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How emotional regulation can help with an eating disorder (and what you can do)

How to use emotional regulation to help your child who has an eating disorder

A child who has an eating disorder will benefit from emotional regulation skills, and parents can help by learning co-regulation techniques. When we co-regulate with our kids, they learn to do it for themselves. In fact, we are in the best possible position to improve our kids’ capacity for emotional regulation.

Often when we learn a child has an eating disorder all our attention goes to the child’s disordered behaviors. We focus on feeding them and getting them to therapy. This is important, necessary, and makes a lot of sense. 

But when we focus exclusively on behaviors we may miss the cause of the behaviors. And emotional dysregulation and disengagement are often at the heart of eating disorders. This is why emotional regulation is key to lasting recovery.

Parental co-regulation

Children are not born with emotional regulation skills. They learn them through a process called co-regulation.

Parental co-regulation is when a parent’s nervous system regulates the child’s nervous system. With practice, the child gradually learns to regulate their own nervous system without the aid of their parent. This is something we know based on recent developments in neuroscience, which is teaching us how children’s emotional systems develop. 

When there isn’t enough co-regulation in the parent-child relationship, our kids don’t develop a healthy self-regulation system. We often see signs of this through kids’ negative behavior.

Benefits of co-regulation:

  • More balanced and calm state of mind
  • Able to cope with worry and regulate thoughts and emotions
  • Ability to think more clearly and make decisions
  • Increased ability to respond rather than react
  • Process worry, stress, and anxiety in a healthy way
  • Emotional balance
  • Relationship balance
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness

Adults can learn emotional regulation when they are older, but it is much harder and takes a lot of time and effort. A child/teen, on the other hand, can learn emotional regulation through co-regulation with a parent much faster due to the neurobiology of the emotional regulation system. A parent who co-regulates with their child, especially when there is an eating disorder, can make a huge impact on the child’s lifetime mental health.

emotional regulation

Understanding attunement

Co-regulation begins with parental attunement. This is when a parent tunes into how a child is feeling – the feelings that lie beneath the behavior we’re observing – and responds in a way that will bring the child into an emotionally-regulated state. Attunement is something that we’re designed to do for our children, and it’s something our kids need us to do to build a healthy self-regulation system.

Attunement begins with tuning in to how your child is feeling. Your first trigger that there’s a feeling to pay attention to is that you might notice you are getting irritated or frustrated with them. That’s typically a good sign that your child is having feelings and needs you to tune in and help them regulate their emotional system. 

Once you notice a behavior that bothers you and therefore indicates hard feelings, take a deep, calming breath and look at your child. Think about what they might be feeling, and try to sense it with your body. 

We have a vagus nerve that is automatically attuned to our child’s distress. The vagus nerve winds throughout our brain, face, neck, and trunk. “Gut feelings” are actually the vagus nerve sending feedback to your stomach and intestines. Vagus nerve feedback is powerful and embodied, and it’s one of the best ways we can become attuned to our child’s emotional needs.

Being attuned to your child takes practice, but it’s something you can learn. 

Childhood emotional regulation

Behavior is often seen as something we need to fix or get rid of. But when we shift our thinking to recognize that behavior holds critical clues, we can decode our kids’ emotional state and respond appropriately. Our kids’ negative, annoying, and dangerous behavior, including eating disorder behavior, tells us they need this from us. 

This approach is a critical shift from thinking our kids’ behavior is something that needs to be overcome, fixed, shut down, or controlled. Instead, we want to learn to translate behavior and use co-regulation to help them learn self-regulation. 

Often we get frustrated with our kids’ irritating behaviors. We all wish our kids would self-regulate their emotions better. But emotional regulation is a learned skill, and our own irritation is our signal that we need to tune in and help them with co-regulation. 

No matter how convenient it would be, we don’t improve nervous system regulation with cognitive skill-building. Rather, we improve nervous system self-regulation through co-regulation.

Windows of tolerance

One helpful way to visualize this is to consider our kids as having different emotional “windows.” I created a visual way of seeing these three windows, or emotional states: dysregulated, co-regulated, and disengaged. This illustration is based on the “Window of Tolerance” developed by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, a leader in neuroscience research particularly as it relates to the parenting relationship. I also integrated concepts from the work of Dr. Stephen Porges.

GJC emotional regulation model

The behaviors and feelings are scientifically validated. However, the information for “eating disorder behaviors” is based on my professional observations, research, and lived experience. Please use this information as guidance, not fact. Every eating disorder is unique.

A child who has an eating disorder will likely have periods of emotional regulation. That is to be expected. However, the eating disorder behaviors are unlikely to be a problem while the child is in a regulated state, which is why I put “N/A” in that column. Eating disorder behaviors are most often triggered by emotional dysregulation and/or disengagement.

Co-regulating with your child through recovery

A child’s eating disorder recovery will go through many stages. The main thing to keep in mind is that when a child increases their emotional regulation, their eating disorder behaviors will almost always decrease. 

This rarely happens all at once, but rather in stages. And the goal is not to achieve a state of constant emotional regulation. Instead, we just want to shift the balance and have more periods of regulation than periods of dysregulation and disengagement. This is normal and healthy human emotional functioning.

I’ve come up with a model: Emotional Stages of Eating Disorder Recovery based on my research, observations, and lived experience. 

Emotional Stages of Eating Disorder Recovery By ginny jones

The key here is that parents can play an integral role in eating disorder recovery by focusing on co-regulating with their child, which will build the child’s ability to self-regulate and therefore not seek eating disorder behaviors as a coping mechanism.

How to co-regulate with your child

So how does a parent co-regulate with a child who has an eating disorder? Remember that the first step is to be attuned to your child’s emotional state. Keep in mind that often your first signal that your child needs co-regulation is that you’ll feel irritated or upset with them. Use that signal to determine where your child falls: are they dysregulated or disengaged? Once you know that, you can start to intuit the feelings they are experiencing.

Once you are tuned into your child’s emotional state, you can begin co-regulating by: 

  • Making gentle, non-threatening eye contact
  • Using a soothing vocal tone
  • Saying kind words of understanding and validation
  • Touching them gently and respectfully
  • Breathing deeply to keep your nervous system regulated
  • Using compassionate self-talk to keep yourself centered

The most important part of co-regulation is to keep your nervous system centered and confident. What you feel is more important than what you do or say.

Remember that you can always come back and talk about the problematic behavior that tipped you off to your child’s need for co-regulation. But you cannot have useful conversations about behavior while your child is in a state of dysregulation or disengagement.

Activities you can do together

The steps above are the most important part of co-regulation. But sometimes it will help to move into activity. Be thoughtful here and make sure activity is called for. Adjust your activity and expectations based on the level of dysregulation or disengagement. It’s unlikely that you will want to use the same activity all the time. These are a few go-to activities that can help your nervous system get in touch with theirs if they are resisting connection:

  • Art: color, paint, or doodle
  • Play: play a simple and non-competitive game from childhood
  • Stretch: do some gentle stretches
  • Exercise: go for a walk or run
  • Pets: talk about your pets and/or pet your pets
  • Eat/Drink: make a cup of tea or a piece of toast to share
  • Go outside: look up at the sky, look at trees or grass
  • Read: read a book out loud in a calm voice. You could choose something from childhood that holds good memories
  • Light a scented candle: smell is a powerful and underutilized way to soothe and calm the nervous system
  • Listen to music together

While you do these activities, don’t worry about what you say. Worry about how you feel. The goal is to stay in your child’s presence so that your calm, confident emotional state will automatically transmit to their dysregulated or disengaged nervous system.

emotional regulation

Be careful of the talk trap

Avoid getting stuck in the trap of thinking that co-regulation relies on talking about feelings. It does not. Your child cannot have useful, meaningful conversations with you when they are dysregulated or disengaged. Therefore, while soothing talk may be helpful, trying to talk about the behavior or even the feelings may not be helpful and can even get in the way. Focus on feeling calm and being with your child and rely on your senses rather than words. 

If your child wants to talk, validate what they say and help them clarify their feelings and thoughts. But avoid debating, offering advice, or providing guidance when you see signs of dysregulation or disengagement.

You can have longer and more meaningful conversations once they are regulated, which means they are showing signs of being calm and confident. But trying to do this when they are not emotionally regulated can backfire.

How we can do this better

As parents, our nervous system is constantly communicating with our kids’ nervous systems. This is why attending to our own emotional health will help our kids feel better. 

In fact, there are several validated interventions in which only parents are treated for childhood emotional disorders. In these cases, therapists never work directly with the child, but instead, teach the parent emotional regulation skills. And they work just as well if not better than direct intervention with the child. 

How to strengthen your emotional regulation as an adult:

  • Work with a therapist/coach to discover and address your own dysregulation and disconnection patterns
  • Practice meditation
  • Learn self-compassion 
  • Nourish your body with food you love
  • Move your body joyfully
  • Get outdoors every day
  • Learn self-acceptance
  • Find a hobby or something you do enthusiastically just because you enjoy it
  • Build/deepen your friendships and relationships with others

Supporting our kids’ eating disorder recovery

Parents can make a significant difference in kids’ recovery from eating disorders. And while feeding your child and getting them to therapy are important, your emotional growth can also make a big difference. 

Learning emotional regulation and how to co-regulate with your child may be the difference-maker you’ve been looking for! You can download my eBook: Emotional Regulation Skills for Parents Who Have Kids With Eating Disorders. In this eBook you’ll learn how to recognize the different emotional states and how to respond, plus powerful worksheets to help you get started.


This article is informed by the work of Dr. Stephen Porges and Dr. Daniel Siegel.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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A letter to family about your child’s anorexia (what to say/what not to say)

A letter to family about your child's anorexia (what to say/what not to say)

When you have a child with anorexia, it may be necessary to teach family members about the eating disorder and explain what to say and what not to say, and a letter can work well for this. This is especially true if your child’s eating disorder is visible. While there are many eating disorders that are invisible, low-weight anorexia can be surprising and even distressing for loved ones to see. This can lead to unhelpful and even harmful comments.

One problem with eating disorders is that people think they understand them. After all, eating disorders appear simple: a person doesn’t want to eat because they want to be thin. But this definition misses the vast experience of having anorexia, its physical consequences, and the depth of its mental distortions. 

Anorexia, like all eating disorders, is a health condition, not a choice. It’s not something that even the most well-meaning and loving family member can talk your child out of. This is not a situation in which an intervention will likely be helpful.

In fact, often well-meaning family members accidentally make things worse, not better. Of course, all they want is for your child to feel better, but they are operating out of instinct, not knowledge. And unfortunately, instinct doesn’t typically serve us well when we’re dealing with an eating disorder.

What to tell family members about anorexia

If your child is visibly ill with anorexia, then it may be helpful to provide family members with some guidance about the illness, what to say, and what not to say. However, this should be done carefully and thoughtfully. Anorexia is a personal health condition, and you should respect your child’s right to privacy as much as possible.

I recommend you talk to your child about whether and how to talk about their condition with family members. You may want to bring in their therapist to help you address this. When an eating disorder is visible, it can be very helpful to educate family members so they don’t say the wrong thing. But we must be very aware of privacy when doing it.

There are no hard and fast rules about whether and how to do this, but it’s important to think carefully and consciously about how to proceed.

Following is an email/letter you could provide to family members if your child has agreed to this language. Of course, there are hundreds of ways to write this letter – this is just one option.

Family letter: about anorexia

Dear Family,

It’s been another crazy year, and we’re looking forward to seeing you at Marcy’s wedding this summer! Before we get together I wanted to share some information with you about Ellen’s health. I’m sharing this information with Ellen’s permission because we know you will have questions and want to do our best to address them before the wedding.

Ellen has anorexia nervosa. This is an eating disorder that we’re working hard to address with the appropriate professionals. When you see her, you may be surprised by Ellen’s appearance, and we’d like you to consider the best response when you see her since I know how much you love her and want her to be safe and healthy. 

Here’s what we’d like you to know:

Eating disorders are an illness, not a choice

It looks like there’s a simple choice to eat or not eat. But eating disorders are complex medical and psychological conditions that do not respond to simple encouragement or willpower. Treatment relies on highly-trained specialists.

