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Negotiating with your child who has an eating disorder

Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder can feel like negotiating with a terrorist. And we all know that you shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, right? When your child has an eating disorder, the negotiations often seem bizarre and infuriating. Most of the time, parents just want their child to eat. It just doesn’t seem like something that needs to be negotiated.

So what’s a parent to do? Most of us can see when we’re hitting a wall with our child. We can see that the more our children mature, the less our strong-arming and control tactics work. With eating disorders, we feel frustrated with our child’s inability to be flexible on something as (seemingly) simple as eating.

Children who have eating disorders are incredibly strong, and we find that we are rarely able to get our way. Even when we do “win” and get our way, we suspect that our child is sneaking around our backs and doing what they want to anyway.

We’re probably right.

The problem is the approach

The problem is usually in how we approach a fight, dispute or negotiation with our kids. Most of us were raised by parents who told us to do things “because I said so.” We have also been immersed in movies, television, and other forms of media that have reinforced that people who are in power – including CEOs and parents – get what they want by controlling the situation, yelling to get the point across, and holding a firm line.

The trouble is that most people do not respond well to that form of leadership. In fact, most human beings resent being told what to do. Even if they do what you tell them to, they find ways to rebel against anyone who constantly and oppressively exerts unilateral power over them. In these situations, even reasonable requests fall on deaf and resistant ears. When we can’t agree on even very simple things like food, we become deadlocked.

“You need to eat.”


“You have to eat.”


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It’s not working

We see this sort of standoff in parenting all the time. We see it even more with kids who have an eating disorder. These kids often stubbornly refuse to follow reasonable requests to nourish their starving bodies.

Most often when we try strong-arm tactics with our kids, we see them dig their heels in and refuse. And there’s often very little we can do about that. The more we dig our heels in, the more resistant our kids become to even our most reasonable requests. They will actively work against us even as we seek to help them improve their chances of happiness and success.

The current term for this is “oppositional defiance,” which serves to medicalize and codify a behavior as old as time: a child’s rebellion against a parent.

Business lessons in negotiation

One place that we have found some excellent research for this is in the business world. You may think that business leadership is drastically different from parenting, but there are more similarities than you may think. Business leaders frequently need to motivate employees in emotionally-charged situations. And, frankly, it’s easier to study motivation and leadership at work than a parent-child relationship.


There is an excellent book that all parents who want to positively influence their child’s life should read: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. It’s a quick read and will give you a whole new perspective on conflict resolution.

The authors teach us some fundamental concepts to help us achieve agreement with even the most stubborn opponent. The core concept is that we must abandon our need to win an argument. Instead, we must pursue agreement.

This means we will not always get our way, but when working with other people (yes, even and perhaps especially our children), we must always pursue respectful collaboration and allow individuation. This does not mean we get railroaded or become passive. Quite the opposite. We become highly engaged partners in working with our children to find mutually agreeable resolutions that make sense.

Sound impossible? Read the book and you will understand more.

Here are a few highlights:

1. Separate people from issues

One of the first goals in “getting to yes” is to separate people from issues. We want to de-personalize the situation so that we can clarify the actual issue without resorting to personal attacks and judgment, which inevitably leads to a powerful shame response that gets us nowhere.

When we focus on the issue, not the person, we avoid damaging our most precious relationships and make it clear that the relationship is the most precious element of all. We must avoid blame and shame – both inflicting it and feeling it ourselves.

This can take a monumental effort from parents, but it can have staggeringly impressive effects. The more we can see ourselves in partnership with our kids, rather than in conflict with them, the better our chances are of reaching a mutual agreement.

2. Don’t focus on your position

Most of us begin a negotiation by stating our position. Most of the time each party states their position and then works to build their argument in support of that position.

This is an inefficient method of reaching an agreement because it encourages stubbornness and tends to harm each person’s relationship with the other.

In short, the more we argue against each other’s position, the worse we feel about the other person and our relationship with them. This creates a belief that we are adversaries, not in a loving relationship with each other. This is not a good situation for parents or children, and yet we find ourselves doing it over and over again.

3. Do focus on interests

Instead of focusing on your position, focus on your interests. What do you care about, and why? When you discuss a problem from the perspective of interests, there is no “winner” and “loser,” only different interests.

