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Thanksgiving can be hard on kids who have eating disorders – tips for parents to make it easier – by Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D.

Thanksgiving can be a difficult time for children who are struggling with eating disorders. This is a holiday focused almost solely on food-quite a difficult day to endure for someone that struggles with an illness that centers on food.

For this reason, it is ideal to begin prepping your child ahead of time. Talk with your child about how you will support them throughout the entire week of Thanksgiving. Game plan with them. Discuss the types of food that will be served. Attempt to alleviate any anxiety by taking the power away from the food. If your child is following a meal plan, discuss how the meals of the day will align with the meal plan (and make sure that they do).

Here are some other recommendations:

Consider the Size of Thanksgiving This Year

As a parent, it will be up to you to assess how much your child will be able to mentally tolerate. If he or she is really struggling right now, this year may not be the time to do the big celebration with 30+ family and friends. Rather, it may be best to have a quiet day a home, and celebrate in a manner that is more supportive of your child’s recovery.

However, if you decide to do this, be aware that oftentimes children will express guilt if the tradition that you normally follow is to have the big family get-together. Make sure that you reassure your child that you have many years ahead to get together with your family and friends. Assure him or her that the day will be special, just as it is, because you will make it special.

Take the Power Away from the Food

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, try to take the power away from the food. Discuss the concept of gratitude. Try implementing this into your daily practice with your child leading up to Thanksgiving Day. Talk about one thing each day that you are each grateful for. Consider writing these down and tying them around a “gratitude tree.” Traditions such as these will be comforting for your child, because they will allow him or her to celebrate the holiday in a manner that does not involve food.

Also, avoid situations in which people are talking about “stuffing themselves” or “being bad” on Thanksgiving. Carefully monitor media and social experiences to avoid as much of this talk as possible.

Avoid Stress at Other People’s Houses

If you are leaving your house for Thanksgiving, ask about the food that will be served in advance, so that you can work with your child on any meal planning that needs to take place.

Talk to the hosts about avoiding the diet (or anti-diet) chatter mentioned above. Encourage them to avoid the topic of eating disorders and weight gain or loss altogether. Ask them to focus on the spirit of the day instead – giving thanks! Explain that this illness and the experience that you child is struggling with is quite difficult to understand, but that you appreciate any and all empathy that they will demonstrate.

colleen Reichmann psyd

Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders and body image issues. She has worked at various inpatient eating disorder treatment facilities, and is the blog manager for Project HEAL. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and golden doodle and currently works at a group practice.

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A selection of relaxation videos for teens who have anxiety that increases their eating disorder behavior

Many people who have eating disorders also struggle with stress and anxiety, so we thought it would be cool to gather some relaxing videos that you may watch with your child when he or she is feeling anxious. Often anxiety increases eating disorder behavior, so reducing it can be very helpful.

Some people find it helpful to have a library of different relaxation techniques to help in different situations. For example, when your child is in the safety of your home, she might enjoy doing some yoga or journaling. However, if travel is stressful, she’s not going to want to roll out her yoga mat in the middle of the airport. Instead, having a few videos on a smartphone may be a great way to zone out and relax.

First, we thought this ocean meditation was pretty cool, but it might miss the mark for some teenagers … it may feel a little bit cheesy, though the message is powerful.

In the completely opposite direction, we found this really cool compilation of satisfying videos on YouTube, and it might be a really fun way to zone out, especially if there are a lot of distractions or your child is worried about other people noticing what he or she is watching. Note: there are some food images in this video, but no eating.

Then we discovered that there is a huge genre of relaxation videos on YouTube designed to relax cats! WTF! Pretty awesome! Here is a 3-hour relaxation video of an aquarium that put us to sleep in a hot second! We know that your child is not a cat, but this is worth watching!

Remember, your teenager likely needs lots of different options for when she or he is feeling stressed. Some days might be perfect for the aquarium, and other days it might not work at all. Keep trying different relaxation techniques to help your child RELAX.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Teens and Mental Health – an interview with Nadia Ghaffari, age 16, founder of

Nadia Ghaffari is a junior in high school. Last year she founded, a global initiative providing a platform for teens to discuss mental health. We interviewed Nadia for her perspective on teens’ mental health.

I go to Los Altos High School – it’s a few miles away from Palo Alto. Last year, we read about the suicide clusters happening at our neighborhood school; I felt like it was such a big issue and didn’t really see anyone doing anything about it to directly reach the teens. Obviously there are wonderful mental health organizations out there working to make positive change, but I didn’t feel they were actually benefitting the teen population (as I was still a direct witness to my many of my peers’ stress, anxiety, and depression). So, I thought what better than to get our entire generation involved? I wanted to create something that was just for teens and harness that powerful relationship we can have with each other.

It’s been so amazing. It started out very local. I interviewed individuals at my high school, and since then we have expanded worldwide. It was just amazing, because I ask all teens the same questions – what stresses you out, how do you relieve stress, what are you passionate about, how have you grown from facing difficulty or facing challenges, what does happiness look like in your life, etc. – and it’s amazing how powerful their responses are, especially coming from such diverse backgrounds. Our organization’s core material is video responses from teens, for teens. We have a team of teen ambassadors from around the world who are working closely on this initiative and creating positive change, starting in their own communities.

Numerous studies show that teenagers are much more comfortable talking to their friends and peers rather than counselors, parents, or teachers. There is such a real generation gap, and it feels as if adults don’t fully understand what we (as teens) are going through. We are most comfortable discussing this with people our own age, who may also be experiencing similar situations.

nadiaCurrently in the teen world, I think “stress” is a normalized word for anxiety or depression and other mental health related issues. For a teen, saying that you have anxiety or depression is scary (and also stigmatized), but it’s normal to say, “I’m so stressed.” So, we focus on “stress relief” and “well-being strategies” because that’s normalized, and we’re comfortable using the words “stress” and “well-being”. At the same time, these topics and words strongly correlate to other mental health themes; in this way, we begin to shine the light on these issues and open the discussion.