When loved ones assume that eating disorders are a choice, their well-meaning comments can actually make things worse (not better). Please believe us when we say that we have explored the necessary options for Ellen’s care and that it’s more complex than most people realize. That’s why I’m sharing this letter with the family about anorexia. I know most people don’t know much about it, and I hope this guidance is helpful.

What to say when you greet a person who has an eating disorder

When you see Ellen, you may be tempted to say something about her appearance. But focusing on her appearance, positive or negative, can be harmful. So instead, say things like:

  • I’m so happy to see you!
  • It’s wonderful to catch up with you!
  • I’ve missed you! 
  • How are you?

What not to say: “You’re so small/thin/tiny/like a skeleton.” While you may think the person needs to “wake up” and see that they have a problem, comments about their appearance do nothing to reverse the trajectory of the eating disorder. In fact, they actually give the eating disorder a dopamine hit. This sort of comment will not “wake her up,” but it will “wake up” the eating disorder and give it more power (not less).

What else not to say: After getting this letter, you may find that Ellen’s appearance is healthier than you assumed it would be. You may be tempted to praise her for that. But it’s actually just as harmful to comment on her appearance positively as it is to comment on it negatively. Just stay away from appearance-based comments including: 

  • You look so healthy! 
  • You look radiant!
  • You’re glowing!
  • That dress fits you like a glove!

The bottom line is to please focus on Ellen as a person, not her body.

What to say when a person with an eating disorder doesn’t eat

Now that you know about her eating disorder, you may feel as if you need to encourage her to eat. Please don’t do this! If you find yourself distressed by her eating habits, you can say things like:

  • So what’s been going on with you lately?
  • How are you?
  • Can I share something that happened to me recently? (this should not be about food, eating, weight, or health)

What not to say: “Just eat” (or any variation). This assumes that eating is a simple choice for Ellen. It’s not. This is like telling a cancer patient that they just need to stop growing tumor cells. An eating disorder is a health problem that needs to be treated by trained health professionals. Your care and love are so helpful, but please don’t try to treat the eating disorder by convincing her to eat. 

Avoid comments like:

  • Try the cake, it’s delicious!
  • Come on, you’ve got to try this amazing hamburger!
  • Wouldn’t you like just one bite of my salad? You always liked it when you were younger!
  • You look hungry! Have a bite!
  • Let’s put some meat on those bones!

As with appearance, it’s best to focus on Ellen the person, not what she’s eating.

What to say when a person with an eating disorder is upset

At times Ellen may look sad or distressed to you. Please consider whether this is something that demands a response. While I’m sure you want to cheer her up and make her feel better, just like convincing her to eat, it’s rarely helpful. But if she is clearly upset and you believe the time is right, you could say things like:

  • Would you like to talk?
  • Weddings can be pretty stressful, huh?
  • Is there anything I can do to support you right now?

What not to say: “Come on, why are you so upset? Cheer up!” Any version of “snap out of it” is like telling her to “just eat.” It’s not going to be helpful and may be harmful. Ellen, like all people, has feelings and emotional experiences. And sometimes she may be resting her face or relaxing – just because she’s not smiling doesn’t mean she’s sad. And if she is sad, we’re working on validating and supporting her rather than asking her to suppress her feelings and move on.

ad-parentcoaching-ed

What to say to me

Yes, this has been a real challenge for our family, and I appreciate the concern that I anticipate you have. Sometimes I may want to talk about it, and sometimes I won’t want to. I would really appreciate it if you would treat me fairly normally by asking the usual questions like “how are you,” without asking for details about Ellen’s health. Many times I won’t be able to answer your questions. I hope you can understand this. The greatest support you can give me is compassion without questions. 

What not to say: “Have you tried acupuncture/natural medicine/hypnosis” (or any other treatment you have in mind). Please trust that we have her professional treatment team lined up and are addressing this. I’ll ask for advice if I want it, but unsolicited advice, no matter how well-meaning it is, can be really hurtful to me right now. Some other things I’d rather you not say include:

  • Why is she doing this?
  • How long will she have this?
  • Where did this come from?
  • What’s wrong with her?
  • She looks so thin! 
  • She looks terrible!
  • Don’t all girls today have eating disorders?
  • My friend’s daughter had anorexia and she …

The bottom line is that I’m a lot more sensitive than usual right now.

We want to talk about other things

We are working hard to address this, and sometimes it’s nice to have a break. So what we would like most of all is to enjoy the wedding. For Marcy’s sake and for ours, we’d appreciate it if Ellen’s health isn’t a topic of conversation. I know you love Ellen and are concerned, but unless one of us seeks you out to talk about it, let’s just enjoy each other and the wedding itself.

Thank you so much for making it through this letter. I’m sure you can imagine it was hard for me to write. I hope it’s been helpful, and we look forward to seeing you in June!

Love, Jordan

How to send a letter to family about anorexia

If you decide that a letter is the best way to educate your family about anorexia, then you should first consider what should and should not be included. Every family is different, and every case of anorexia is unique. So you should create a letter that fits your family and unique circumstances.

Once you’ve settled on the letter’s content, you can either email it or mail it. Of course, email is much easier, and you have the added benefit of being able to send it to everyone at the same time. You may want to use the BCC field of emails, which will avoid having a long email chain of responses. While some families might want to include everyone and begin a big “Reply-all” email exchange, if you want to avoid that, you can use BCC.

Once you have sent the email, you should expect to hear back from people in some way. Depending on your family, these responses may be supportive and thoughtful. Some responses may not respect the boundaries you set out in the letter. This is fairly normal and to be expected. Remember that you are not obligated to answer questions about your child’s health or treatment.

A good response for overly-nosey emails is “Thank you so much for checking in. I know you are concerned and appreciate that. To respect Ellen’s privacy, I can’t share any details beyond what I included in the letter. Thanks for understanding!” Boundaries don’t have to be rude to be effective.

Another thing that might happen is that people might feel hurt that you didn’t tell them earlier or reach out for help from them. While understandable, this response also requires you to hold a boundary. You can say something like “I really appreciate your concern and know that you would have helped if you could. For now, we’re handling it the best we can. Thank you for your support!”

How your family responds to your letter about anorexia may be wonderful or make you feel bad. But either way, you should know that holding your and your child’s boundaries is valid and important. While of course people like to be informed, we don’t owe our family our children’s private health information. And remember: you are doing the best you can when you can. Thank you for caring for your child’s health and privacy.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to talk about food and body issues with your child

How to talk about food and body issues with your child

Talking about food and body issues can seem loaded. Many parents simply don’t know what to say so they avoid saying anything. Other parents feel uncomfortable with the subject and want to change their kids’ minds about food and body issues as quickly as possible. This can leave the child feel unconnected and unheard.

So what is the solution? How can we talk to a child who is struggling with food and body issues? The answer is active listening, a well-known communication technique used around the world to connect people. 

Definition: Active Listening

“Active listening is a technique of careful listening and observation of non-verbal cues, with feedback in the form of accurate paraphrasing, that is used in counseling, training, and solving disputes or conflicts. Active Listening requires the listener to pay attention, understand, respond and remember what is being said in the context of intonation, timing, and non-verbal cues (body language).” Wikipedia

Here are the main ways I think about active listening when it comes to food and body issues:

  1. Listen carefully for the feelings underneath the words: is your child asserting independence and autonomy? Seeking validation? Wanting attention? These are all good reasons for our kids to reach out to us!
  2. Avoid giving advice or opinions: be very careful about jumping in with advice or your opinion. This will often shut down the conversation, lead to defensiveness, or encourage fruitless circular arguments.
  3. Reflect what was said: the first main technique is to simply reflect back what they said. Just pick up a few critical words and repeat them back to your child. This makes them feel heard and usually gets them talking more openly.
  4. Reframe what was said: sometimes your child gets in an obsessive loop about their appearance or food. In these cases it’s more helpful to reframe what you heard as a feeling rather than a fact. This often helps you connect on a deeper, more meaningful level.

This sounds simple, but it’s not easy for most of us. It takes practice, but it is a skill anyone can learn.

Talk less & listen more

Most kids tell me they wish their parents gave less advice and listened more.

Most parents tell me they can’t stop themselves from giving advice. It feels compulsive and automatic. They feel as if that’s their only option for responding to a child.

But when we give advice, we end rather than open conversations. Giving advice is the opposite of active listening. Advice-giving shuts down conversations, while active listening opens them up. Advice-giving can make our kids pull away from us or anxiously reach for us when they should be solving their own problems. But active listening helps our kids get to know themselves better while simultaneously making them feel more connected to us. 

The next time your child shares something with you, practice not telling them what to think, feel, or do about it. Instead, use active listening to help them expand on what they’ve said and get to know their thinking. 

Too often we rush in with an opinion and/or suggestion for how our kids should feel, think, or behave because we are worried that our child is not capable of making good choices. When parents give advice, they are trying to stop their kids from making bad choices. But the only way to learn how to make good choices is to make bad choices and face the consequences. Parents should not stand in the way of bad choices unless the consequences are truly dangerous or hurtful.

Advice most often leads to a conversation shut-down, defensiveness, or useless debate. Active listening opens the conversation and helps our kids figure out who they are, what they like, and what they believe.

This is how we teach our kids to be autonomous adults. And it’s also how we gain a deeper connection with our kids.

How to talk about food and body issues

Here are some examples of how parents can respond to inflammatory statements about food and body issues with active listening. These responses will help open up conversations rather than shut them down or turn them into lengthy debates about the validity of each person’s perspective.

Food preferences

When they say: I hate Brussels sprouts

Advice: You might want to say something like “But they’re so good for you and they’re delicious!” But this approach will make them either dig their heels in or ignore their own preferences. For example, a child might decide that your pushback on food is an area in which they can seek individuation and autonomy from you. In this way, they may be less willing to even try the food or consider liking it in the future because now it’s a power struggle rather than just food.

Active Listening: Instead, try reflecting what they said back to them: “You don’t like Brussels sprouts.” This is a simple statement of reflection. You recognize they are stating a food preference, and it’s not your job to editorialize or change it. The point is that food preferences are personal. It’s not an area where we can help our child by debating the value or deliciousness of a certain food. That usually backfires. So just reflect their preference back to them. They may choose to tell you more, which allows them to explore the preference on their terms (not yours).

Weight worries

When they say: I hate that I weigh this much!

Advice: You might feel as if you have to counteract their statement with something like “Your weight is fine! You’re perfect! Stop thinking about it!” But this approach will likely start a debate about how much they weigh, what they look like, and the value of different body weights. This is not a good place to have a conversation. It will lead to circular arguments and fruitless debates.

Active Listening: Instead, try redirecting the conversation to something useful: feelings. You can say something like “It sounds like you’re feeling bad right now.” In our culture, weight has become a way to judge someone’s worth, and kids can feel as if their appearance is who they are. We want to counteract this tendency by talking about who they are, not what they look like or weigh. Keep the focus on feelings, not fat, and you’ll have a much more fruitful conversation.

ad-parentcoaching-ed

Eating

When they say: I skipped lunch today

Advice: You might want to jump in to share your disappointment and fear about their behavior. This makes sense but is unhelpful. If you say something like “Oh no! Why? Did you forget? You know you need to eat!” your child is likely to either shut down or get defensive. Any advice about eating can feel judgmental, and that’s not a good place to be when it comes to food. Of course, you want your child to eat well, but try to avoid any sense of coercion or judgment when it comes to eating.

Active Listening: Instead, try reflecting on what they said back to them. You can just say “You skipped lunch.” It sounds very simple, but this makes them feel heard and they are more likely to now tell you why they skipped lunch. It may sound like an excuse to you, but the important thing is not to correct their thinking but to help them explore why they make choices so they can make different ones next time. It’s best if we provide a non-judgmental environment where they choose to explore their choices rather than a punitive or critical environment where they stop sharing with us or don’t develop their own decision-making skills.

Getting dressed

When they say: Nothing looks good on me!

Advice: You may be tempted to say something like “You are beautiful and perfect and look great in everything!” The trouble with this approach is that it will start a debate about their body’s “flaws” and their appearance. This is not a helpful road to go down. It can lead to circular arguments and unhelpful debates. The more you try to convince a body-conscious child about their beauty, the more they will push back, and this pushback can become entrenched and drive their misguided beliefs even deeper into their psyche.

