My main advice to any parent who has a child with an eating disorder is to seek help and do so early. Seek help for your daughter, seek help for yourself. Please don’t be ashamed and feel like you’ve done something wrong and most importantly, treat every sign as serious.
Don’t risk your child’s life by trying to wait out the symptoms to see if it will go away by itself or if it’s ‘a phase.’ Your daughter doesn’t have to be underweight, lack confidence or be depressed to have an eating disorder. The majority of eating disorders are invisible. We know that early intervention is key to reducing the severity and duration of an active eating disorder, so if you’re at all concerned about your daughter’s health, please seek help.
In the case of any mental illness, the earlier an individual can access treatment, the less of an uphill battle recovery will be. And every case is deserving of help and support.
Care for your child
Above all, treat yourself and your daughter with compassion.
It’s okay not to have all the answers and it’s okay not to know how to make everything better for your daughter. What she needs from you is to be there for her and support her- make sure you have professionals who can support her recovery. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and scared, that’s okay too.
Please understand that your child’s eating disorder runs so much deeper than simply wanting to be thinner, and it’s not a fault of your parenting. The important thing right now is ensuring easy access to treatment for your child. Treatment will look different for each patient – it may involve any combination of psychology sessions, dietitian visits, hospitalization or in/outpatient treatment for severe EDs. Please be open and just be there for your child. Let her know that you support and love her, no matter what.
Care for Yourself
Often when a child is in recovery or seeking active treatment (especially if the child is inpatient and out of the family home), parents are left feeling helpless, lost and out of control. Depending on their background, they may start to engage in self-sabotaging behavior as a coping mechanism for any guilt that they feel over their child’s ED being ‘their fault.’ This is an especially large risk when one or both parents come from a background of EDs themselves.
It’s important for parents to know that their mental health is important too and that keeping on top of their own wellness will not only help them deal with the difficult situation at hand but also learn to be more sensitive to their child’s needs.
Empowering parents to play an active role in their child’s recovery is something that we know has wonderful benefits for the child – recovery (and life after) tends to be more balanced and easy to manage when the ED sufferer knows they have a strong support network around them.
The parents that I coach have noted that it feels wonderful to be able to vocalize all the thoughts, fears and concerns that they’re having around their child’s ED/recovery. Too often, parents feel that they have to keep their feelings inside for the benefit of the child. When parents have the space to voice their feelings in a safe and private environment, they can start to let go of that fear of judgment and learn additional parenting skills to benefit their entire family.
Anastasia Amour is a Body Image and Self-Esteem coach. She is the author of Inside Out: Your 14-Day Guide to Transform Your Mind-Body Relationship. She teaches women and girls how to embrace their bodies, find self-acceptance, and make peace with food and exercise.