When your child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, you need four types of professionals to make healing faster and easier

Four professionals you need on your team when your child has an eating disorder

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, if your child has admitted that she or he has an eating disorder, or if your child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you should know that eating disorder recovery is 100% attainable and frequently occurs. Most of us who have eating disorders recover and parental engagement in the process can make a world of difference in terms of the speed and efficacy of eating disorder treatment.

As you face the immediate future of figuring out how best to move forward, here are the four professionals we recommend you consult. They are in order of importance based on how we believe parents can best approach an eating disorder, and while we realize it’s asking a lot of you, it is our belief that utilizing these four professionals will make full recovery from an eating disorder faster and easier for your child.

1. A therapist for you

Parents who personally engage in their child’s recovery from an eating disorder can make a huge impact. We are all overwhelmed by today’s parenting standards. There is no single book and no magic bullet to creating the happy family of our dreams. It is often when we admit our own vulnerability and seek support and growth as parents that we can achieve true family connection and health.

Since you’re the person reading this article, you clearly are interested in how you can help your child heal from an eating disorder. The fact is that we can never change another person. No matter how much we love our child, we cannot force him or her to stop having an eating disorder. But we can look in the mirror and, with the help of a qualified therapist, learn how to improve our parenting in light of our child’s condition.

Engage a therapist or coach who can help you be a better parent. Not because you are a bad parent, but because we can all be better. It is 100% true that no parent is responsible for a child’s eating disorder, but it is also 100% true that we can all contribute to full healing and health if we pursue self-growth through the recovery process.

What to look for when seeking a therapist for yourself: you should look for the highest-qualified therapist available in your region and budget who has experience helping parents achieve personal and family fulfillment. Ask for referrals, and interview different therapists until you find someone who clicks with you.

2. A family therapist

Families are ecosystems. The paradox is that no single person is responsible for the family’s health or disease, and yet each person impacts the ecosystem’s health or disease.

The first obvious sign of ecosystem breakdown may be the disorder of a particular element of the ecosystem, but when we look deeper, we always find that there is a systemic problem that must be resolved in order for the ecosystem to return to health.

Don’t treat your child who has an eating disorder as the only one who is struggling. If one person has an eating disorder, it is a sign that the whole system needs a tune-up. This is not coming from a blaming standpoint. It’s not that anyone meant for this to happen or anyone should feel guilty for the state of the ecosystem. But family therapy is essential to identify problems in the system and achieve entirely new levels of health.

What to look for when seeking a family therapist when your child has an eating disorder: you should look for the highest-qualified family therapist available in your region and budget. While experience with eating disorders is a plus, the most important thing is that the therapist can engage all members of your family in the therapeutic process. Ask for referrals, and interview different therapists until you find someone who clicks with your family.

3. A therapist for your child who has an eating disorder

In addition to working on yourself and the family system, your child will benefit from meeting 1:1 with a therapist who is trained to work with people who have eating disorders. The therapist will help your child navigate the disorder and learn new coping mechanisms to replace the eating disorder behaviors that are currently serving a purpose, albeit maladaptively so.

While you build your skills as a parent and the family learns new communication skills, your child’s therapist will work with your child to address how and why food and body image became a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Your child’s therapist will help your child learn to process anxiety, sadness, and loneliness in adaptive ways in order to leave the eating disorder behaviors behind. This will take time, but it will be faster if you have also invested in parent therapy and family therapy, which will mean that your child feels fully supported in his or her journey towards wellness.  

What to look for when seeking a therapist for your child who has an eating disorder: professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS).

4. A non-diet dietitian

It is unfortunate, but we live in a society that has strongly correlated health, success, and happiness with thinness. This is not by accident – it is something that has been carefully crafted by companies that make a lot of money by taking advantage of our natural instincts to be healthy, successful and happy.

The most marked responses to the last 20 years of obsessive media focus on bodies and diets are 1) increases in the diet industry revenues; 2) increases in rates of obesity; 3) increases in rates of eating disorders.

Our children are suffering greatly from the societal messages driven and funded by the diet industry. Eating disorders are complex, but they cannot be divorced from the association of thinness with goodness. Those of us who have a tendency towards obsessive behaviors easily fall into eating disorders because they are so accessible and we are surrounded by diet messages.