Active Listening: Instead, try saying something like “It sounds like you’re feeling like you don’t have any good options.” This opens the conversation to how they are feeling rather than their body. One of the things we need to help our kids develop is the ability to recognize that feelings are not facts. We don’t do this by telling them they look good. We do this by showing them that we’re interested in their inner world more than their outer appearance. When you use active listening, you’re not telling them how to feel, but you are helping them tell you how they feel by reframing what they’ve said and asking open-ended questions.

Advanced challenge:”I feel fat”

“I feel fat” is a common conversation starter when a child is distressed, unhappy, and feeling overwhelmed with emotion. If you respond to the content of the comment, you miss the opportunity to address the purpose of the comment, which is to connect with you and get support. You may also get stuck in a negative and fruitless conversational loop and accidentally perpetuate weight stigma.

Start by validating your child’s feelings. Your child needs to feel as if you heard and understand what they said. But instead of focusing on the word “fat,” or their body, identify a feeling that you can validate, like:

  • It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • I can hear how worried you are right now.
  • It can be stressful to live in a body in our society.

It takes maturity to recognize that bad body thoughts are usually about feelings, not external appearance or weight. Parents can help kids shift from blaming their appearance to feeling their feelings. Don’t give up – this will take time and patience. But it will also help your child gain body peace!

Next, during a neutral time when your child is not complaining about their body, talk to them about the harm caused by using “fat” as a stand-in for negative feelings.

Here’s what I say:

“In our culture, it’s common to say “I feel fat.” But this is said as a negative, and it means we believe that fat is bad. And that’s not something I’m willing to accept in our house. It’s called weight stigma and is a form of discrimination against fat people. So when you use that phrase, I’m going to ask you to talk about your feelings instead of fat.”

NOTE: If your child is in a larger body and chooses to reclaim the word “fat” as a neutral way to define their body, that’s great!

That’s very different from using the word “fat” as a stand-in for a feeling. And it’s not appropriate for a thin person to use the word “fat” as a way to complain about their body.

The nuance here is that the word deserves respect, and we need to pay attention to the intention and tone.

Active listening for food and body talk

The goal of using active listening for food and body talk is to help your child open up to fruitful conversation. The downside of giving advice about food and body issues is that you can either shut down the conversation or expand it in unhelpful ways by getting into circular arguments.

When a child is obsessed with food and body issues, ongoing debates about food and body are not only fruitless, but they can create the opposite outcome that you’re striving for. For example, an ongoing debate about whether a person is fat or not can merely entrench the child’s idea that feeling fat is a valid point of debate. It’s much better to help your child tap into true feelings (fat is not a feeling!) and find out what’s going on beneath the circular argument they’re engaging in.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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You’re wearing that?!

Why power struggles over clothes aren't worth it

How to avoid power struggles over clothes

Getting dressed should not be a battleground, and most of the time you don’t need to get into power struggles about clothes. Power struggles over clothes can result in the following side effects for our kids:

  • Low self-worth
  • Poor sense of self
  • Rebellion
  • Underdeveloped autonomy
  • Damaged parent-child relationship
  • Mental health issues, including eating disorders
  • Perpetuating unhealthy social norms

The first and most obvious reason for this is that your child’s body is their sacred property. It is theirs to own and care for. If we try to dictate what they wear, we can get into dangerous territory in which we cross personal boundaries, reinforce toxic beauty standards, and promote negative messages that impact self-worth. Since these are risk factors for eating disorders, we should avoid controlling or criticizing clothing choices whenever possible.

Getting dressed is personal. And it’s a chance for your child to safely explore and develop their identity and autonomy. Children who have a strong sense of self wear clothes that they enjoy, that are comfortable for them, and that allow them to express their individuality and/or membership in a group. These children grow into strong individuals who are not prey to the whims of beauty standards, the thin ideal, or other unhealthy societal messages.

Most of the time you don’t need to get into power struggles over clothes. You rarely need to tell your child what to wear. Instead, prioritize their comfort and preferences. Let them find and express their own individual style.

You don’t need to control clothing (most of the time)

It’s true that in some situations parents can make suggestions about kids’ clothes. But these are extremely rare. And clothes shouldn’t be a place to have power struggles, but rather a discussion, compromise, and agreement. Keep your boundaries and remember that their body is theirs, not yours.

Sure, younger kids may need more guidance about clothing in certain situations. But in the vast majority of situations, parents can and should let kids make their own choices about what to wear with minimal guidance.

Most of the time getting dressed is an issue you can leave up to your child. And the less you say about their choices, the less likely they are to rebel or struggle with perfectionism or identity issues.

Why not comment on what your kid wears?

If you’re thinking about making a comment about what your child is wearing, take a breath and think about why you’re doing it. What is your goal? Many times parental control over clothing comes from a desire to protect our child from social shaming. We believe that if we dress them the right way they will be liked by their peers and other adults.

That’s a worthy and understandable goal.

But the problem is that the most important person your child wants to be liked by is YOU. And when you try to control what they wear, they, unfortunately, begin to believe that what they wear is more important to you than who they are.

Another reason parents comment on kids’ clothing is because they are afraid that they (the parent) will be judged by friends, family, and society. In this case, your feelings are valid, but you need to manage your behavior and avoid crossing an important boundary between parent and child. You should not ask your child to solve a problem that is yours to handle. If you worry about being judged, figure out how to process and deal with your worry without imposing it on your child.

What we do matters more than what we say

You never have to say it or even think it consciously. But if you pay a lot of attention to what your child wears they will interpret your interest and attention to clothing as something that makes a big difference to how you feel about them.

Kids don’t hear what we say. They hear what we repeatedly do. So even if you say you love your child unconditionally, if you are commenting on their clothes often then you are showing them that appearance is very important to you.

They will either seek your approval by focusing on their appearance or they will rebel as soon as they can to prove to you that they get to do what they want to do with their bodies. Either way, they are building an identity based on what they perceive to be your perception of them rather than learning to look inside and learn about who they are.

Clothes are not the most important thing

The most important thing for parents to do is validate that their child is worthy and lovable exactly as they are. And we want them to build their own sense of self rather than a reflection or rejection of what they think we want them to be.

Of course, we live in a society that has expectations, structure, and rules. And in some cases, there are rules about what kids need to wear.

But most of the time we don’t need to have rules about clothing. Most of the time this is an area where we can step back and let our kids build their autonomy. Doing this builds confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem. All of these are protective against eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

When we let kids dress themselves, they grow up stronger and more resilient against peer pressure. And that’s a very good thing.

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Think back …

Many times when we think back on our own lives, we can remember how frustrating it was to have parents tell us what to do. Maybe your mom liked to dress you in her style – not yours. Maybe your dad bought you dresses that were itchy and scratchy but you had to wear them anyway. In most of those cases, you probably felt at least somewhat controlled and dominated. That’s because what goes on your body should be up to you.

When a parent gets into power struggles over clothes they need to evaluate their values and consider the lessons being taught. We all want to raise kids who have a strong sense of self. And that comes from experimenting and listening to themselves – not others. Personal style is personal, so we want to give our kids space to develop it themselves.

Maybe you loved having your parents tell you what to do. Maybe you love fashion magazines and following beauty standards. You get to do whatever you want with your body. But think carefully about your own child. Do they like it when you tell them how to dress their bodies? If not, then that matters. Their opinions and preferences matter as much as yours do.

Just because we liked something as kids doesn’t mean that’s how we should parent the kids we have. And just because we like to wear a certain style or have a vision of how we want our child to look doesn’t mean our kids should be compliant to our wishes.

Our kids may be young humans, but they are still humans with their own identities, preferences, thoughts, and feelings. And when we try to take away their most basic rights of how to dress we could impact our relationship with them … and their relationship with themselves. Repeated power struggles over clothes are not worth the risks.

How a clothing power struggle begins

Power struggles begin when parents try to control what their kids wear, either overtly (wear this/not that) or covertly (are you really wearing that?). This can damage a child’s sense of autonomy and self-worth. Here are some examples of how power struggles begin when it comes to clothes:

Overt Comments

  • That’s not flattering
  • Wear this instead
  • You look awful in that
  • I laid out your outfit for today
  • Don’t wear that
  • Go change your clothes
  • You can’t wear that
  • That’s hideous
  • That’s inappropriate

Covert Comments

  • Are you sure you want to wear that?
  • Maybe you want to put on some makeup?
  • I’m not sure that’s the right choice
  • Do your friends dress like that?
  • Can I make a suggestion?
  • [wince]
  • [wide eyes]
  • [gasp]
  • [eye roll]

Note that you don’t need to say a word for your child to know what you’re thinking. Our kids are intimately tuned in to what we think about them, so pay attention to your facial expressions as much as your words.

What to do instead

Next time your child comes out of their room wearing something you disapprove of, avoid the power struggle. Instead ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m about to say about them or me? (think deeply about this – it’s usually about you)
  • Is what I’m about to say kind and respectful? (would I say it to a coworker?)
  • Is what I’m about to say supportive of my child’s individuality and autonomy?
  • Am I imposing rigid and outdated social norms on my child, and if so, why?
  • Am I trying to control my kid’s clothes because I’m uncomfortable with their size, shape or gender?
  • Does what I’m about to say show my child that they are lovable just as they are?

Asking these questions is essential to raising a strong, confident child who knows who they are, what they like, and trusts their parents love them for those things. It’s never too late to give kids the freedom of dressing according to their unique preferences. And it’s a huge and worthwhile gift that we all have the power to give.

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But what about values?

Perhaps you believe that you should control what your child wears because your values are important to you. For example, maybe you value modesty and your daughter prefers short shorts and tight tops. Maybe you value order and your son prefers baggy pants and ragged t-shirts. Or maybe you value femininity and your child is non-binary and prefers gender-neutral clothing.

To handle this I suggest that you hold one value above all else: dignity. To possess dignity is to have absolute, intrinsic and unconditional value regardless of appearance or actions. This means that each and every person, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, size, weight, race, income, intelligence, appearance, etc., deserves to be treated with respect and as an autonomous thinking person.

When dignity lies at the heart of your family values you recognize that while you can have rules, expectations, and structure, each person still gets to behave autonomously in key areas such as dressing themselves. This can be seen as the dignity of self-expression.

You can also separate your personal values from your family values. While you personally may have values that guide your behavior or how you dress, your family should have just 3-4 shared values that guide your household. For example, dignity should be more important than modesty, order, and gender roles.

But what about the dress code?

If your child attends a school that enforces a dress code, I suggest that you talk to your child about the dress code and tell them what you expect in clear and simple terms. Then let them handle it. In other words, if they get in trouble for violating the dress code, that will be a natural consequence that is theirs to handle.

Dress codes disproportionately target females, higher-weight individuals, people of color, and trans kids. In many cases, your child’s rejection of being “dress coded” may be a sign of a healthy self. I’m not saying they should break rules regularly, but dress code rules are rules they can safely test without lifelong consequences.

Unless they are at risk of expulsion for violating the dress code, this is probably something you can leave up to the school to handle. It’s their rule, let them enforce it.

Most of the time your child will either decide it’s not worth getting in trouble or find creative ways to skirt the dress code. Either way, this is a healthy and appropriate way for them to learn social boundaries without you policing them.

But what if it’s a signal?

Sometimes when a child suddenly changes their style it could be a signal that something is wrong. Clothing can be communication. So I suggest you tread carefully here and focus on feelings, not clothes.

Pay attention to how your child is behaving and other things that are going on for them. If you believe they are facing a challenge, then how they dress is just a symptom of the challenge. Address the cause, not the symptom.

Maybe they are lonely, overloaded, stressed, grieving, depressed, anxious, or experiencing poor body image. If you focus on the symptom (clothes), you often create larger issues. If you focus on the cause, you may be able to help your child feel better.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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How to talk about your child’s eating disorder

How to talk about your child's eating disorder

When your child has an eating disorder you need to talk about it. I know it can be hard to do this. Most of us are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. But it’s important to know that almost anything is better than not talking about it.

When we don’t talk about eating disorders we leave our child to process their fear and pain by themselves. This can feel lonely and shameful and exacerbate eating disorder behaviors.

When we talk about eating disorders we make it safe for our child to tell us how they are feeling. We get to participate in recovery rather than watch from the sidelines. And we learn valuable insights into how we make our child feel and what we need to do to be better parents.

Because there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. But all of us can learn and grow into better parents. And your child’s eating disorder can be a great reason to work on this. 

