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Ultimate guide to a parent’s role in eating disorder recovery

Ultimate guide to a parent’s role in eating disorder recovery

Jeremy reached out to me with a simple but complicated question, “what’s a parent’s role when your child’s in eating disorder recovery?” There are so many ways to answer that question. But ultimately I think most of the advice can be boiled down to two main things: connection and boundaries. 

Someone with an eating disorder is struggling on many levels of both physical and mental health. And in order to heal they need connection with others. No matter how introverted or independent we are, we all need people. We feel best when we are deeply and meaningfully connected with the people closest to us, especially our parents. Right now things may feel tense and disconnected between you and your child. That’s normal when there’s an eating disorder. But reconnecting and building a sense of family belonging is an important way you can support recovery. 

Next, someone with an eating disorder does best with secure boundaries and expectations. If your child had cancer you would feel strongly about setting boundaries and expectations for their treatment. Even if your child complained, you would insist they go to the doctor. And even though it’s awful, you would get them the treatment they need. The same holds true for an eating disorder. Holding boundaries while maintaining connection is the key to success.

Parent Scripts For Eating Disorder Recovery

Use these scripts:

  • At the dinner table when behavior is getting out of control
  • When you need to set boundaries – fast!
  • After something happened so you can calmly review the triggers and events

People who recover from an eating disorder agree that it’s one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. And they appreciate their parents’ love, strength, and support even if they don’t show it on their worst days. A parent’s role in eating disorder recovery is difficult, essential, and incredibly rewarding.


Parents often feel disconnected and shut out from their kids’ eating disorders. Sometimes their relationship was strained and challenging before the eating disorder. And it usually becomes even more difficult when there’s an eating disorder. Lots of parents feel helpless, as if there’s nothing they can do to help. 

But the good news is that parents are in an excellent position to help their kids recover from an eating disorder. It all begins with connection. Having a secure connection with a parent helps kids recover. Building a secure connection takes time and patience, especially because an eating disorder tends to create a lot of disconnection and distancing. 

3 ways to build your connection with a child who has an eating disorder:

  1. Work on a positive mindset. If you approach your child with negative feelings, they will sense it, because kids are deeply tuned into parents’ emotions. A positive parenting mindset means you feel as if you can handle your child even when they’re at their worst, and this approach will build a secure connection. 
  2. Spend time together. Kids with eating disorders may actively distance themselves from parents, but we know that recovery is harder when you’re lonely and don’t have a strong sense of belonging. It may be hard to engage your child in family activities right now, but it is part of their treatment and critical to their recovery. If things are very tense, family therapy may be the first step to making progress.
  3. Approach problems with the goal of motivating vs. controlling. Hollywood portrays effective communicators as people who make demands and give impassioned speeches. These fictional characters succeed when they convince others to understand their point of view and give in. But this approach is incredibly de-motivating in real-life, particularly with teenagers and young adults. Rather than telling them what to do, try to understand your child’s point of view and support them in considering their options. Active listening is both much harder and far more effective than giving speeches.

A child who feels connected to at least one parent is more likely to feel good about themselves and take the steps needed to get into recovery. It can be hard to build a strong connection with a child in eating disorder recovery, but it is an important part of a parent’s role.


Parental boundaries are important when supporting your child through treatment because, just like chemotherapy, eating disorder treatment is not something most people want to do or would choose to do. It makes sense if your child resists treatment. They need your help and support to keep going. 

Residential treatment handles treatment in the short-term, but ultimately kids with eating disorders come home and must continue to engage in treatment. This may include structured and adequate meals, getting enough sleep, therapy, medical appointments, and prescription medicine. 


3 boundaries parents need when a child has an eating disorder:

  1. Structured mealtimes and snacks. A core component of recovering from an eating disorder is eating regular meals on a schedule. Parents can help by setting up meal and snack times, serving the food, and sharing the food with your child. Is this time consuming? Yes. But it’s one of the most reliable things parents can do to support recovery. 
  2. Scheduled bedtime and screen-free time. Sleep and real-life engagement with other people are both important for people in recovery. But in our culture it’s very hard for kids to get them, primarily because of our always-on devices. Your teen or young adult will not enjoy having a bedtime or screen locks on their phones, but consistently holding boundaries around these two things can go a long way to helping your child recover.
  3. Emotional boundaries. It’s important to uphold your role as your child’s parent. This means maintaining clear emotional boundaries and not getting sucked into drama and distraction. Often parents engage in long, involved debates and discussions about weight, food, and exercise as well as things like appointments with professionals. It’s best to state your expectations and boundaries clearly, then hold steady. You don’t have to change your child’s mind to hold your boundaries.

Parenting a child with an eating disorder requires strength and endurance. You’ll need to dig deep and stay strong. It’s not easy to insist upon boundaries during recovery. You may feel tempted to give in and let things go because your child HATES IT when you set boundaries. I get it! This is hard. But stay strong, and get the support you need to keep it up as best you can.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to change the conversation about eating disorders and empower people to recover.  She’s the founder of, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents supercharge their kid’s eating disorder recovery.

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.

Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.

See Our Guide To Parenting A Child With An Eating Disorder

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