I think one of the things teens feel most stressed about is academic pressure and the idea of becoming “successful.” It may feel like that’s a Silicon-Valley-specific issue, but it’s not (it’s a global matter). I’ve spoken to teens all over the world, and these teens all have the same feelings of stress and pressure to perform well in their lives.

A lot of teens feel as if they are competing with their peers to be the most “successful”. It’s unhealthy, and I think it’s getting worse as colleges get more selective and more people are in this race. It’s important to realize that we are a community here to support each other. Together, we can help each other reach new heights. We can share our stories, inspire each other to chase our unique ambitions, and embrace the valuable growth that stems from facing difficulty. As the TeenzTalk motto says, “Together we inspire growth.”

We’re currently in the process of becoming an official nonprofit. That will hopefully be set by January 2017. Once that happens, we look forward to hosting events and collaborating or co-hosting with our corporate partners to continue spreading our mission and bringing new perspectives to teens everywhere.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-00-10-pmNadia is a junior in high school and a passionate mental health advocate. She is the founder of the global teen initiative, The TeenzTalk organization is dedicated to “creating a platform for all teens to come together in a positive environment.” She is also an active teen committee member at CHC (Children’s Health Council) in Palo Alto, where she collaborates with community teens to reduce mental health stigmas and create positive changes at local schools regarding student well-being.

1462936011 is a platform for all teens to come together in a positive environment. Let’s create a global teen community where we share our experiences, inspire each other to chase our unique ambitions, & embrace the valuable growth that stems from facing difficulty. We focus on teen mental health & harnessing peer connections as a source of strength. Website

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3 Simple Ways for Families to Get Grounded at Mealtime By Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT-500

Meal time can be a highly charged time for parents who have a child with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. The parents, the child with the disorder, and the siblings and other family members may all feel high levels of tension, angst, unhappiness, and dread.

Parents and caregivers may feel like they are walking on eggshells, desperately afraid to include an ingredient or say something that will set off an argument or cause their loved one to withdraw. They worry:

  • Will he/she eat?
  • Will this meal be tense or relaxed?
  • How will I help him/her through it without my fears or frustration showing?
  • Will he/she keep the food down?
  • What will be the aftermath of this meal, and how will I handle it?

At the same time, the individual in recovery may be anxious before the meal even begins. In my early recovery days, the smell of food cooking would instantly set off a barrage of fears and worries such as:

  • Can I do this without freaking out?
  • Will I gain weight?
  • Do I have to eat all of it?
  • How can I act normal when I feel so scared?
  • Will I let my parents down again?

As for other family members, they may feel annoyance, jealousy, anger, fear, and so many other feelings that deserve to be honored as well. They may act out either towards the person who has the eating disorder or towards others at the table in an attempt to process their feelings.

If any part of what I am describing is a familiar scene in your home it may help to use some simple poses to defuse anxious energy before coming together to eat. They can be done alone or together.

These activities, when done mindfully, can help everyone calm their nervous systems and arrive at the table in a more relaxed state of body and mind.

Prayer hands

Firmly press your hands together and bring your awareness to the feeling of palm into palm, fingertips into fingertips. Take a few moments to stay focused on the feeling of your hands pressing into one another as you take 10 deep breaths in and out. Count the breaths to help deepen your focus and detach from stressful worries about the impending meal.

Stay with this hand position and your breath for as long as you need, and remember that you can return to it again during and after the meal as many times as is helpful to ground again.

Thumb to finger counts

Closeup of woman's hands meditating indoorsSit or stand still in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if you prefer. With one or both hands, connect your thumb to your index finger. Slowly tap your thumb one at a time to each finger. Bring all your concentration to this simple action and repeat “I am calm” (or another affirmation that resonates with you) as you move from finger to finger and repeat several times.

You can vary the speed of this exercises from slow to fast, depending on what helps you relax most. I like to do this before a meal, but it is also helpful to do during a meal under the table with the hand that’s not holding a utensil. The concentration it takes to do this exercise will help shift your mind away from thoughts and emotions that pull you off your center.

Palm press

grounding-mealMany of us carry tension in our hands without even realizing it. We hold our hands as fists, subconsciously prepared to fight. We might even hold such tight fists that we dig our nails into our palms. All that clenching travels up our arms and into our necks, shoulders, and upper back, causing muscle pain and tightness.

Take a few moments before a meal to physically relax your hands and upper body. Open your hands, spread your fingers, and firmly (but not forcefully) place your hands against something solid, like a wall or table. Take several deep breaths and purposefully relax your shoulders, neck, jaw, and eyes.

Hold this simple connection between your hands and a solid structure until you feel grounded and more relaxed than when you started this exercise. You can repeat this at the table during the meal as you feel tension creep into your shoulders and neck and hands. You can also press your hands into a family member’s or someone you trust and take several grounding breaths together.

In my personal recovery experience and professional experience as a yoga therapist, the meal experience is more positive when we bring less emotional weight with us to the table. I intimately know that all family members’ feelings are well founded. I also understand that these exercises won’t take away all the agitation that one may feel. They will, however, help focus that intensely frenetic emotional energy by calming your mind, easing muscle tension, and creating a mindful pause to center and ground yourself before the meal starts.

You can do them on your own or as a family. And, you may need to do one or all of them multiple times to get through a meal. That’s OK, I promise. So much of making this process palatable is learning simple ways to ground our minds and bodies when panic hits so that we aren’t overcome with frustration and fear.

These simple grounding exercises will help everyone pause, get a grip, and then come together from a place of calm and centeredness.