“Having an eating disorder can be like the elephant in the room: it’s making a mess but nobody will look at it, feel it, or talk about it.”

Let’s talk about eating disorders: Direct approach

Sometimes the easiest way to talk about something is just to open the conversation. This can feel like a triggering, emotional conversation. But it doesn’t have to be so scary if you realize that talking about eating disorders is better than not talking about them.

Here are some simple ways to begin:

I’ve noticed you’re struggling with food, and I’d like to talk about it.

You’re saying a lot of negative things about your body lately, and I want to talk about it.

Important: these are conversation openers. Don’t demand answers or details or get aggressive about this conversation. Just because you want to talk about it right now doesn’t mean they are necessarily ready to reciprocate. Don’t avoid these conversations, but also give your child time and space to open up to you. If your child refuses to talk to you, please get support so that you can find out how to help.

Let’s talk about eating disorders: When you’ve avoided it

Lots of parents avoid talking about eating disorders. I get it. It can be hard to figure out how to do this, and you’re probably afraid you’ll do or say the wrong thing. But it’s essential that you not avoid talking about it. Find the courage to start talking and you’ll find it gets easier. 

Here’s a way to begin: I notice that I’ve been avoiding talking about your eating and body image with you. I’m really sorry about that – it’s not OK to let you struggle with this alone. I’m here to support you, and I’m not going to avoid these conversations anymore.

Let’s talk about eating disorders: When they’ve avoided it

Maybe you’ve tried to talk about it but your child resists conversation. This might look like shutting down, leaving, or yelling at you. These are signs that you need to do some relational repair. And there are lots of ways to do it, but the first is to directly address what is going on and let them know that talking is important. 

Here’s a way to begin: I notice that when I try to talk to you about your eating and body image stuff you avoid talking to me. This is really important, and I’m here to support you, so I’m going to keep trying to talk about it with you.

Let’s talk about eating disorders: When you’ve been upset

This is a tricky subject, so maybe when you try to talk about it you start crying or become visibly anxious. I understand this happens. But when we’re facing a major issue like an eating disorder parents need to dig deep and step into their “parent role.” This means you get to process your feelings elsewhere, but when you’re parenting, you remain calm and confident. Please get some help so that you can start doing this.

Here’s a way to begin: I’ve been thinking about my behavior and I think my fear has led me to get upset when we talk about eating and body issues. I’m really sorry about that because it can make you feel as if I can’t handle this. I want you to know that I can handle this, and I’m not going to put my fear on you anymore.

Let’s talk about eating disorders: When you’ve been critical

Some of us have a critical defense mechanism. This means that when we’re scared we tend to criticize the person we love so much. I understand why this happens, but it’s really important that you change this behavior. You should never criticize your child, especially about their eating and body issues. Please get some help so that you can stop doing this.

Here’s a way to begin: I’ve been thinking about my behavior and I think my fear has led me to be critical when we talk about eating and body issues. I’m really sorry about that, and I’m working on it. I want you to know that you never deserve to be criticized by anyone, especially me, and I’m not going to do it anymore.

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Let’s talk about eating disorders: What not to say/do

We don’t want to avoid the elephant in the room anymore. But that doesn’t mean you should just jump in and start talking without having a game plan. There are some things you should avoid saying and doing, including: 

  • Don’t ask “what do you want me to do?” This is tempting. And of course sometimes it might be appropriate. But in general, keep in mind that our children want us to know how to parent them. When you say this you risk abdicating your responsibility to them.
  • Don’t say “I’m so worried about you.” Of course you are worried. But our children don’t deserve the burden of our fear. Process your fear with a trusted adult, not with your child.
  • Don’t say “I just want you to be you again” Of course you do. But your child is who they are. When you say this it could make them feel that an older version of them was preferred. Recovery rarely means going backwards – it almost always means stepping into a new way of being.
  • Don’t say “I don’t know what to do.” Kids need parents to be in charge of parenting. They need us to be able to handle their stuff. Don’t show your fear and anxiety to your child. Present a confident, calm parent persona to your child.
  • Don’t cry, yell, or avoid conversations. You get to have all your feelings. And I understand you are upset and this is hard. But try to avoid sharing your strong, fearful feelings while talking to your child. Your child needs to know you can handle this, and we don’t want them to feel guilty for having a hard time.
  • Don’t criticize, minimize, or try to fix or change your child’s feelings. Eating disorders are emotional processing disorders. Validate your child’s feelings. Help your child feel their feelings. Don’t try to get them to change how they feel or look on the bright side. 

Get some help

Having a child with an eating disorder is stressful and it is not something you should try to do alone. This is not basic parenting. This is not business as usual.

Your child needs treatment, but you need help, too. When parents don’t change during eating disorder recovery, it’s very hard for their child to stay in recovery. What you do makes a difference. 

When parents grow and learn during recovery, kids feel better.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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When your child has an eating disorder and a drinking problem

eating disorder drinking problem

Many parents find themselves at the crossroads of an eating disorder and a drinking problem. The disorders are linked and often seen together. So how can a parent help?

  1. Understand why your child has an eating disorder and a drinking problem
  2. Learn the steps to recovery
  3. Support your child’s recovery

Many people who have eating disorders also have a problem with alcohol abuse. It helps to understand the correlation between alcohol and eating disorders. This requires looking closely at the true reason for disordered behavior.

1. Understand why your child has an eating disorder and a drinking problem

Let’s start by understanding why your child has an eating disorder and a drinking problem.

The surface reason for an eating disorder is to control things like weight, body shape, food and exercise. A person who has an eating disorder becomes obsessive and compulsive about eating or not eating, moving or not moving. They use their body as a way to communicate who they are and what is important to them.

Meanwhile, the surface reason for a drinking problem is to have fun, to relax, to be social. A person who has a drinking problem has taken something that a lot of people do (drinking) and become obsessive and compulsive about it. They use alcohol as a way to fit in, communicate, and feel better.

But both of these conditions are actually driven by a deeper need to numb. The underlying purpose is to protect against uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Therefore, eating disorders can be a way to avoid feelings of anger, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Similarly, alcohol can do the same. A drunk person is less likely to feel unhappy, lonely, or stressed.

Some facts about drinking

  • By age 15, about 33 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
  • By age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
  • In 2015, 7.7 million young people ages 12–20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.
  • 5.1 million young people reported binge drinking (for males 5 or more drinks and for females 4 or more drinks on the same occasion within a few hours) at least once in the past month.
  • 1.3 million young people reported binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past month.

Eating disorders and alcohol use can create a vicious cycle. The person avoids uncomfortable feelings and fails to adopt healthy coping mechanisms. Instead of learning to process stress and discomfort, people who have eating disorders and drinking problems rely on coping behaviors.

People who have eating disorders and problems with alcohol have common personality traits. These include impulsive and dramatic dispositions, anxiety and perfectionism. These personality traits are often considered the foundation on which eating disorders and alcoholism are founded. In other words eating disorders and alcohol disorders are a way to regulate emotions.

The signs of eating disorder and a drinking problem are very similar

  • Changes in mood, including anger and irritability
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school
  • Rebelliousness
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Low energy level
  • Less interest in activities
  • Problems concentrating and/or remembering
  • Coordination problems

People who have eating disorders and alcohol problems tend to use more even when they can see that it’s working against them. The alcoholic wakes up with tremendous remorse. They feel regret following a night of drinking and promise to stop drinking forever, only to begin again later that same day.

Similarly, someone who has an eating disorder may awake feeling disgusted by their binge and purge episode the night before. They feel ashamed of their need for this devastating behavior and promise to stop. They start out being “good” by restricting food the next day. But they will likely return to binging and purging at night.

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Both the person with the eating disorder and the person with the problem drinking recognizes that they have a problem. They often feel ashamed of the problem. They want it to stop. But they also feel compelled to continue doing it. Therefore, they can’t stop.

The known contributors to eating disorders and problem drinking are very similar

  • Genetics
  • Social factors, such as media and advertising or the influence of peers
  • Family dynamics
  • Accessibility
  • High stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood

Just like with eating disorders, trauma is highly linked to substance abuse. In fact up to 70% of adolescents who are being treated for substance abuse have a history of trauma. Teenagers who are exposed to physical or sexual abuse are even more likely (3x) to struggle with substances. And more than half of teens who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) develop substance abuse problems.

With all of this information, it’s important for parents to understand why these disorders arise. We often focus on the behaviors without thinking about the underlying causes. However, when we pay attention to the causes of eating disorders and alcohol abuse, we can treat them with greater results.

2. Learn the steps to recovery

Now that you understand why your child has an eating disorder and a drinking problem, it’s time to look at recovery.

It makes sense to want to stop the behavior right away. But it’s important not to lose sight of how difficult this will be without learning new skills. And new skills require practice and reinforcement. Therefore, we like to look at recovery as having three parts:

  1. Stopping the behavior: in this part, your child learns to live without their eating disorder behaviors and drinking. This may happen in an inpatient treatment center or at home. Many treatment approaches tackle this first. But it’s also OK to take an individualized approach. Sometimes it can be helpful to work on the other two components first. It really depends on professional assessment of your child’s physical health and imminent danger.
  2. Learning emotional regulation: people who have eating disorders and drinking problems have trouble with emotional regulation. Emotional dysregulation is normal and natural. It’s a physiological response to stressors. Your child was using an eating disorder and drinking to regulate their emotions. So now they need to learn new skills.
  3. Practice and reinforcement: traditional treatment usually ends before a person is fully recovered. Recovery can be practiced and reinforced at home. But many times a person returns to an unchanged environment. In these cases we know they are likely to pick up their old patterns and behaviors.

As you can see, the third stage of recovery is critical for ongoing success. And it’s primarily something that’s done at home with parents. This gets us to the next part …

emotional regulation

3. Support your child’s recovery

You can support your child’s recovery at home by making some changes. Your main role is in the practice and reinforcement part of recovery. For instance, here’s what this might look like for someone who has an eating disorder and a drinking problem:

  • Parents learn emotional co-regulation to help their child calm down when dysregulated
  • Alcohol is removed from the home and nobody in the house drinks around the child
  • Dieting is not allowed in the home. And nobody in the house talks about weight or labels food as good or bad
  • The family regularly talks about and learns about the dangers of drinking and dieting. They take action to reduce harm in their community
  • Parents address issues in the family dynamics that may contribute to stress. For example, treating siblings appropriately, maintaining healthy family leadership, the parental role, etc.
  • The family focuses on building connection and belonging. In other words, they spend time talking and spending time together

Each family will do this a little bit differently. There is no one-size-fits all solution for eating disorders and alcoholism. But one thing is clear: parents should get help and support. Parents can can learn and grow and support their kids through recovery. If you’re facing this, consider getting a therapist or coach who can guide you.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.


References

Alcohol Use Disorder Comorbidity in Eating Disorders: A Multicenter Study

How do eating disorders and alcohol use disorder influence each other?

Eating Disorders and Addictions Cause a Deadly Combination

Alcohol and Trauma: Drinking as a Way to Cope with the Past

Dual Diagnosis – Addiction and Eating Disorders

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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5 ways to help a perfectionist who has an eating disorder

5 ways to help a perfectionist who has an eating disorder

What can you do if you love a perfectionist who has an eating disorder? Luckily, there’s a lot you can do! First, let’s take a look at some facts:

  1. Perfectionism is both a risk factor for and commonly co-occurs with eating disorders. Many people who have an eating disorder also have perfectionism. And perfectionism is damaging to almost every aspect of mental health.
  2. Perfectionism is preventable and treatable, especially in children and teens. Luckily, perfectionism, which is often a response to anxiety, is both preventable and treatable. Recovering from perfectionism is often a significant part of eating disorder recovery.
  3. Parents can have a significant impact on reducing and treating perfectionism. Almost nobody is as important to reversing the effects of perfectionism as parents. Perfectionism is not hard-wired; it’s a response to environmental factors in the family. This means parents and the family can help reverse it.

When a person is both a perfectionist and has an eating disorder they are attempting to find safety through their behaviors. Whether it’s making sure their hair and homework are just right (perfectionism) or limiting their food to only “healthy” choices (eating disorder), both impact quality of life and mental health.

Here are five ways that parents can help a perfectionist who has an eating disorder recover from both conditions. These efforts need to be done consistently and intentionally every day to help a child reduce performance anxiety and find peace.

