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When you have an eating disorder … and your child does, too

With tentacles impacting us on emotional and physical levels, eating disorders are complex and tenacious. You may have struggled with an eating disorder for decades. Perhaps you’ve been in recovery for decades. Or maybe you are just now recognizing your disordered eating patterns. But whatever your stage in eating disorder recovery, having a child who is also struggling makes recovery harder.

But the good news is that eating disorders – both your own and your child’s – can be fully overcome. With the right approach, you can accelerate both of your recoveries. And you can approach recovery as a family effort rather than an individual fight. Here are some tips:

Talk to the pros

You probably have a lot of complex feelings about your own disorder and how it has impacted your child. You may be feeling shame, fear, and guilt. It would be completely normal to worry that you somehow caused your child’s eating disorder. Or maybe you worry your child “caught” it from you. First, remember that eating disorders are complex. They are not caused by any single thing.

Talk openly and often with your therapist about how to parent while you are going through your own recovery. You need to make time for self-care even as you care for your family.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give these printable worksheets to grow more confident, calm and resilient and feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Stabilizing your behaviors may seem like the biggest challenge. But lasting recovery also includes learning emotional tools and practicing them over time, in the face of new stressors. Your child’s disorder will be a major stressor for you. Get help and support in managing this.

Meanwhile, talk to your child’s therapy team about how your own disorder may interact with your child’s eating disorder. This situation is not as unusual or difficult as it may seem to you. Many people with eating disorders have children who develop their own disordered eating.

The professionals who are working with your child will not be shocked or blame you. They will actually be relieved that you are aware and open about your own disorder. Work with them and collaborate as much as possible. They will be compassionate and understanding, and can truly help make the process easier for everyone.

Heal yourself

Healing from an eating disorder is not just about weight or food. It’s about learning to care for yourself assertively even as you provide care to others. It is not unusual when a child develops an eating disorder for parents to become singularly focused on their child. They often sacrifice their own needs in the process. This isn’t healthy for anyone, but it is especially dangerous if you have an eating disorder of your own. This could trigger an exacerbation of your disorder.

We must heal ourselves even as we focus on being the best parent we possibly can be. Trust the experts when they assure you that you can heal yourself and it will help your child fully heal. This isn’t because your child’s eating disorder is your fault. It’s because your health will help them be healthy.

If you’ve been putting off your own treatment to support everything else that’s going on in your life, then please stop. You need to prioritize your recovery. There is simply no way around it. So get the help you need. Ask for more help than you think you need. And devote yourself to your recovery process.

Don’t make assumptions about your child’s eating disorder based on your own eating disorder

Even though you have your own eating disorder, it is important to bring openness to your child’s eating disorder treatment. That means you should not make assumptions about what your child is doing or feeling.

Emotional Regulation Worksheets

Give these printable worksheets to grow more confident, calm and resilient and feel better, fast!

  • Self-Esteem
  • Self-Regulation
  • Mindfulness
  • Calming strategies

Nobody experiences an eating disorder in exactly the same way. Every person creates their own version of an eating disorder. So even if you and your child have the same eating disorder it does not mean that your child is behaving or feeling the same way you do/did.

Just because you and your child both have an eating disorder does not mean that you are an expert on the eating disorder they are experiencing. Be cautious and check your assumptions before making any major changes to something that your child’s treatment team has suggested.

Remember to keep the communications line wide open, and give yourself time and space to think through your child’s treatment without feeling you need to rush your decisions.

Practice expressing emotions

Many times an eating disorder will communicate something behaviorally that we are unable to communicate with words. Every person in recovery from an eating disorder can build their emotional vocabulary and develop skills in communicating how they feel.

Your whole family should be a part of this skill-building activity, whether they have an eating disorder or not. Work on emotional literacy, expanding both the number of words you use to define emotional states and how frequently you express how you feel.

This is often a challenging new practice. Very few people are used to expressing emotion and thus do it very awkwardly and aggressively in the beginning. Don’t be afraid of this awkward, aggressive stage. Remember that you’re all learning how to talk about these things and that you’re all learning how to express emotion.

Practicing this skill in your family will benefit both your and your child’s recovery. As you all learn to talk about how you feel, emotions don’t need to be ignored (restriction), stuffed down (binging), or eliminated (purging).

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to help their kids recover from eating disorders, body image issues, and other mental health conditions.  She’s the founder of, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with mental health issues.

Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.

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