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-9-35-39-amJennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. Jennifer works with clients in person and via Skype. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Website

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Binge Eating Disorder and your child – what to do, how to help. An interview with Jennifer Rollin, psychotherapist

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), it impacts about 3.5% of women and 2% of men.

bedBinge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder that “hides in plain sight” in today’s weight loss culture. BEDA reports that 30% to 40% of those seeking weight loss treatments can be clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder. Some suggest that the weight loss industry is built upon, and thrives on binge eating disorder.

Binge eating disorder is also called compulsive eating, emotional eating or overeating, but it is not a simple “loss of control” or “lack of accountability.” It is a mental disorder in which the person become out of control while bingeing on large quantities of food, followed by deep feelings of shame and guilt afterwards.

Like all eating disorders, BED often begins in females around puberty, but it also arises in boys, men and women of all ages. As a parent, you should know that BED come in all shapes and sizes and you cannot tell who is struggling on the basis of their weight.

Here are some comments from Jennifer Rollin, psychotherapist and Eating Disorder Specialist.

1. What are some of the behavioral signs parents should watch for if they suspect their child may have BED?

Some of the behavioral signs that parents should watch for if they suspect that their child may have BED include hoarding food, hiding empty cartons of food, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, feeling out of control when it comes to eating, feeling guilt and shame in relation to eating, eating alone, and eating more rapidly than normal.

Parents might also notice that their child is becoming increasingly isolated, less interested in social interactions, or eating in secret.

2. What are some of the most common “stories” children/adolescents with BED say about their eating disorder?

Children and adolescents with binge eating disorder may describe the sensation of binging as “numbing,” “soothing,” or “comforting,” in the moment. However, often they will exhibit feelings of guilt and shame following a binge-eating episode.

I emphasize with my clients that the bingeing comes from a good place, as they are often trying to regulate emotions, self-soothe, or feel better. However, typically this behavior only causes temporarily relief and makes people feel even worse in the long-term.

Ultimately, it is important for clients to work to make peace with their bingeing behavior and to begin to get curious about their triggers and the function of the bingeing. Additionally, I help clients to practice self-compassion throughout the recovery process. Once they are able to begin to uncover the purpose that this behavior is serving, then we can start to look at some more life-affirming strategies.

3. Are there any parental behaviors that may increase BED in children/adolescents?

Physical and emotional deprivation can trigger binge eating. Physical deprivation would be if a parent for instance refused to let their child eat dessert. Emotional deprivation would be making a shaming comment about a food that the child is eating with the implication is that the child should try not to eat this food again.jr-bed

If parents are encouraging dieting or a focus on weight-loss, this can serve to increase bingeing behaviors. Dieting, physical and emotional deprivation, and a focus on weight-loss serve to fuel the binge-restrict cycle and exacerbate binge eating disorder.

4. Are there any parental behaviors that may decrease BED in children/adolescents?

Helping your child to non-judgmentally pay attention to their triggers, thoughts, and feelings prior to (and following) an episode of binge eating can help them to learn the underlying function of the behavior.
Additionally, this can help them to recognize when they might need to use a healthy coping strategy. Further, helping your child to practice self-compassion and demonstrating that you are not judging them for their bingeing can be incredibly helpful.

Often, children and adolescents with BED feel a strong sense of guilt and shame surrounding their behaviors. Thus, it can be helpful to emphasize that they are not choosing to act this way and that they are using the binging behavior as a way to get their needs met. Then, you can help your child to explore what some other more life-affirming coping strategies could be.

Ultimately, it’s so important to show your child compassion and unconditional acceptance.

jennifer rollinJennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a Psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her psychotherapy practice, she also offers recovery coaching via phone or Skype. She has published numerous articles regarding children, adolescents and eating disorders. Website


screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-8-39-18-amFounded in 2008, the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) is a national organization focused on providing leadership, recognition, prevention, and treatment of binge eating disorder (BED) and associated weight stigma. Through outreach, education and advocacy, BEDA facilitates increased awareness, proper diagnosis, and treatment of BED. Website

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Try This: Aikido as a hobby, exercise, practice and lifestyle

When your child is recovering from an eating disorder, it may be helpful to introduce new hobbies, exercises and life practices. The goal of this is to take her focus away from her body image, food and her disorder and funnel that passion into something healthy and healing.

Many people recovering from an eating disorder turn to practices like art, yoga and meditation, but there are really no limits as long as your child finds something that resonates with who she is and what she enjoys.

Aikido is a martial art that focuses on finding harmony with an opponent in order to bring peaceful resolution to a conflict situation. Aikido does not seek a fight, but it doesn’t fear one. Aikido often appears to be a dance, and it differs from many other martial arts because of its peaceful approach to conflict.

There are many ways to work towards healing an eating disorder (ED). Some parents find it helpful to launch a full-on aggressive attack against ED – the whole family draws virtual swords and fights together in an amazing show of strength.


Other parents find it helpful to approach ED with compassion and an acute awareness of the disorder’s strength, all the while looking for ways to defuse those strengths. They find that accepting the eating disorder as an opportunity to heal, learn and grow works wonders in loosening its hold on their child.

Depending on your child’s unique personality, how she is expressing her eating disorder, your parenting style, and your professional team’s recommendations, you may consider ways in which your family can harness the concepts of Aikido in facing ED.

Aikido and other disciplined forms of movement may offer your child a path inward, a new way of moving and thinking. You may even try to learn Aikido as a joint effort to learn something new together.

Check out this video to hear more about Aikido. It’s pretty awesome, because it features a really strong guy who starts by laughing at Aikido techniques. He’s a total non-believer, but Aikido brings him to his knees (literally). Ha! Take that, big strong dude!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

Here are some options to find an Aikido Dojo near you:

Aikido Dojo Search Engine

United States Aikido Federation

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Eating Disorder Recovery Story – My Eating Disorder not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) by Mary Kate S

“This was the most amazing day I’ve every had. This was also the time in my life when I realized how bad my eating habits were. I barely ate for the few months leading up to this day. And so, after my wedding, the journey began.”