1. Show your child that it’s safe to make mistakes

Many parents tell their kids they can make mistakes, but then when kids do make mistakes, parental behavior suggests that mistakes are unacceptable. Pay attention to how you feel and behave when your child makes a mistake. Loosen your body and face, and feel from within that your child is lovable and fabulous with their mistakes.

What this looks like: When a child comes home with a lower score than you would expect on a test, respond neutrally. Keep your face relaxed, and thank them for sharing their score with you. If they want to talk about it, keep your comments focused on reassuring them that everyone misses their goals sometimes. And one score doesn’t make a grade.

With an eating disorder: When a child complains that they didn’t “eat healthy” or don’t like their body, respond neutrally. Don’t try to convince them that they ate perfectly or look amazing. Instead, let them know that what they eat changes day to day, and food does not have the power to make or break their health. And remind them that looking perfect is an arbitrary, impossible goal, and there is no such thing in real life.

2. Hold off on fixing

Most parents jump in too quickly with advice and solutions. This perpetuates the belief that mistakes are intolerable. Part of how we show kids that mistakes are OK is by being supportive without trying to fix the problem. We can agree that making mistakes is hard, tell them we understand that it feels bad, and show them that we can handle any mistake without changing how we feel about them.

What it looks like: In the case of the lower score, you will be tempted to ask them about their studying techniques or how they can bring their grade up. Resist this temptation! A perfectionist does not need anyone to tell them how to fix mistakes. They need people who can accept their mistakes and trust that whatever happens next is all right. You generally don’t have to worry about a perfectionistic child under-performing unless they are suffering from performance anxiety induced by perfectionism.

With an eating disorder: Avoid trying to help them prepare the perfect meal or find the perfect outfit. Don’t get into long discussions about how they can achieve their goal weight. Let them find their own solutions to their problems rather than diving in to try and fix them.

3. Make mistakes & talk about them

Many parents try to hide their own mistakes or at least not talk about them. Normalize mistake-making by intentionally talking about how it feels when you make a mistake. Look for opportunities to talk about your mistakes on purpose. Make mistakes on purpose and talk about them. This may be challenging for you if you also have perfectionism. But most of us can achieve great things on behalf of our kids’ health.

What it looks like: Open the fridge and see that you forgot something. Say “Oops! I forgot milk again. Oh well, that’s OK, we can handle it.” Don’t say this to your child directly – it’s not an apology. Saying it out loud means they can hear how to handle mistakes with self-compassion.

With an eating disorder: If you make a mistake like commenting on someone’s body (including theirs or your own), just apologize and move on. You don’t have to make a big deal about it or over-apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, and every time you make a mistake is an opportunity to show your child that it’s OK.

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4. Talk about other people’s mistakes with compassion

Many parents berate strangers, food servers, retail workers, drivers on the road, and others when they make mistakes. This is modeling to your child that mistakes are something to feel ashamed of.

What it looks like: Instead of criticizing others when they make a mistake, take a deep breath. If it’s your husband who forgot the milk, open the fridge door and say “Oops! Dan forgot milk again. Oh well, that’s OK, we can handle it.” Show your child that you accept other people’s mistakes readily and without criticism.

With an eating disorder: If someone talks about dieting or weight loss, you can recognize that it’s problematic but also normalized in our culture. You don’t need to get overly angry when people do this, though you should talk about it directly with your child. Let them know that you don’t blame the person for their comment, but you also don’t endorse weight loss in any way.

5. Talk about perfectionism

Talk about perfectionism with compassion and kindness. You don’t want to turn “being a perfectionist” into something your child feels ashamed of. Instead, you can treat perfectionism as a part of your child (not the whole). No child is all one thing. We want to be very careful about pathologizing our child and treating them as if they are a victim of their impulses or coping behaviors.

What it looks like: When your child is upset because they made a mistake you can say things like “oh, I see your perfectionism is feeling bad about this. Let’s talk about it.” Then let your child process and untangle their perfectionist part from the part of them that accepts mistakes and feels safe with you.

With an eating disorder: When your child is upset about their eating or body, say things like “oh, I understand what it’s like to have a perfectionist’s voice. I know how hard it is, so let’s talk about it.” Then talk about the part of themselves who criticizes their choices and body.

You are the difference-maker

If your child is both a perfectionist and has an eating disorder, follow these five steps to help them recover. Your child’s therapist cannot do this alone in a one-hour meeting. It’s really best if you can reinforce acceptance at home in every possible moment.

Perfectionism is a social response, so it’s best treated in social situations. Nobody is better situated to counteract perfectionism than a parent who has consciously and intentionally decided to help their child avoid the tendency toward and consequences of perfectionism. When parents take this on and learn new skills, kids feel better.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Social media filters are ruining kids’ body image

Social media filters are ruining kids' body image

Social media filters are impacting our kids’ body image, and luckily there’s something parents can do to help. We’ve got to have “the talk” with our kids about social media, and we’ve got to do it soon.  

We’ve entered a deeply fraught period in which our kids are seeking body modification – surgical, fitness, and food – in pursuit of a completely inaccessible beauty ideal.

The source of this problem? Social media. Social media use is strongly associated with explosive increases in body dysmorphia and eating disorders. There are three drivers of this phenomenon: 

1. Social media platforms use algorithms to maximize time spent on the platform because time spent directly equals revenue.

2. Celebrities and influencers exploit social media algorithms and use filters to gain traction (and revenue).

3. Peers seek emotional validation and social proof on social media. Most teen girls will not post a selfie without a filter.

Unhealthy exposure

Basically, our kids are being exposed to highly curated and heavily filtered images of “beauty,” and they find themselves coming up short with their real body, hair, and face. Social media filters are making it harder to raise kids with healthy body image.

  • 34% of teenagers spend at least three hours a day scrolling on social media
  • 80% of girls say they compare the way they look to other people on social media
  • 24% of girls think that they don’t look good enough without photo editing
  • Girls take on average up to 14 selfies in an attempt to get the right “look” before choosing one to post

Source: Dove

What can parents do?

The facts about the dangers of social media for girls are devastating. But there is a lot that parents can do. And most parents are underutilizing their influence. We can counteract the impact of social media filters on our kids’ body image.

While about 80% of parents have the “sex talk” with kids, only 30% talk to kids about responsible social media use. Most of this comes from our own lack of knowledge and understanding about the topic and a healthy amount of pushback from kids when we challenge their preferred form of socialization. 

While it would likely be better for our kids’ body image if we banned social media completely, that’s about as unrealistic as banning sex. Abstinence-only programs and policies are a failure. They do not reduce how much sex people have or the consequences of risky sexual behavior.

An abstinence-only approach to social media, while tempting, is unlikely to be effective. Instead, parents should integrate conversations about social media, particularly how the algorithms work, the impact of filters, and the way we feel about ourselves as a result.

Having “the talk” about social media

It may be uncomfortable at first, but parents should have “the talk” with kids about social media. And just like with sex education, this talk should not happen just once, but instead, be woven into conversation regularly. We also need to be clear that our goal is to share ideas and information. If we try too hard to convince or get buy-in, it can backfire.

Here are the three main elements of body image education with social media filters: 

1. The algorithm

Kids need to know that social media is not a natural social environment, but a capitalistic pursuit. Social media companies collected $41.5 billion in 2020. They make money not by providing a fulfilling and safe social environment but by exploiting natural human curiosity and impulses.

Social media algorithms are sexist, racist, and discriminatory. They lean heavily towards promoting posts that perform well for the algorithm, which are most often thin white women in provocative poses.

What to say: kids hate the idea of being controlled, so let them know that the algorithms are designed to generate revenue for billionaires.

2. The filters

Social media filters are so common that unfiltered photos are novel and unusual. And they tend to not get as many likes as filtered photos. Social media filters are now associated with increases in cosmetic surgery. 

Snapchat Dysmorphia’ is a term that was created by plastic surgeon Dr. Tijon Esho in 2018. It describes the increasing phenomenon of people seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like their filtered face in real life. 55% of plastic surgeons in 2018 reported that patients were seeking surgery to look better in selfies.

What to say: filters are so normal that people are taking filtered photos to plastic surgeons … and even surgery cannot achieve what a filter can. That’s the definition of “unattainable beauty standards.”

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3. The feelings

Social media has an unquestionably negative impact on self-esteem. The platforms are designed to keep us scrolling because they exploit natural pathways in our brains. Dopamine hits from social media likes are intense, but they are ultimately empty. You can feel great for a post that does well, but then feel crushed if a post doesn’t do well.

Then there’s the comparison effect. We naturally compare ourselves to others. Endless images of filtered, conventionally attractive images that uphold a rigid beauty standard are harmful. Our brains don’t naturally differentiate between what we see on the screen from real life. So we feel less attractive, less important, and as if we must compete to be worthy.

What to say: social media gives us dopamine hits, but they aren’t meaningful or lasting. It drives insecurity and comparison, the opposite of fulfillment and connection.

We can do it!

There is no way to perfectly protect our kids from the impact of social media on body image. But we can do a lot to counteract the negative impact of social media. And it’s not all bad! Some kids adjust the algorithm to fit their interests and hobbies. 

Social media does have tremendous opportunities to teach and inform. For example, the rise of transgender awareness has been powered by social media. We just need to make sure that kids recognize the opportunities and limitations of social media. 

Recognize that social media companies will never protect our kids from harm. We must take that responsibility on ourselves.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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9 ways to accidentally sabotage your kids’ relationship with food

9 ways to accidentally sabotage your kids' relationship with food
And 1 way to raise a child who is free from food issues

If you want to raise a child who is free from food issues, then it’s time to stop sabotaging their relationship with food. Eating disorders are on the rise, and disordered eating is so common that it’s considered normal. 

But true health is found when a person eats according to their preferences and appetite and knows that their body weight will settle into the range it wants to be. This range is often not the same as the range our society deems acceptable or desirable, which is why food and eating have become so fraught. 

Parents who want to raise healthy kids who are free from food issues and eating disorders have to work hard to counterbalance the cultural misinformation about food and eating, which is driven by the $72 billion diet industry. 

But the effort is well worth it. Kids who are raised with food freedom and body peace are healthier and happier. 

Here are nine ways you may accidentally be sabotaging your kids’ relationship with food:

1. Describe food as good or bad

Kids have a simplistic way of responding to parental guidance. When you set up a hierarchy of food, they assume that if they eat/crave good foods then they (as a person) are good. But if they eat/crave bad foods then they (as a person) are bad. This sets them up for a complicated and disordered relationship with food and poor self-worth.

Instead of doing this, make all food choices morally neutral.

2. Talk about other people’s food choices

When you talk about what other people eat as either good or bad, you’re telling your child what you believe is acceptable and unacceptable. They will automatically apply your opinions about other people’s eating behavior to themselves and believe they can show you their goodness (or badness) through food behaviors.

Instead of doing this, keep your eyes on your own plate and don’t talk about other people’s food choices.

It is completely false that weight is as simple as calories in/calories out. Many people who are smaller eat more calories than people who are larger. Bodies have vastly different metabolic processes, and bodies are naturally diverse in weight. When parents perpetuate the myth that weight is within a person’s control, they set a child up for restriction, which causes harm.

Instead of doing this, tell kids that all bodies are unique, and we should never make assumptions about people based on their weight. Read more

4. Reward good behavior with dessert

Dessert should be available based on your preferences, your kids’ preferences, and lots of other factors. But it shouldn’t be given or restricted based on a child’s behavior. Children are not animals. We have much more complex neural structures, and simple food-based reward systems quickly go awry.

Instead of doing this, offer dessert as often as you feel makes sense, regardless of your kids’ behavior.

5. Punish bad behavior by canceling dessert

When parents use food as a punishment, kids suffer. Food should be given according to preference and appetite, not behavior. Withholding food for bad behavior can have long-lasting impacts on a child’s relationship with food.

Instead of doing this, talk to your child about any behavior you don’t like, but don’t link it to food in any way.

6. Praise kids for making “good choices”

Kids should choose food based on what tastes good, what they want in the moment, and what is available to them. When we moralize the food they choose, we set them up to see food as a reward or punishment, good or bad. Kids who are given a full range of choices will naturally cover their nutritional needs and settle into a healthy weight for their unique body.

