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What I want parents to know about eating disorder recovery

We interviewed Kristie Amadio, Certified Eating Disorder Coach and Founder of Recovered Living. Kristie is recovered from an eating disorder and now coaches people who are in recovery and their families. She even lives with families 24-7 as they navigate recovery, making her an excellent resource for what really goes on during recovery and what parents need to know about the process.

1. What do you wish all parents knew about eating disorders?

That it’s not their fault. Every parent I’ve ever met feels this way but the truth is, the cause of eating disorders is a combination of genetics and environment.

I think parents look at the word ‘environment’ and blame themselves, but I’ve worked with many people in recovery who were teased at school, or read a magazine about weight loss and that triggered their eating disorder. Environment doesn’t necessarily mean ‘home environment,’ it means the world we live in. Right now, we live in a weight-centric society. It is impossible to protect against it but we can help shift it by taking a stand against body shaming and having an inclusive attitude towards food.

I also want parents to know that getting support for themselves is so important. It can be scary and overwhelming to help a child navigate recovery, and having someone who is dedicated to supporting your needs can really help.

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

2. Are there any particular books or learning materials you recommend to parents who have kids who are in recovery?

Absolutely! Carolyn Costin has some excellent books on eating disorder recovery that are easy to read and super informative. Her book 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience is designed for people in recovery, but I often recommend parents/friends read it because it can help them gain a better understanding of the world of eating disorders.

The great thing about the digital age is there is a veritable wealth of information out there that help to create an understanding of the recovery process so parents don’t feel quite so in the dark. I encourage parents to read as much as they can about eating disorders, and also to reach out and find a support group if possible where it is safe for them to express their own feelings about the process.

One of the services I love providing is Support Space, which is a free online support group for family and friends of people with eating disorders. It runs for an hour each month and people attend from all over the world. I like the idea of it being a place where people can ask questions, work through difficult situations and get the support they need. An eating disorder doesn’t just affect one person in the family, it affects the whole family. Feel free to jump on the website and come along!

3. What do you think kids who live at home need most from their parents during recovery?

Everyone’s recovery is different, but in general, I think kids living at home need their parents to be their parents first and foremost. It is so easy for parents to fall into the role of therapist/dietitian/and food police – it is a hard line to walk. People living at home need a duality of things – they need boundaries but also grace, they need support but they also need to learn how to stand on their own. They need closeness and they need space. There isn’t a perfect way to parent someone in recovery – it’s going to be messy!

An eating disorder is a disordered relationship with food, a disordered relationship with the body, and a disordered relationship with the self. People consciously or unconsciously use their eating disorders to communicate in relationships but the rest of the world doesn’t speak that language! Part of the recovery process is learning new ways of being in relationships, using words rather than their eating disorder, and weaning themselves off the ‘safe’ relationship of their eating disorder and onto healthier but ultimately changeable relationships with other people.

This is why I think that kids need help articulating what they need from their parents as a very first step. Most kids don’t know, which can make it hard to parent them! Learning to articulate needs is something they need to learn from a therapist, a mentor, coach, etc. … or it could just come with time. Deep soul work isn’t an easy process, but slow change is sustainable change.


4. What would you say to a parent who is feeling hopeless about their child’s recovery?

The first thing I want to say is, ‘I hear you.’ Eating disorders are scary and can have very very bleak looking prospects at times. I don’t want to bullshit anyone and say ‘it’s going to be OK,’ because I can’t guarantee that. What I can guarantee is that while there is life, there is hope.

Provided someone’s body is willing to continue sustaining life, there is a part of them, (even if it is a cellular part) that wants to live. That is the part I focus on. I always take the stance that just because an eating disorder is stubborn and persistent doesn’t mean it is impossible … it just means it is stubborn and persistent.

I think it is important to make a distinction between hope and attachment. Carolyn Costin says, ‘don’t be attached to the results.’ What this means is that recovery – whether they take the road to recovery or not – is the individual’s choice. No one chooses to develop an eating disorder but they can choose to recover. Sometimes I feel like 70% of my work with clients is going through the process of making that choice. I don’t know that everyone will choose it but I know that everyone can.

If someone doesn’t want recovery, I’m not going to force it on them. Some people want to live the rest of their life with their eating disorder because it feels safer or more comfortable than recovery. I feel sad about the life they are missing out on but I also respect their choice. I hold hope that they will choose differently in the future, but I’m not attached to what they choose – they have free will.

Here’s what I really want parents to know: I’ve seen too many miracles to give up, so I don’t give up, not on anyone. Ever.

To those parents who feel hopeless right now, please remember that while there is life there is hope. A huge part of recovery is getting to the point of being brave enough to want a different life, so being in a difficult spot could be a good thing – sometimes hitting rock bottom is what instigates change.

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

5. What do you think is the hardest part about living with someone who is in recovery?

So many things! Feeling shut out, feeling helpless, struggling to see your person in pain but knowing the pain is necessary to recover. I’ve had an eating disorder and I’ve lived with people with an eating disorder. Both are equally hard in different ways – I mean that. A family’s support role is JUST as hard as having the eating disorder itself.

My best advice is to keep the three tenants of recovery in mind:

  1. You can’t make your person want to recover
  2. You can’t do it for them
  3. You can set your boundaries about what you will and won’t tolerate

As much as it is important for your person to be communicating about what is going on for them, the same goes for you. No more walking on eggshells, no more ignoring the elephant in the room – an eating disorder thrives in secrecy and isolation but once it is brought to the table, it can’t survive in secret anymore.

Kristie Amadio is a Certified Eating Disorder Coach and Founder of Recovered Living. She is also a certified life coach and eating psychology coach. A former elite athlete, she worked as a counselor in both Australia and New Zealand before beginning Recovered Living as a solution to the gap between recovering in a treatment center and continuing recovery when back at home. She uses the same strength she required in her own recovery to guide and inspire others while her genuine compassion allows her to connect easily with clients.

See Our Guide To Parenting A Child With An Eating Disorder

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