Most of my life, I was on the chunkier side. I was much bigger than my friends and sister and I hated standing out in that way. I also really LOVED food and didn’t ever pay attention to my hunger cues.

I believed that if I were skinny, maybe I would be comfortable with myself and I would be accepted.

I started really engaging in disordered eating behaviors in 2012 after I finished graduate school. I started doing Weight Watchers™ and it worked!

I wanted to lose weight and I did; I was finally at “my goal weight.”

The weight was very difficult to maintain, as I had to be on a diet every single day. I didn’t eat enough, and when I overate, I was overcome with guilt and shame.

On my “cheat days,” I always ate more than I wanted to, for fear of not knowing when my next good meal would be. My disordered dieting behaviors (eliminating carbs, eating smoothies for dinner, sometimes not eating dinner) lasted for three years.

I got to a point where I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I had eliminated so many nutrients from my diet that I began taking laxatives.

After my wedding last Fall, I realized how out of my control my eating disorder behaviors had become. Trying to get down to a small weight before my wedding left me depressed, hungry and stressed. I also didn’t look any different.

“I wasn’t stick thin here. I was a normal weight. I looked healthy, but there was nothing healthy about me. My brain was inundated with obsessive food related thoughts and I lived with rigid rules. People’s bodies cannot show you their health.”

I decided that if my disordered behaviors didn’t naturally go away after my wedding, I would get help.

They didn’t go away and I was just as scared as I always was. I started going to an eating disorder group and loved it. I also started seeing a nutritionist regularly, which was amazing but totally terrifying. I did all of this in conjunction with therapy. It has been the HARDEST thing I’ve ever done. And the best. Definitely the best.

I have amazing parents who always supported anything I’ve needed. I wish that people in general would stop talking about bodies, weight, food, diets and exercise so much. I think that’s really hard to be around. People don’t mean to do it, or know that it’s harmful, but it really is.

I grew up with a mom who didn’t talk about her weight or my weight or bodies or anything related, which was really lucky. But I went to an all-girls school and it was something I really struggled with on my own.

I encourage other parents to not pay attention to dieting fads and allow their children to be children for as long as they can. I would also let any parents know that eating disorders are sneaky – it may not look like someone is SICK at all.

If someone tells you they’re sick, they are. Believe them. These disorders are not enjoyable.

ednos-2Having an ED that is “otherwise specified” is tough. It made me question myself and made me wonder if I was “sick enough” for treatment. (The idea that I wanted to be “sicker” as an indication of how sick I really was.) It can be hard when people are shocked when you are struggling with an eating disorder because you are not rail thin. It’s important for people to know that most eating disorders are in the “not otherwise specified” category.

I want people to know that recovery is hard but fighting for freedom is worth it. This will be one of the hardest things you do in your life. We are fighting against an insane diet culture that makes us believe that we are doing everything wrong. It has made us feel that paying attention to our hunger cues or listening to what our body wants/needs is wrong.

Please remember that your children need for you to be supportive and understanding and that they are hurting. They are not doing this for vanity reasons. Eating disorders are deadly, the most deadly mental condition. Look past the stereotypes of eating disorders and recognize that there is no “one size fits all” eating disorder.

This is written by Mary Kate S as part of our Eating Disorder Recovery Stories. She has a blog and is active on Instagram.

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Are you heading towards an energetic crisis as you parent a child with an eating disorder?

Many parents live in a state of constant anxiety:

  • Am I doing the right thing for my child?
  • Am I doing the right thing for my marriage?
  • Am I doing the right thing for my career?
  • What will happen if …
  • How will I handle …
  • Will I ever …

The voices in our heads are unrelenting and demanding of our time and energy. It feels as if we can never do enough to be the perfect parent.

If you have a child with an eating disorder like binge eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia, these feelings just get an extra kick in the pants. Not only do you have the “regular” struggles of parenting, you may also have the sense that you have to save your child from herself. And, no matter how many times the experts tell you it’s not your fault, you probably still worry that it is.

  • If only I had …
  • I should have …
  • It wouldn’t have happened if I …

If you are nodding your because this is how you feel, please relax and take a deep breath right now. Your desire to be a perfect parent is perfectly understandable, but it is also perfectly unreasonable. It is likely that you are in the early stages of an energetic crisis, and that will not help anyone in your family.

An “Energetic Crisis” is when your body develops symptoms due to emotional stress. It’s like a white flag from your body, trying to tell your mind to chill out! Common symptoms are repeated colds/flus, IBS, joint pain, back pain, depression, etc. 


Here are some signs that you’re on your way to an energetic crisis:

  • You rush around, often bumping into things and dropping things as you go.
  • You increasingly make calendar errors like forgetting appointments and double-booking yourself.
  • Your memory seems impaired and it feels like you can’t actually hear things as people are speaking to you.
  • You have a constant low-level sense of panic.

These signs may seem like something that you just have to live with, but they are actually a really big deal. These physical signs are an indication that your ability to “captain” your family’s ship is in danger.

Here are some things to consider if you are feeling the overwhelm described above:

  • Find a therapist or a coach who can work with you on your expectations and perfectionism tendencies.
  • Find a way to connect with your body every day using meditation, yoga or gentle exercise like walking.
  • Talk to your partner about how you can balance your stress in the family.
  • Build a community of helpers who can help you steer the family ship.