Instead of doing this, talk about how food tastes and how much you enjoy sharing food with them.

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7. Tell kids they need to limit sugar, carbs, or any other food type

When we restrict food, the most common outcome is binge eating that food. Kids who are not allowed to eat sugar will binge eat sugar. Same with carbs and other foods that are tasty and restricted. Parents who allow all foods notice that their kids rarely (if ever) binge eat because they trust they can always have more.

Instead of doing this, offer a wide variety of foods regularly.

8. Make kids eat their vegetables before they eat anything else

Making kids eat vegetables before they eat anything else is a form of parental control. While parents should be in charge of the options available to their kids, they should not dictate which foods go in their kids’ bodies or in which order they eat it. Dangerous power struggles are much more likely in families where food is controlled.

Instead of doing this, let your child choose the order in which they eat their food.

9. Tell kids their future health is based on what they eat

Telling kids that their health is directly tied to what they eat is factually wrong and harmful. The greatest impacts on mortality and health are genes and environment, neither of which is within a person’s control. Specific food choices have no direct connection to health, but a positive relationship with food is linked to better health.

Instead of doing this, provide your child with an emotionally connected home environment that will support their physical and mental health for life. 

The 1 way to raise a child who is free from food issues

The best way to raise a child who is free from food issues is to trust kids to feed themselves the right mix of food based on what you offer them and gain weight according to their unique body’s blueprint. 

Our culture wants to prescribe a one-size-fits-all meal plan and moralize about good and bad foods. But that ends up being controlling and unhelpful. Trust the body and the appetite to make the right choices for your child’s unique circumstances. 

Our culture also likes to prescribe a narrow weight range for every single body. This is despite the fact that we know that body diversity is natural and expected in any population. We see body diversity even when everyone eats the same things. 

To raise a child who is free from food issues, trust your child’s body to grow according to its unique blueprint, and avoid any food restriction or moralization. 


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Things parents can do to prevent eating disorders

Parents can prevent eating disorders

By Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES

Parents can prevent eating disorders, but it’s something most of us need to learn. Thanks to culture and upbringing, we all come to the table with a certain set of biases. Our beliefs about food and eating are often subconscious.

For example, most people believe that a slim body is a healthy one. And most believe that people who pay close attention to what they eat are healthier than those who are more carefree when it comes to food. 

As a pediatric dietitian and certified diabetes counselor and educator, I’ve found that these biases rarely have the intended effect. And they rarely help our kids develop a taste for swiss chard. Instead, these beliefs are one of the biggest barriers my clients and I face. They get in the way when our shared goal is helping their child have a happy, healthy relationship with food. 

The reason? These beliefs come from a good place. But when we transmit these biases onto our kids we inadvertently put a lot of pressure on their eating. This makes them more prone to disorder and dysfunction. 

The good news is that parents can be more intentional about the language we use and the comments we make. We can reduce unnecessary pressure about food, eating, health and weight. And this will help kids develop a relationship with food that will have a better impact on their overall well-being.  

How to prevent eating disorders

Here are a few tips for rethinking our “food speak” to prevent eating disorders and disordered eating. These approaches will support your child to feel good about what and how much they eat. Parents who become more aware of the attitudes they pass to their kids about food tend to raise kids who are well-nourished in more ways than one. 

Go With an All Foods Fit Approach

By keeping virtue out of the kitchen

Avoid words like “bad,” “junk,” and “unhealthy” when it comes to talking about foods and drinks. Labeling certain foods as evil can trigger feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and shame in kids. This is especially true if you’re referring to something that child really likes or wants to eat.

The truth is ALL foods can provide some nourishment. And while we may choose to offer our kids certain foods over others, identifying the ones you want them to avoid as “bad” does more harm than good.

Another reason to avoid name-calling when it comes to food: When we do this, we inadvertently teach our kids to judge not only themselves but others who eat them as  “wrong,” “bad,” or deserving of shame, too. Imagine a friend or classmate eats a lunch or snack food that your child feels you’d disapprove of. They may pass that unfair judgment on them, too.

Help Figure Out the Right Portion Size

By nixing “one more bite” and “that’s enough” comments and requests

When our child tells us they’re finished or that they’re still hungry, as a parent we need to believe them! This helps your child develop body trust. It also allows them the freedom to stay in tune with their innate physical ability to self-regulate. 

We are all born with an innate ability to regulate our food intake. We can read our body signals such as hunger, appetite, and satiety. This ability is something our children might lose touch with as they grow if caregivers or culture interfere with it. 

It’s unfortunately common for healthcare professionals, teachers, celebrities, friends, and extended family to make unhelpful comments about food and eating. The main thing is that we want to limit comments about “good” or “bad” eating and focus instead on internal cues. This is protective against disordered eating and one way we can prevent eating disorders.

Trust kids’ bodies

It’s ultimately unhelpful to prompt our kids to eat more when they feel full or stop before they feel satisfied. Because it teaches them to distrust their own body and listen to outside cues instead of their body. 

In the short term, it can be a ding to self-esteem. Kids might learn that “feeling hungry is bad and can’t be trusted.” Other negative thoughts like “I’m not good at eating” are also harmful. In the long term, it teaches kids that they can’t listen to signals from inside their bodies. This can set them up for disordered eating and eating disorders. To prevent eating disorders, they need to be attuned to their internal appetite.

When a child has an eating disorder their internal appetite signals have been disrupted. They can relearn this critical connection during recovery with the help of an eating disorder therapist and dietitian.  

Help Kids Reach a Healthy Weight

By cutting out weight talk

Lots of parents treat weight as a problem to be solved. But studies show that their kids have more disordered eating habits. They are more likely to have eating disorder behaviors like restrictive eating and binge eating.

They also suffer from lower self-esteem, more body dissatisfaction, and are more likely to be depressed. This is regardless of whether that child is underweight, normal weight, or overweight. It also occurs whether the parent is talking about their child’s weight or their own. 

Studies have also shown that kids who grow up in families with negative weight talk have higher weight than those who don’t. That’s right. Just talking negatively about weight can impact your kids’ future weight.

Moms aren’t the only ones who impact their kids’ feelings about eating. This effect is even stronger for fathers who promote eating a certain way to lose weight or avoid gaining weight. The negative effects of weight talk are powerful. Their impact has been shown to last at least 15 years, following our kids into adulthood.

See our scientific library for the data behind these statements

To prevent eating disorders and disordered eating, avoid making weight an enemy to be conquered. This approach will help your child maintain a BMI that is natural and meant for them. Bodies are diverse, and the best approach is to accept their natural signals rather than control them. 

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Help Kids Have Better Eating Esteem

By taking note of your tone

When talking to kids about food, be gentle, kind, and guiding, as well as very direct. Children are more likely to listen to directions when they feel respected, supported, and when they clearly understand your request.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Kids are less likely to comply with requests that are critical, shaming, and unclear. Worse? Such comments are known to lower self-esteem and cause overeating. 

For example, “Sweetheart, please take just one scoop so there is enough for everyone,” works much better than, “Oh my gosh, that’s a lot of calories!”, “After today, we can both start a diet”, or “You’ve been eating too much lately.”

Make Family Meals Easier

By being curious

Does your child have a particular eating habit you hate? Or is their focus on carbs or sugar or snack foods something you often worry about? While it’s natural to be concerned about eating habits, if they pick up on your stress or concern it could make the situation worse. 

Instead, ask yourself the “why” behind your worry and talk about it with a partner or professional. Letting your own eating or weight concerns get the best of you during meals can ramp up stress. This impacts everyone who is eating, including very young children. 

Research shows that even infants can pick up on stress during feeding. So if you approach meals with negative emotions, there’s a chance your child will feel anxious or afraid, too.

Keep it calm

Big emotions can also dis-regulate eating, decreasing or increasing your child’s appetite. This may inadvertently contribute more to whatever issue you’re concerned about instead of improving it.

If you do have a concern that you think needs to be addressed, take them away from the table. You can talk about your concerns and the most positive approaches to feeding with a pediatric dietitian and/or family therapist. They can provide positive ways to approach food and eating. 

While your child’s weight and shape will change as they age, their thoughts and feelings about foods and eating will stay with them into adulthood. Strive to create an attitude that’s relaxed and positive to prevent eating disorders. This will also support them in feeling good about food and their body.  


Amelia Sherry has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Diabetes Counselor & Educator (CDCES). She’s also the founder of NourishHer.com, a source of information and inspiration for mothers who want to raise girls protected from diet culture. Visit the site for access to free articles, downloads, and workshops.

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How to avoid power struggles over food

How to avoid power struggles over food

Many parents wonder how they can avoid power struggles over food. Feeding and eating have become very tense in our culture. Food is often restricted, moralized, and made “super,” making it very hard for parents to know what they should do.

The good news is that feeding doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does need to be important. What do I mean by that? I mean that you should prioritize feeding your children as an essential part of caring for them. But feeding should be about connection, not correction. And it should be about being together, not being perfect or eating perfectly (since there’s no such thing!).

Eating and feeding are intimate forms of communication between parent and child. When a child is rejecting food, avoiding eating with others, or eating alone, that can be troublesome and even dangerous. So it’s important for parents to “own” meals. To take responsibility for feeding their kids and prioritize connection and loving communication during meals.

When parents step into their authority by choosing the times and format of meals, they show that feeding and eating are an important part of their role as parents. Feeding our children thoughtfully and with respect is an important part of parenting and showing them our love and care.

Here’s how to avoid power struggles over food:

Note: for each point, I’ve added a brief description of how this works for one family that’s doing it.

1. Have family meals

Make meals an important part of daily life. Food is the first way we show our children we are attentive to them, and feeding serves as an important bonding experience for both parent and child. Don’t let this drop away as they grow up. Eating together should be a family priority, and should be taken very seriously.

What this looks like for Allison’s family: We have busy schedules but we always make time to eat dinner together. We avoid planning meetings, events, and calls from 6:30-7:30. Sometimes we have to eat earlier, sometimes later. But whatever our day brings, we prioritize getting together for dinner.

2. Serve food you know your child will like

Don’t be a short-order cook who makes individual meals for each person. But do make sure that there is always something you are sure each person will eat. Good options include bread and butter, tortillas, a bowl of fruit, baby carrots, etc.

What this looks like for Allison’s family: I’m a creative cook, and I enjoy trying new recipes. But I always make sure there is at least one dish for everyone on the table. For our family, everyone likes tortillas and cheese, so I’ll put that on the table in case the meal I’ve prepared isn’t appealing. I also keep a bowl of fruit on the table just in case.

3. Let everyone serve themselves

Family-style meals provide individual autonomy and choice. This allows each person to feel cared for, in community with the family, and responsible for their own choices. This can eliminate harmful food-based power struggles since everyone is in charge of themselves.

What this looks like for Allison’s family: We eat at the table and I serve everything family style. This way everyone feels as if they are in charge of their own plate, which seems to reduce tensions. Sometimes my kids actually ask me to put a plate together for them, which is fine. But our default is that they get to make their own choices.

4. Keep your eyes on your own plate

Don’t watch what your child is eating or make comments about their choices. Let them eat what they like and how much they like at each meal. Put them in charge of their own nutrition, and empower them to know their body best.

What this looks like for Allison’s family: I was raised in a family where every bite was monitored and I felt bad for either eating too much or not finishing what was on my plate. So that feels pretty natural to me. But I’ve found that since I stopped doing that with my own kids, they seem more relaxed, and I’ve noticed that there’s a lot less waste and grumbling as a result. And they’re even more adventurous, which really surprised me.

5. Keep the conversation light, bright, and polite

Don’t make the table the only place where parent-child conversations take place. Make space for difficult conversations about homework, tests, and other concerns away from the table. During meals, keep the conversation positive and strive to make each person feel seen, heard, understood, and loved. This is a time for connection, not correction.

What this looks like for Allison’s family: We used to spend most of our time at meals managing the household, making sure everything got done and setting up our schedule for the next day. Now we save that for after dinner, and instead, we focus on being together and laughing and sharing stories during dinner. It’s so much more pleasant and I notice the kids linger around the table now instead of rushing to get back to their phones. We end up spending a lot more time together, and it’s much more high-quality.

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Feeding without drama

Remember that what parents repeatedly do matters more than what they say. Often parents think they need to instruct children about how to eat and what to eat. But it’s more important to show them that food is important. That our bodies deserve respect and kindness. And, most importantly, that food is something to be enjoyed and savored together.

