people around the world to identify 34 common strengths. When you take the test (which comes with the book), you learn your five greatest strengths.
StrengthsFinder was created to counteract a cultural tragedy: we focus most of our efforts on overcoming our deficits, rather than building our strengths. By focusing on deficits (and illnesses) instead of strengths, we can end up with chronically low motivation and engagement.
Focusing on deficits means focusing on being thinner, prettier, smarter, better at math, better at reading, or whatever we consider to be our greatest weakness, rather than focusing on our inborn strengths and talents, which will lead us to our greatest potential for success and happiness.
The cultural concept of “you can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough,” is not only wrong, it’s downright harmful if you have a child who decides that she or he wants to try harder at achieving a different body.
“In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention.” say Don Clifton, the author. But the “key to human development is building on who you already are,” not who you want to be or think you should be.
A strengths-based approach will empower your child to be the best person she can be, not push her towards trying to be (or look like) someone else. It improves confidence, direction, hope and kindness towards others (and herself).
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Ginny is also a Parent Coach who helps parents handle their kids’ food and body issues.
Check out the book to have your kids take the StrengthsFinder test. For most people, strengths remain stable, so kids and teens can typically get valuable results.