Remember, taking steps to balance your own energy is not selfish. It is critical to the health and wellness of everyone in your family, especially your child who has an eating disorder. Your balance, calm and ability to soothe her are critical to her healing, but you absolutely can’t show up for her if you are in your own crisis.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to ride the emotional roller coaster of parenting an adolescent with an eating disorder

If you have a teenager, then you’re already experiencing the challenges of parenting during adolescence. Your child is biologically programmed to separate from you during this time, to test boundaries and develop her own way of operating in the world. It is an unfortunate fact that many eating disorders also arise during adolescence, which only adds to the minefields you may be navigating.

If you have a child with an eating disorder like anorexia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder or bulimia, you are in for a rough ride, and taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of her as she heals. But how do you do that when she’s driving you crazy and you have a million other things on your plate? There is no easy answer, but here are some things to keep in mind.

One Minute at a Time

Teenagers with eating disorders often also have challenges with anxiety and depression. Girls have the added challenge of hormonal fluctuations when they menstruate. All of these combine to create some crazy-powerful feelings. This feelings can sweep through your house like a massive tornado.

She may tantrum, scream, and cry unconsolably. Of course you want her to stop. Every single cell in your body wants her to stop. At first, you may want her to stop for her sake – she’s working herself into a frenzy! But then, you probably want her to stop for your sake – Jeez! What is WRONG with her! Why is she making all this noise! It’s so upsetting!

It’s OK for you to feel that and more while your teen is emotionally out of control. The best thing you can do is stay in the moment, but that doesn’t mean you have to be some sort of  zen master. All you have to do is make it through one minute at a time. Don’t think ahead, don’t think back. Don’t worry about what is “proper” or what she “should” be doing. Just breathe and be there. Take her tantrum one minute at a time, and you can handle it. Promise.

Acceptance of What IS

So much of parenting feels like we should be guiding and making things better for our children. But when adolescence hits, it can seem like everything that has worked previously stops working – and in some ways, it has. You need to learn how to handle the growing adult who lives in your house, not try to hold onto the little child she once was.

Your teen is growing up and growing away from you. She will push you away. She will lie to you. She will do terrible things that make no sense. With her eating disorder, she is hurting herself. It’s a terrible thing to have to see.

The main difference for us as parents today is that most of us haven’t raised our kids under the “command and control” model of parenting. We didn’t spank or shame or tell them that children should be seen and not heard. Now, as a reward for not being controlling, our teens are not afraid of us. That means we literally have less control. That’s just a fact. Parenting has changed. Let go of any fantasies about controlling your child the way your parents controlled (or tried to control) you, and find ways to work with her in the new parenting paradigm.

Finally, accept the eating disorder itself. It has been observed that eating disorders may be a coping mechanism developed to protect your sweet child from big, scary emotions. As puberty hits, her emotions hit the ceiling, and she is just desperately trying to be OK in there with all those disturbing thoughts and feelings. Accept that the eating disorder meant well, but it doesn’t need to stay. Don’t fight diagnosis or treatment because you wish the eating disorder never came into your life. It did.

Know When to Stop Talking

There is a difference between being supportive and being sucked into a nasty vortex. When your teenager is raging, you want to support her feelings and let them happen, so you try to talk about them. The more you try to talk, the bigger the storm becomes, which is bewildering and frustrating as hell.


Sometimes in our culture we are overly dependent on language. We think that if we can explain something, it will go away. That lassoing the exact feeling with words will make it dissipate.

But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes feelings just can’t – and and don’t need to – be put into words. Your child with an eating disorder is processing her feelings inside her body, not inside her head. So sometimes you need to reach out to her on the level of her body, not her mind.

Sometimes you need to just hold her, saying nothing. Physical affection can feel awkward as your teen develops, but never underestimate the power of holding your child close, patting her back, and making soothing noises. Remember how you did that when she was very little? That is what her inner child still craves. She still needs that from you, even if she acts uncomfortable at first. Try reaching her on a physical level gradually at first, and then more often as she begins to trust the experience of being physically comforted by you.

Most of all, love yourself through this process. You are doing the best that you can!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Tapping into “The Why” of eating to help your child heal from an eating disorder

We have always loved Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle,” in which companies and organizations learn to focus on WHY they are doing something instead of WHAT and HOW they are doing it.

In this video, we use the concept of the Golden Circle, and to suggest you tap into your child’s WHY for eating in a healthy, balanced, non-disordered way, to help you guide her towards healing from her eating disorder.

Simon Sinek’s first TEDx talk from 2009 is now the 3rd most watched TED talk of all time, sitting at well over 25 million views. You can watch it here.

His talk presented a very simple truth – that many of the world’s most inspirational leaders have focused on WHY they do something, while the rest of the average leaders focus on WHAT they do or HOW they do it. When we tap into WHY we do something, we ourselves are intrinsically motivated by a deep sense of passion, rather than we are being forced to do something because that’s just how things work.


If you have a child who has an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, she is facing some strongly incorrect messages in her head. You can work with many types of professionals in treating the eating disorder, but as a parent, you also have an opportunity to support recovery. One way to do that is to help your child identify why she wants to recover from the eating disorder.

Remember that teenagers are independent, unique people who hate to be told WHAT to do or HOW to do it. They will also resist being told WHY they should do anything, mainly because parents are usually out of touch with why teenagers do anything.

Nonetheless, every child has her own sense of purpose and a developing value system, and if you can help her find her own WHY, you can get further along the path to health and wellness.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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What to know about outpatient treatment for eating disorders – by Dr. Ashley Southard

We interviewed Dr. Ashley Southard of A New Beginning, and she gave us some excellent information about how outpatient treatment works for eating disorders.

Below are her comments:

Outpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders

Outpatient treatment for an eating disorder is a great option for children, adolescents, and adults who are medically stable and able to maintain their day-to-day responsibilities outside of treatment.

Outpatient treatment typically includes 1-3 hourly sessions per week with various members of the treatment team, which may include a therapist(s), registered dietitian, pediatrician/physician, and/or psychiatrist.