How you feel about your child matters. If you worry about your child’s eating, they will sense it. This is particularly true if you believe they eat “too much” or only “unhealthy” food. Before you sit down to a meal together, find a space inside of yourself that trusts and believes in your child’s autonomy and ability to eat in a way that serves them. Yes, this requires a leap of faith, but no more so than the leap of faith it takes us to send them off to school or teach them to drive. Autonomy is essential to raising a self-sufficient, healthy person.

What you prioritize matters. When you prioritize feeding and eating as something to be honored and treated with respect, you set your child up for a healthy relationship with food for life.

Family meals are a great place to show your values to your kids. This is where you can show them that you value connection, community, and eating. It’s where you can show them you value respect, autonomy, and togetherness. The family meal offers amazing opportunities for parenting.

Meals should be a place where everyone feels safe and cared for. When that happens, you are more likely to avoid power struggles over food.


This advice is based on interpersonal neurobiology and attachment theory. The particular feeding method outlined is called the Ellyn Satter Divison of Responsibility, an evidence-based approach to feeding that is shown to prevent eating issues, power struggles, and food battles.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Diet for spiritual growth can be orthorexia in disguise

Diet for spiritual growth can be orthorexia in disguise

On social media and in places of worship and yoga studios, a diet may be prescribed for spiritual growth, but it’s often orthorexia in disguise.

Spiritual leaders, teachers, bloggers, and influencers may say things like “a pure diet is a sign of spiritual goodness and enlightenment.” This sort of positioning of spirituality can be harmful since it links how and what a person eats to whether they are spiritual or not.

This sort of connection between spirituality and eating has been around for a long time. And there are many religious traditions that have promoted fasting and not eating certain foods for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Religious diets

Many religious traditions restrict some foods, at least some of the time. For example:

  • Buddhism: many Buddhists follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
  • Catholicism: the religion has several holy days and periods of fasting. Restrictions include no meat on Fridays during lent and fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.
  • Hinduism: the religion follows a lacto-vegetarian diet and features several fasting periods.
  • Islam: Halal includes strict dietary restrictions and fasting periods.
  • Judaism: kosher dietary rules require that foods are prepared under strict guidelines. Pork and shellfish are not allowed, and there are fasting periods.
  • Mormonism: followers are advised to eat respectfully, use portion control, not waste, and avoid overindulgence.

I’m not here to judge or criticize any religion or spiritual practice. But if you follow a religion or spiritual practice that restricts food, be aware of the risks for eating disorders. This is particularly true for orthorexia.

Spiritual diets

The rise of social media has powered a dangerous era in which non-experts and people with questionable motives actively and religiously promote disordered eating behaviors as a path to enlightenment. Some dangerous trends include:

  • “Spiritual signaling” with food, especially veganism
  • Detox juices and teas
  • Fasting diets
  • Religous adherence to working out
  • Strong visual correlation of a “spiritual body” being lean
  • “Clean” and “pure” diets being promoted as the path to enlightenment and health
  • Suggestion that weight will “melt off” when you follow the right path

Influencers and diet companies alike use the power of social media to spread their brands of pseudo-spirituality. They co-opt the language of spirituality and self-love to peddle programs, supplements, and clothing. It feels like spirituality and self-care, but when you break it down, it’s really just marketing and sales.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia falls under the category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). And it’s strongly correlated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It was first recognized in 1998 and translates to an obsession with “healthy” or “clean” eating. According to professionals who specialize in treating eating disorders, it is the fastest-growing type of eating disorder right now.

Someone who has orthorexia restricts certain foods that they believe are not healthy or clean. They may also incorporate cleanses and fasts to pursue purity.

Symptoms of orthorexia include:

  • Cutting out or eliminating foods (e.g. meat, dairy, carbs, sugar, etc.)
  • Fasting and detox practices
  • Deep fear of accidentally consuming the food that’s been cut out
  • Obsesively checking nutrition labels and calling restaurants for detailed ingredient lists
  • Firm definition of foods that are “healthy,” “clean,” “good,” or “pure”
  • Noticeable interest in and discussion of what other people eat
  • Following influencers on social media in categories like clean eating, vegan, paleo, etc.

Like all eating disorders, orthorexia has significant underlying causes. These may include anxiety, depression, and poor emotional regulation skills. Orthorexia can begin small and then quickly snowball. Many parents are proud of their children in the early stages of orthorexia. It can seem both spiritually pure and healthy.

But like all eating disorders, orthorexia can become a major impediment and risk to life. As a mental illness, it requires intensive treatment.

The link between orthorexia and spirituality

Many people who are pursuing a spiritual path can find themselves accidentally falling into orthorexia. Part of this is because of the ease with which religious texts can become deeply rooted in a person’s brain. Spirituality is easily matched with diet culture. Diets promote clear rules and rigid expectations with a clear payoff. This approach fits well with many spiritual practices. And the influence of social media means a religious approach to food and eating can become obsessions.

We are in an unfortunate time of diet history right now. Many for-profit diets are wrapped in a cloak of “consciousness” and “spirituality.” This cloak makes it easy for a person to fall into disordered behaviors.

Here’s a perfect example of a diet dressed in spiritual clothing. This is a sponsored post from @DailyOm on Facebook. We added some notes to help identify the positive messages from the questionable and purely diet-oriented ones.

Identifying a diet

This example shows the model most modern diet marketers use. They promise spirituality and health, then add the goal of weight loss. Almost everyone in our culture wants to lose weight. So this message is actually critical to the success and sales of this company. But it’s cloaked well enough that a person can imagine they are pursuing spiritual growth, not a diet. When diet is linked to spiritual growth, it can easily trigger orthorexia.

A note about weight loss

It’s important to remember that all diets have a 95% rate of weight regain. They also have a 65% rate of gaining additional weight. They also dramatically increase the risk of eating disorders, up to 15x. Every diet promises to reduce weight painlessly and permanently. But there is simply no evidence that they can meet those claims for all but 5% of the population. And diets are not harmless. They permanently decrease metabolic rate, increase cortisol (stress) hormones, and increase the risk of eating disorders. Read more

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The risk of diets for spiritual growth

Following religious dietary restrictions is everyone’s individual choice. But parents need to be aware that spiritual messages about eating and food can be very dangerous. Following a diet for spiritual growth can lead to orthorexia.

Rates of eating disorders are drastically increasing. There are multiple factors, including diet industry marketing, weight stigma, social media, and COVID-19 restrictions, that appear to be creating a perfect storm for eating disorder development.

The best thing parents can do is counteract restrictive messages about food and eating with positive messages like:

  • All food is good food
  • We don’t typically eat that as part of our religious practice, but we also honor every person’s individual choice
  • Our religion includes limited periods of fasting, but in general we eat regularly to fuel our bodies every day
  • We respect every person’s right to choose what they do and do not eat
  • This is a diet-free home, and we don’t support dietary restriction unless clearly specified for religious reasons (and even then it’s still optional)
  • You can be spiritual without following the dietary restrictions outlined in ancient texts and modern sermons
  • We don’t follow clean eating “prophets” who promote disordered eating behavior
  • Social media should be consumed with caution, especially when it comes to spiritual messages strongly aligned with eating and exercise behaviors

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, please carefully reconsider religious restrictions. Religious and spiritual traditions may accidentally contribute to eating disorders. Consider ways in which you can support your child’s recovery. Your child’s spiritual growth can continue even if they don’t follow a religion’s dietary restrictions. Most religious leaders recognize the need to adjust dietary restrictions in special circumstances.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Help your teen with an eating disorder get enough sleep

Help your teen with an eating disorder get enough sleep

If you have a teen who has an eating disorder, then you probably know that getting enough sleep is a key component of their care. But it can be hard to get any teenager to get enough sleep. 

And when you add on the disruption created by an eating disorder, it can feel like just one more thing on your list.

Sleep and mental health

Getting enough sleep is a cornerstone of mental health. And while of course a person can recover without getting enough sleep, recovery will likely be easier with sleep hygiene.

There are three essential components of mental health: eating, sleeping, and relating. Parents are able to support mental health by ensuring these three components are fulfilled.

Eating: We support our kids’ mental health by serving consistent, enjoyable meals and supporting them in getting enough fuel for their bodies and minds. 

Sleeping: We support our kids’ mental health by establishing healthy sleep habits and boundaries to promote sleep hygiene.

Relationships: We support our kids’ mental health by being in a positive relationship with them, supporting their peer and other relationships, and offering them psychotherapy for additional support.

Teens and sleep

Science has shown that teenagers are not lazy or obstinate when they stay up late. They are actually driven by melatonin levels to stay up later in the night and awake later in the morning than either children or adults. And unfortunately this night-owl behavior is coupled with a biological need for the teenage brain to get 9-10 hours of sleep per night.

It goes without saying that most of our teens don’t get even close to 9-10 hours of sleep. Even teens who are able to fall asleep at midnight are likely only getting 6-7 hours of sleep to accommodate early school start times. 

A lack of sleep increases impulsivity, anxiety, and depression. And all of these are associated with eating disorders.

Eating disorders, like many mental disorders, first appear during adolescence. This is a time when the human brain undergoes a massive “pruning” effort to transform the child’s brain into an adult brain. This pruning is part of the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, which is the area responsible for planning, prioritizing and controlling impulses.

A lack of sleep isn’t the sole cause of mental disorders, but many studies have found that it is correlated with mental disorders.

“Sleep loss problems are linked with brain areas that control emotional processes and risk-taking,” says Wendy Troxel, a clinical psychologist and senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND. “Sleep problems and behavioral and mental health problems are linked.”

How to help teens get enough sleep

A lack of quality sleep has a profound impact on our kids’ health, cognition, and behavior. But what can we do about it?

If you’re like many parents navigating eating disorder recovery, then the thought of getting your child through recovery may seem like a heavy enough burden. The idea of adding on a sleep routine can feel unlikely or even impossible. 

But setting boundaries around sleep is something you can do. Just like eating enough, eating regularly, and going to therapy, sleep is important for recovery. We can’t force our kids to get the sleep they need, but we can create the conditions that make sleep more likely. 

1. Make a family plan

It is important to make sleep a priority for everyone in the family. It just won’t work to tell your teen who has an eating disorder that they need to sleep, but nobody else does. That will feel punitive and is unlikely to work.

Discuss the importance of sleep, and agree that as a family, every member needs to improve his or her sleep hygiene. This foundational agreement is the only way you will be able to successfully implement the following recommendations.

2. Turn off electronics

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “ninety percent of people in the U.S. admit to using a technological device during the hour before turning in, and children often use electronic media to help them relax at night,”

The problem with this trend is that using electronic devices is physiologically and psychologically stimulating and can adversely affect sleep. Yes, all of us believe that we do not fall into the category of people who find electronics disruptive, and all of us believe that our devices help us fall asleep, but the science shows that simply isn’t true.

Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock (a.k.a., your circadian rhythm), suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices.

The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep or stay asleep. Besides increasing your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy, which in turn delays your bedtime, using these devices before turning in delays the onset of REM sleep, reduces the total amount of REM sleep, and compromises alertness the next morning. Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep. (National Sleep Foundation)

As a family, determine a time at which all electronics must be powered down. All the way. Not left sitting next to you so that you can see texts coming in. You may need to make it physically difficult or impossible for anyone to access the electronics at night.

Here are some options: 

1. Shut down the wireless from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. That may seem early to you, but if your teen has to be at school at 8, that means they need a bedtime of 11 p.m. at the latest.

2. Purchase a time-based safe. This can keep your phones locked up until the morning. 

3. Create a charging station in the house in which all electronics are stored for the night. 

Remember that all members of the family must participate in the activity of powering down – it can’t be something that only the kids have to follow. Your teen who has an eating disorder should not be targeted as the reason for the new sleep habits.

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3. Sleep hygiene

Bedtime rituals can be very helpful in signaling the brain to “power down” and prepare for sleep. Each person will have their own ritual, but the important thing is to talk about them as a family. For example, one person may enjoy a shower or a bath. Another may enjoy a cup of something warm and soothing.

Have books and physical reading materials available for everyone. Book-based entertainment is enjoyable but non-stimulating and therefore not disruptive to sleep. Get everyone proper sleeping clothing and invest in nice sheets and pillows so that everyone feels happy in their beds.