A powerful advocate and reasonable counter-balance to the noise generated about weight and food in our society is a non-diet dietitian who has experience working with people who have eating disorders. These qualified professionals often teach the principles of Health at Every Size (HAES) and Intuitive Eating, both of which can be very helpful in the recovery process.

Schedule at least a few sessions for your child to meet with a non-diet dietitian. Parents should also take advantage of the podcasts, online courses and other materials available from Christy Harrison. Christy is an excellent resource for parents and families that want to escape diet culture.

What to look for when seeking a non-diet dietitian for your child who has an eating disorder: professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders RDs (CEDRD)

Additional services to consider

Psychiatrist: many people who have eating disorders also struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental disorders. While psychiatry and medication may be helpful, it is our personal (non-medical) opinion that young people who have eating disorders should try every avenue available before trying medication.

when considering medication and drugs to treat your child who has an eating disorder, use extreme cautionIt may surprise you to know that the evidence for psychiatric medication, especially on young minds, is non-conclusive in terms of positive benefit (e.g. exercise reduces depression as much as or better than antidepressant medicine), and fairly alarming in terms of potential negative impact on long-term mental health (e.g. tardive dysphoria).

Don’t take our word for it, but also do your research. Your child’s brain and long-term mental health is at stake, and this water is very murky. Dig for counter-arguments to popular prescriptions so that you can be fully informed and weigh the costs and benefits of psychiatric medicine before medicating your child. We wrote a longer article about this: The case against antidepressants for eating disorders and depression.

What to look for when seeking a psychiatrist for your child who has an eating disorder: professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS).

Medical Doctor: only the small percentage of people who have eating disorders who are medically underweight require active medical supervision during recovery. This is not because eating disorders do not impact our physical health (they absolutely do!), but because there is very little that most medical doctors can do to help us recover.

As of today, the best treatment for eating disorder health problems is full recovery from the eating disorder. So far, the best treatment we have is talk therapy. Very few medical doctors are trained to help people who have eating disorders, and this lack of training can result in doctors inadvertently damaging a person’s recovery rather than helping it. We wrote an article providing parents with a letter to give medical doctors when their child is in recovery from an eating disorder, which you may find helpful.

If you are seeking medical guidance, consider Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani of the Gaudiani Clinic. She is an expert on the medical complications of eating disorders and offers membership programs to help people nationwide.

What to look for when seeking a physician for your child who has an eating disorder: professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS).

Outpatient Treatment: depending on your child’s condition and your insurance provider, the most efficient and affordable method of treatment for your child’s eating disorder may be an outpatient treatment center. We wrote an article about what happens when you send your teenager to an outpatient treatment center for an eating disorder based on our tour of Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders in Santa Monica.

What to look for when seeking outpatient treatment for your child who has an eating disorder: facilities that have professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS).

Inpatient Treatment: inpatient treatment centers will help your child become abstinent from eating disorder behaviors, but they do not actually heal the eating disorder. Although data is hard to obtain, the rates of readmission are reportedly very high. For these reasons, we recommend caution when considering inpatient treatment. Dr. John Levitt, who has been treating eating disorders for more than 40 years, wrote a helpful article titled “What I want parents to think about before sending their child to an eating disorder treatment center,” which you may find helpful.

What to look for when seeking outpatient treatment for your child who has an eating disorder: facilities that have professionals who are iaedp Certified Eating Disorders Specialists (CEDS).


IAEDP is the leading foundation recognized for certifying professionals who work in the eating disorder fieldIndividuals with iaedp Certification designations (CEDS, CEDRD, CEDCAT, or CEDRN) are health care professionals who have met rigorous educational and skill requirements, have accumulated a minimum number of hours of qualifying work experience, have made a commitment to stay abreast of current developments in the field through continuing education, and have agreed to comply with the Association’s ethical principles.


Health at Every Size is a helpful guidebook for people who struggle with body image and size discrimination while in recovery for an eating disorder

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your by Linda Bacon, PhD

Health at Every Size is based on the concept that health is independent of body weight and that the pursuit of a standardized thin ideal is more damaging than pursuing health regardless of body size. People who have eating disorders find the concepts in this book helpful as they adjust their expectations of their bodies and learn to respect their bodies as they are vs. as society tells them they should be.


Intuitive eating is widely recommended in eating disorder recovery

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