Minors participating in treatment have access to many therapeutic services, including but not limited to individual therapy, family therapy, and group therapy; each of these modalities serve important roles in a child’s full recovery from an eating disorder.

Outpatient care is a wonderful treatment option for many families affected by eating disorders because it provides stability in the midst of a very difficult situation. It often allows the child to continue developing academically, socially and emotionally while addressing the eating disorder.

Outpatient treatment affords the entire family system an opportunity to work together to achieve recovery, and is less likely to leave the child feeling like the identified patient (IP) who is responsible for making all of the changes.

Parental Involvement

Based on attachment theory, parents are the most powerful agents of change in their child’s life, so long as they are modeling healthy thoughts and behaviors that support eating disorder recovery. Thus, family therapy is often recommended, affording the child and parents (and siblings, when appropriate) the opportunity to learn what is involved in achieving full recovery, develop healthy communication with each other, and resolve any old hurts/wounds that may be contributing to the maintenance of the eating disorder.

Parents’ level of participation in therapy will depend on a variety of factors, including the child’s age, severity of eating disorder, and providers’ recommendations. For example, when a child or adolescent has a severe eating disorder such as severe anorexia, parents may be encouraged to take a very active role in managing all food activity for the child. This approach is often referred to as family-based treatment, FBT, or Maudsley.

For all types of eating disorders, parents and family members are encouraged to adopt a healthy relationship with food, such that they are eating with balance, variety, and moderation.We have a Registered Dietician who works very closely with parents to help them learn which foods to offer at home, which portions are appropriate, and how to create a healthy family culture around food.

Impacts on Family Life

The impact of outpatient treatment on a family’s life will vary, depending on the severity of the eating disorder and the frequency of treatment required. Especially when a severe case of anorexia demands family-based treatment, FBT, or Maudsley, food and therapy become the main focal point for everyone in the family, which can be emotionally draining for all involved. However, as the family successfully moves through treatment and the child assumes more responsibility for his/her recovery, families are able to take a less active role in the day-to-day management of the child’s eating.

ashley-quoteFor children and adolescents with less severe eating disorders, such as milder forms of Anorexia Nervosa, and bulimia, orthorexia and binge eating disorder, family life may be slightly less impacted by the treatment process. While parents may not need to monitor all food activity, they are still responsible for supplying recommended foods and ensuring that their child attends all recommended treatment services. Additionally, families may be invited to attend regular family therapy sessions on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, or they may be periodically invited as adjuncts to their child’s individual therapy.

Regardless of level of involvement, it is imperative that the home environment in which the child or adolescent lives is compatible with the work they are doing to achieve and maintain full recovery from their eating disorder.

Additionally, families are encouraged to model healthy body image by embracing their own bodies with respect and refraining from commenting about others’ bodies.

What Parents Should Know About Eating Disorder Treatment

Our psychotherapists often work with the family to explore what the child/adolescent is trying to communicate vis-a-vis food and body. We often find that poor family communication, trauma, and unresolved pain from the past is driving the eating behavior, and so we work hard to heal these emotional roots in the family system, not from a critical standpoint, but from a healing standpoint for the sake of the child’s recovery.


Dr. Ashley Southard is a therapist in Scottsdale, AZ specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, trauma/abuse, and relationship issues. You can follow her on Twitter at @drashleys, and Facebook at /anewbeginningaz and /thehealthyweighout. You can find her online at and

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What to say when your teenager is angry (consider the “Anger Iceberg”)

Living with a teenager can feel like you’re constantly waiting for a bomb to explode. Their anger may last hours, days or even months. Though you are a parent, and you love your kid, you are also a human being who is wired with mirror neurons. This means that living in the face of anger can really drag you down because you will mirror the anger right back unless you learn to manage it with compassion.

When your teenager is angry, you might be tempted to say things like:

  • There’s no need to be angry, Sweetie. It will all be OK.
  • Why are you so angry all the time? It’s really upsetting!
  • Your anger is contagious! You’re making us all crazy!

It’s OK if you have said these things in the past – you’re human. But it’s also likely that you have noticed that such statements are not very effective at getting your teenager to change angry behavior. It’s not as if when you say these things your teenager turns around and says “You know what, Mom, you’re right! I’m going to stop being angry right now.”

Instead, there’s a good chance that your teenager gets even angrier, and responds either by turning their anger on you or walking out of the room, avoiding any further contact. Either action fosters separation, not connection.

When you have a child with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, anger management is an important part of healing, but not in the way you might think. It’s not that you want the anger to go away. You never want to suggest that your child should not FEEL anger. Instead, you want to help your child feel the anger in a more productive way. A lot of times this means understanding that anger is a common mask used to hide truer, deeper feelings that are very uncomfortable to feel.

Here’s a great graphic created by The Gottman Institute regarding the real feelings that may be lurking below anger:


By taking a look at this “Anger Iceberg,” you might recognize some of the deep feelings that your teenager is attempting to mask with anger – and with his or her eating disorder. Many people with eating disorders attempt to protect themselves from feelings like hurt, envy, insecurity, and loneliness.

So, when you want to talk to your child about his or her anger, don’t try to take the anger away. Instead, observe your teen carefully and identify some of the feelings the anger is masking.

Here’s What To Say

If your teen is in the midst of an angry explosion, set boundaries about how that anger is expressed (i.e. no physical violence, hitting walls, slamming things, or throwing things), but don’t try to stop the feeling itself. You can handle it. It will pass.

When the explosion has passed (it always does), regroup with your child and honor and accept the anger.

  • I understand that you got really angry earlier, and I want you to know that I heard how upset you were. It’s so frustrating when <say something about the situation that sparked the anger>. I feel angry about stuff like that, too.

Important: Do not say that the anger hurts you. Remember that the anger was just a mask for deeper feelings, and feelings deserve to be felt. You are responsible for helping your child learn to process feelings in a safe, healthy way.