Begin turning off lights as the night wears on. Lights signal our brains to stay awake, so gradually turn off and dim household lights to help signal sleep. The best sleep hygiene involves going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Based on age and temperament, establish ideal bedtimes for each family member.

4. Avoid overwork

At this point, you may be wondering if this type of sleep program is unrealistic. Perhaps your child tells you they need to remain available for texts and do homework until midnight. If this is the case, then look at your child’s schedule. Enough sleep should be considered non-negotiable for every family member, especially when there is an eating disorder.

You may be surprised to hear that eating and sleeping should be the priority in your home. All other activities should come only once those two fundamental needs are well-met. And the third essential need? Socializing and enjoying life!

Consider reducing your child’s extracurricular load and your expectations so that they are able to complete homework well before 10 p.m. 

If your teen is not able to complete all school and sports activities by 10 p.m. then they are overworking. Our teenagers’ brains cannot handle the strain and may develop serious disorders as a result of chronic overwork.

Our culture has created a dangerous precedent in which some teens are going non-stop from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. And then they begin their relaxation and socializing, both of which are very important. As a result they often stay up well into the morning hours.

This interferes with sleeping, eating, and enjoying life. It is not healthy by any standards. In many cases, our teenagers are working harder and doing more than adults. We simply must edit our teens’ lives to raise healthy kids.

Getting support

I realize that adding sleep hygiene can be a daunting task when you’re already dealing with a teen who has an eating disorder. If you feel these steps are impossible in your family, then please consider getting some support from a therapist or coach. They can help you set and hold boundaries to support your own and your family’s mental health.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Parenting a teenager with an eating disorder

Parenting a teenager with an eating disorder

Parenting a teenager who has an eating disorder is not easy. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that must be treated comprehensively. Since most eating disorders begin during adolescence, parents are on the front lines of treatment and care. But few feel prepared to handle it.

When an eating disorder shows up in your teenager, it’s important to know that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Eating disorders are biopsychosocial disorders, meaning they combine biology, psychology, and social factors. The impact of social factors on eating disorders may be one of the reasons we see so many of them develop during the teenage years. After all, teens are probably under the most intense social pressure out of any age group.

Here are three key things about parenting a teenager with an eating disorder you should know:

1. Adolescence sucks

It is important to understand, and truly connect with, how difficult it is to be an adolescent today. Every teenage cohort believes they have it rough. But this group of teens is correct when they say they are under unique pressure.

The main things that have changed for today’s teenagers include:

  • Social media: every misstep, angry outburst, and embarrassing behavior and experience can be chronicled. Brutal comments and endless opportunities for comparison are an integral part of the platforms.
  • Parental pressure: parents are more engaged in teens today. And this means that teens feel more pressure to perform and succeed than before.
  • Higher mental illness: teens today have higher rates of all mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression. This is not just caused by the fact that we’re measuring these things more. Statistics show that it is an actual effect, and our kids are suffering more than we did.
  • COVID-19: obviously, parents did not grow up in a time of COVID-19. And the specific impacts of the pandemic are yet to be measured. But we can clearly anticipate lifelong effects.

Maybe you had pretty good adolescence, but chances are that even if you did, you still struggled at times. Maybe you have forgotten about the really hard year in the midst of good ones. Or maybe the last two years of high school were great. But you’ve forgotten the terror of the middle school years. Chances are good that if you look closely, you will uncover your own challenges during adolescence.

A rough time in life

During adolescence, our emotions are all over the place. We are also biologically driven to separate from the people who we love and trust most – our own parents. This leads to seemingly ridiculous power struggles. these struggles are an integral part of developing into independent adults. And they’re hard.

Then you add on the elements of today’s society. There’s increased pressure for school performance, extracurricular activities, getting into the right college, looking good, and feeling happy. And, of course, social media makes it all harder. Sure, some of it is fun, and our kids enjoy themselves some of the time. But never forget that the years between 10-20 are rife with stress and anxiety. And both stress and anxiety are heavy contributors to eating disorders.

Tip: Help your teenager feel safe and secure at home. This will reduce their stress and anxiety, which contributes to eating disorders. Keep in mind that when your teenager says “life sucks,” it may be true. It doesn’t mean you have failed as a parent, it just means the world is tough on teenagers. Yours likely needs your love and support.

2. Eating disorder behavior is prescribed as “good”

Eating disorders are scary, but most of us can recognize the behaviors of an eating disorder. In fact, they are prescribed and recommended in our culture. They include:

  • Obsession with weight and shape: there are very few people in our society who are not a bit worried about or concerned about their weight and shape. Weight control is promoted in healthcare, schools, the media, and almost everywhere. This obsession drives a +$70B industry.
  • Restriction: if you’ve ever been on a diet, then you have restricted your food. Diets prescribe eating disorder behavior.
  • Binge eating: when the body is starved of food, such as when restricting, it will demand fat- and sugar-filled calories. Thus, restriction is the precursor to binge eating. And almost everyone who has been on a diet can relate to the insatiable drive to eat high-calorie food.
  • Purging: when the body becomes over-full, or when you are worried that you have eaten “too much,” you might feel as if you need to purge the food from your body. Not everyone turns to vomiting, using laxatives, and other purge behaviors. But most people who have tried to control their weight can relate to the urge to do it.
  • Over-exercise: excessive exercise is seen in our society as healthy, but it is not. In fact, it can be a form of purging. Many people feel they must exercise when sick, feeling run-down, or injured. Rather than a sign of health, this means exercise has become compulsive.

Sound familiar?

Most of these eating disorder behaviors probably sound familiar to you. In fact, you may use some of them yourself. Teenagers are in the throes of developing their identity and have very little impulse control. Thus, they are susceptible to eating disorders. And it’s no surprise – our society literally prescribes eating disorder behaviors every day.

The normalization of eating disorder behaviors also means that recovery can be hard to measure. As long as eating disorder behaviors are prescribed, parents struggle to define “health” for their kids.

Tip: Prohibit eating disorder behaviors in your home. That means nobody should be restricting, weighing themselves, or pursuing a particular weight and shape. This may be a big shift for you. Check out our article on the non-diet approach to health.

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3. Mental healthcare is expensive and hard to get

When you have a child with an eating disorder, you seek out the best path to care. And at that point, you realize that there are many paths, and it all seems to be up to you. The challenge with a mental health crisis is that mental healthcare is patchy, expensive, and hard to navigate. Finding care can be surprisingly difficult.

Going through your insurance provider may be very challenging. Your provider may limit eating disorder treatment only to extreme “medical” cases. And even then, care may only extend through a minimum of weight restoration, which falls far short of full eating disorder recovery.

Insurance companies are technically required to cover mental health. But it’s common for claims to be denied or held up. It’s also common for the best therapists to require direct payment. This is because they frequently don’t get paid by the insurance company. Insurance companies may only pay for medication, and not therapy. Even good coverage may limit your treatment options.

It’s a challenge to get care

There is a good chance that you will need to pay out of pocket to provide your child with comprehensive eating disorder care. Treatment requires a team of an experienced dietitian and therapist over a period of months to years. This can get very expensive, very quickly. In many cases, even if you choose to pay out of pocket for your child’s care, the best therapists may not have openings or may not be physically nearby your location. This adds to the burden of care, further complicating recovery.

Tip: I’m afraid I don’t have a solution to our lack of good mental healthcare. Have compassion for yourself as you navigate the system. And get as much support as you can. Also, know that your behavior matters. You can help your child recover. Parenting a teenager who has an eating disorder is hard. But the fact that eating disorders are partly social means that parents actually have a tremendous opportunity to impact recovery.


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 More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents who have kids with eating disorders and other struggles.

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Food myths that get in the way of healthy eating

Food Myths That Get in the Way of Healthy Eating

by Lauren Dorman, RD CDE

Our society is overflowing with food myths that interfere with healthy eating. Half-truths and outright misinformation about nutrition and health are everywhere. Too many of us believe in myths—faulty, inaccurate, and downright untrue things about the food we eat.  

When working with families, I want them to understand that I am not going to “fix” a body or track a scale number as progress. It is studied and proven that this way of thinking will likely lead to disordered eating and poor health outcomes. In fact, restriction and weight-based care is most likely to create a poor relationship with food in which you feel addicted or obsessed to foods and yo-yo dieting. Things go much better when I help children and their families understand what a healthy relationship with food means and that all bodies are good bodies. 

This is a different concept for many as the world we live in focuses more on the “thin ideal” and “less guilt” food choices. Have you taken a look at magazine covers lately?  They are filled with the $70 billion diet culture messaging. 

I teach all the families I work with to know that all of this is harmful and poor advice.  I help them unlearn many false beliefs about nutrition and they begin to approach health as an entirely different, sustainable way of living. 

Diets are dangerous

A 2016 study of 181 mother-daughter pairs found that girls whose mothers were on diets were more likely to start dieting themselves before age 11. And that dieting was associated with overeating, weight gain and chronic health issues.

Studies and research such as these are the reasons most Registered Dietitians educate on a “food neutral” approach. This means that instead of focusing on healthy foods, ask your child “how does the food make you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally?”  

Pressuring your kids to eat their vegetables backfires most of the time, and in many different ways. Parents can have different discussions about the foods which can make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone!

A focus on health-promoting and intuitive eating for kids has shown so many positive benefits, including improved body satisfaction, lower rates of emotional eating, higher self-esteem, weight stabilization, improved cholesterol levels and reduced stress levels.  If we have a neutral approach to food we can find this whole nutrition thing a whole lot simpler! 

As a Registered Dietitian who doesn’t promote or engage in dieting, one of the first things I do with clients is figure out which of these myths they believe. Then I tell them the truth. 

Here are four of the most common food myths that get in the way of healthy eating:

Myth 1: There are good foods and bad foods

That’s simply not true. A few readers may find that shocking, but the reality is this: Food does not have a moral value. Some foods have fewer nutrients and others have more—but all food is just food, neither good nor bad. Unless you are allergic to something, there is no reason not to eat it. If you avoid certain foods and feel you shouldn’t have them, you will typically crave them more. Give yourself permission to eat all food and your craving for ‘forbidden foods’ will diminish. By eating widely and thoughtfully, you will end up eating a balanced variety of foods. 

Myth 2: Healthy people don’t eat carbohydrates

This is dangerous and potentially harmful. In fact, scientific research confirms that all human bodies, in order to function properly, need carbohydrates. I have reviewed many food diaries where people eat only eggs in the morning, a salad at lunch, and broccoli and chicken at dinner. For all of these clients, I recommend adding a source of carbohydrates to each of these meals to meet their energy and health goals. Almost everyone feels better and more satisfied when eating a balanced meal.

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Myth 3: Don’t eat after 7pm 

I can assure you that what you eat in the evening will not magically cause harm or weight gain. One client told me that a teacher advised him to adopt this rule a few years ago, and that ever since he feels shame if he eats a late meal. If you are hungry, your body is asking you for food; it does not matter what time it is. Enjoy and nourish yourself.

Myth 4: Skinny people are the healthiest

Health is not determined by weight. Our society’s relentless focus on what the scale says damages countless people and doesn’t make anyone healthier. Too many people disrupt their physical and mental health by allowing a number on the scale to determine their self-worth. So many other actions that determine your health don’t rely on numbers like pounds or body-mass index (BMI). From my point of view, tossing the scale is a good way to improve your physical and mental health. We all accept that people come in different heights and shoe sizes. Why is it so hard to accept that bodies, too, come in different sizes? 

Raising a healthy family

It’s possible to raise healthy kids by ignoring the four food myths that get in the way of eating. First, don’t label foods as good or bad. All foods can fit in a healthy diet. Next, eat carbohydrates. The human body needs and thrives on carbohydrates, and they can be enjoyed at every meal. Also, you can eat after 7 p.m. or any other arbitrary time diet culture has set. Bodies can digest food 24×7. Finally, remember that weight does not determine health. Get rid of the scale and focus on habits that truly promote health and wellness.

Lauren Dorman, RD, CDE specializes in helping families, chronic dieters, and people with diabetes through her virtual private practice. She also provides a workshop “Imperfectly Healthy”.  To learn more, follow her on Instagram @dont_diet_dietitian_ or email dontdietdietitian@gmail.com