Next, take things a bit deeper. For example:

  • I noticed that this happened shortly after you got your Algebra test back. Do you want to talk about how you felt when you got your score?
  • I get the feeling that the anger you felt might have something to do with the fact that Jenny and Kim have been leaving you out of things – is that true?
  • Tomorrow is the big recital. Sometimes when we act like we are angry, we are actually feeling nervous, or something else uncomfortable. Is it possible that you’re feeling anxious about the recital?

This attempt to discuss deeper feelings may or may not result in a discussion. Many teenagers, especially boys, are not going to open up to you about this. And many girls will turn your attempt to talk into a whole new fight. Both of these are attempts to NOT FEEL their true feelings.

But it’s OK if those things happen. The point is not for you to have a great conversation. The point is for you to say that there is a potential for an Anger Iceberg, and that you are willing and able to accept all of their feelings – whatever they are.

This is not a one-time conversation. This is a conversation that you can have many times with your child to gradually teach him or her how to start looking more deeply at their feelings – both expressed and unexpressed – and to help them see that feelings are not to be feared.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


The Gottman Institute offers information and services for families, with the mission to help create and maintain greater love and health in relationships. Their work includes research, coaching and products in support of this goal.

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What I Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders – by Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D

We interviewed Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. She provided us with some excellent information for parents regarding eating disorder prevention, treatment and recovery.

Below are her comments:


Parents Have Power

We are in luck, because parents can have a great deal of power in the prevention of eating disorders!

It is critical to begin to provide education early – prior to adolescence. Begin to talk to your child about the importance of a healthy body image before all the changes of puberty begin. Stress the importance of function over appearance.

Our bodies are our homes! They are the vehicles to move us around our journey in life. Stress the point that they are not meant to be perfect.

Educate your kids about diet culture, and about the differences between real life, and what the media is portraying in terms of how bodies should look.

Lastly, be a good role model. Don’t criticize your own appearance in front of your kids. Don’t comment on other people’s appearance. Eat with your children. Don’t diet. Provide them with a foundation to have a strong and healthy relationship with food throughout their whole lives.

If Your Child Has a Friend With an Eating Disorder

Parents should encourage their children to reach out if they believe one of their friends has an eating disorder.

Talk to your children about the importance of asking for help from an adult, instead of trying to help this friend on your own.

Discuss how eating disorders are complicated and serious, and stress the importance of talking to their friend’s parent, teacher, or another adult support if they believe this friend is struggling. If this has already happened, and the friend has support from professionals and adults, talk to your child about how words matter very much to this friend right now.

Stress the importance of not focusing on weight, calories, or food when hanging out with this friend. Also encourage your child not to comment on any changes in their friend’s physical appearance.

Schools as a Partner in Eating Disorder Treatment

Schools would be wise to begin to incorporate eating disorder education and awareness into their education curriculum as early as elementary school.

Elementary schoolers often learn about MyPlate nutrition, and healthy food versus “junk food” in health classes, so it makes sense that eating disorders and body image education should be provided as part of the standard curriculum as well.

My belief is this would provide kids with a more balanced education and overall view of health in general.

Schools should also begin to provide yearly eating disorder screening days. This could be helpful for early identification and intervention for children that may have flown under the radar otherwise.

Finally, it would be helpful if school counselors and school psychologists had more training on how to support children recovering from eating disorders during mealtimes. Often times these are the individuals expected to support children who are coming back to school after treatment, and these skills are often not intuitive. Hence extra training would be beneficial.

The Healthcare System and Eating Disorders

We have mounting evidence to support the fact that eating disorders can be treated successfully, however many insurance companies refuse to cover the cost for treatment until individuals are extremely ill. This is counterintuitive. Why wait to treat this life-threatening illness when we know that the longer that it progresses, the more difficult and stubborn it can be to treat?

Even when health care costs are covered in part, the reimbursement to families is often inadequate. Additionally, insurance companies often pull coverage as soon as patients hit “minimum safe weights” or as soon as their blood work begins to look normal.

This is confusing to patients, and frustrating to clinicians, as eating disorders contain both physical and psychological symptoms. The healthcare system, and managed care in particular, needs to begin to acknowledge this fact, and get onboard with the idea that providing treatment before and after critical conditions makes more sense for long-term recovery.


Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders and body image issues. She has worked at various inpatient eating disorder treatment facilities, and is the blog manager for Project HEAL. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and golden doodle and currently works at a group practice.


Project HEAL is an organization that provides funding for individuals who cannot afford treatment for their eating disorder. Please visit the website if you would like to know more about this opportunity!


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Level 5 Leadership when parenting a child who has an eating disorder

In most cases, being a “good enough” parent is just fine. But if your child becomes afflicted with an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, you need to take your parenting from good to great to help him or her heal.

The good news is that the key element that’s missing from your toolbox is not more time and physical effort. You do not need to work HARDER as a parent. Instead, you need to learn how you can work SMARTER to help everyone in the family heal.

Jim Collins is well known for his research into what it takes to transform a company from “good” to “great.” He studies organizations and noted several key differences between the good companies and the great companies. His book, Good to Great examined these differences.

One of the keys noted in great companies was their leaders. Specifically, companies that made the transition from good to great had a “Level 5 Leader.”

Collins was surprised when he identified Level 5 Leaders, because they did not behave like we expect the best business leaders to behave. They were not superstars or incredibly charismatic. They did not present themselves as smarter or better than others. They were not better organizers or known for years of business school. They were not arrogant.

Instead, he found that Level 5 Leaders who are able to transform a company from good to great have humility, and are operating from a powerful ambition for the good of the company, not the good of themselves. Because of their belief in the inherent skills and capabilities already within their organizations, they are fearless when it comes to taking effective action during challenging times.

As parents, we feel a lot of pressure to be great managers, or low-level leaders. Managers are responsible for making things happen. They buy supplies and schedule tasks and get people from A to B along a straight path.

You have been doing this since your kids were born. You plan great birthday parties, make sure they show up to school, and drive them all over town to practices, games and playdates. Such management is physically exhausting, but it’s not usually intellectually challenging.

But being a great manager in your family will only get you so far. When dealing with an eating disorder, your family needs you to elevate your parenting to Level 5 Leadership.

When you become a Level 5 Leader in your family, you provide your children with the guidance they need to perform at higher levels, which leads to greater success at school, in sports, at home, and when they battle an eating disorder.

Here are some key things to learn about making the transition to being a Level 5 Leader in your family:


1. Develop humility
So many times as parents, we feel we must be in control. We need to tell our kids what to do and when to do it, otherwise how will anything possibly get done?

To learn humility as a parent, you must learn that your kids are their own individual human beings, who have minds and talents and skills. When you develop humility, you recognize that you can honor your child’s uniqueness, and in no way does it impact their faith in you. In fact, the more you truly respect who they are, the more they will respect you.

You can also be humble when it comes to the eating disorder itself. Eating disorders take a powerful hold on the mind, and we must respect them for their power, even as we fight them valiantly. Entrenched eating disorders are not open to quick, simple fixes. Our humility allows us to endure the long haul required to beat them.

2. Ask for help
One of the things Collins noticed is that sometimes outsiders consider Level 5 Leaders “weak” because they ask for help. But the ability to reach out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it always leads to better outcomes.

Eating disorders are complex, and your guidance and love will be critical along the path to healing, but don’t hesitate to reach out to people who know more than you do about treating the disorder. Getting help is essential to supporting your child’s healing.

Asking for help in battling an eating disorder is not limited to medical professionals and therapists who will treat your child. You may need help from other parents when you have a therapy appointment that coincides with another one of your kids’ soccer game. You may need help from a friend in the middle of the night when you feel hopeless and ashamed and need to talk about it. You may need help from your parents in explaining how family gatherings need to be adjusted in light of the eating disorder. The ability to reach out for and accept help when you need it could be your single greatest asset in managing this disorder.

3. Take responsibility
Collins says that Level 5 Leaders look in the mirror when things go wrong, and out the window when things go right. This does not mean that you should ever blame yourself for your child’s eating disorder. There are so many genetic and environmental components contributing to eating disorders, and your shame and blame will not do your child any good along the road to healing. This is not your fault!

However, you can take the time to look in the mirror and reflect on ways in which you can improve as a parent who has a child with an eating disorder. We can all improve. There is no perfect parent in the whole world. We are all struggling to do our best. The difference is not that a Level 5 Leader thinks she can achieve perfection, but that she consistently takes responsibility for small improvements over which she has control.

While looking in the mirror, you may recognize that you have some disordered eating patterns of your own. Or perhaps you have struggled with body dissatisfaction. Or maybe you suffer from depression that you just haven’t had the time to treat. Take responsibility for developing, educating and healing yourself, and the benefits will be felt by the whole family.

4. Develop discipline
Level 5 Leaders are great disciplinarians where it matters. When they commit to a goal, no matter how difficult it is, they stick to their resolve. The energy behind their resolve is not that they will poke and prod their employees to achieve greatness, but rather that they believe their employees are capable of achieving greatness and they will work alongside them in the spirit of mutual passion.

It’s important to note here that Level 5 Leaders do not stick to a single way in which they must achieve their goal. If the goal is to get to the store, you can load your team into the car and head out. But if the car breaks down, the Level 5 Leader is not deterred; he finds a bus. When the bus starts heading the wrong way, he does not despair – he gets his people off the bus and starts walking with them. Whatever it takes, he maintains his leadership and gets his team to the destination.

Eating disorder recovery is not usually a straight path. There is no single guaranteed way to achieve healing. Something that works for a while might stop working. The key is discipline towards healing your child, and being open to different ways to achieve that goal.

5. Build a great team
Level 5 Leaders make sure that they get the right people on their team, and the wrong people off their team. Even if they might personally like a team member, they are brutally honest about whether that team member is contributing to the greater good of the organization.

You might need to build a team of therapists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, coaches, medical doctors, and more to achieve healing for your child. As a Level 5 Leader, you must be diligent in recognizing when one team member is not working well with the others.

You might find that you like someone, but your child does not. You have to constantly evaluate the people who are influencing your child’s healing process, and build a team that makes sense for your whole family and the ultimate goal of healing.

You Can Do This!

Level 5 Leaders are rare, but they do indeed exist everywhere. They are in the boardroom, on the field, in classrooms and in homes. Your Level 5 Leadership will make a huge impact on every single member of your family, not just the child who has an eating disorder. By striving towards Level 5 Leadership, you can take control of a situation that feels overwhelming. You cannot control your child, and you cannot control ED, but you can make a difference by being a Level 5 Leader.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


Read the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t

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What To Do Together: Watch this video about Photoshop and Beauty

If you have a daughter or a son with an eating disorder, they are likely struggling to understand the media presentation of the “ideal human” and match it up with their experience of themselves.

Next time you’re sitting around together on separate devices, take a moment to connect with her, and watch this video together. This is a great way to open the discussion about her perceived imperfections and talk about what it feels like to be a teenager living in today’s image-conscious world.

For Girls

BuzzFeed Video asked four women to participate in a Photoshop experiment. Their reactions to the results are a surprise to many. How does your daughter feel about this video? What do you agree about? What do you disagree about? Remember to honor her opinions as much as you honor your own. The idea here is to understand, not to convince.

For Boys

How does your son feel about this video? What do you agree about? What do you disagree about? Remember to honor his opinions as much as you honor your own. The idea here is to discuss, not to convince.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders and body hate.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.