This makes it much easier to reach a mutual agreement because nobody feels they have to sacrifice their pride if they agree to the other person’s interests. This is critical with our children, who want to establish themselves as independent from us. They may be willing to do many more things if we only let them know our interests rather than our position.

The difference is subtle but profound: “you have to take out the trash” (position) vs. “it is important to me that we all contribute to the household. All of us contribute to our family in different ways. What I’d like you to do is take out the trash.” (interest)

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4. Generate options

Once you shift from positions to interests, you can see that there are now options available. In the example above, if your goal is to have everyone contribute, then you need to be open options other than taking out the trash.

This doesn’t mean the trash doesn’t get taken out, but it does mean that your child feels they can meet your interests in a way that is mutually agreeable rather than dictated by you.

Giving our kids some leeway in achieving our interests gives them personal agency and a sense of control over their own destiny. When we generate options, we allow our kids to participate in deciding they will do rather than simply dictating what they will do.

It is a well-known fact that while dictators may obtain short-term power, they inevitably breed rebellion and often meet devastating consequences at the hands of their disgruntled constituents.

5. Avoid win-lose mentality

Getting to yes means that both parties agree on a resolution. They have typically both made some compromises in their original positions. Getting to yes takes significantly more time than just saying “because I say so,” especially when a parent has previously used command and control techniques.

Our children need time to gain trust and believe that we are truly interested in finding a respectful resolution.

It is important therefore to mentally prepare yourself by remembering that there is no winner or loser when it comes to parenting. There is no victor in conversations with our children because even when we think we have won, we have lost something in the relationship as a result. Instead, we need to consciously avoid any win-lose mentality and seek connection above all outcomes.

But seriously: when things get really hairy

Of course, eating disorder behaviors are terrifying, and negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder is really hard. Most parents desperately want to intervene and stop the behaviors.

It may seem to you that all this talk of mutual agreement is nice and dandy if you aren’t facing a life-or-death situation, and in some cases, it may be true that you have to step in and take some control over your child’s nutrition for a while to get them to a baseline weight at which you can begin to collaborate. If this is your situation, please get help with Family Based Treatment, which is designed to do just this.

But most of the time this is not the case. Most of the time we are struggling over behaviors that drive us crazy but that are not imminently life-threatening. In these cases, if our child is medically stable, we can focus on the relationship and connection during disputes rather than some goal outcome (i.e. stopping the eating disorder behavior right now).

Desperate for the bottom line

When desperate, a lot of us seek what we consider to be a “bottom line.” We consider this our protection against a powerful or irrational opponent. But what negotiation research has shown is that a better approach is to establish the best possible step towards your interests. Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder is hard, but it’s easier if we focus on the big picture instead of the bottom line.

This requires recognizing that we cannot force someone to do what we want them to do, but we may be able to influence them a little bit in our direction. Find small ways to get small “yesses” from your child. Maybe they can’t agree to all of your interests at this time, but can they agree to one small step. Maybe they can’t eat the whole meal, but they can eat some of it and sit with the family for the entirety of the meal. Work with your child’s nutritionist and/or therapist if you need some help with how to set this up.

Small yesses help our child gradually trust that we their parents respect their individuality and help them see that our interests, especially when it comes to their recovery from an eating disorder, are in their own best interest.

When we do this, we avoid trying to force our child to bend to our will and instead show them that we respect their individuality and unique perspective. Negotiating with a child who has an eating disorder should involve respect for the people involved, with an understanding that eating disorder behaviors are not in our best interest.

In time, peaceful and respectful negotiation inspired by “Getting to Yes” is likely to build a strong, collaborative relationship and ultimately bring us closer as families.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Body image for girls: free ebook

Body image for girls free ebook

The book is written by Ginny Jones, the founder and editor of, and Raina Rose, her 13 year-old daughter. They collaborated on a free eBook to help girls develop positive body image. This book quickly and easily presents the tenets of body positivity and body acceptance. It help girls understand the environment in which we live. It gives them tools to gain the confidence to rebel against the forces that support body hate.

I hope you will download this book and consider sharing it with your daughters, nieces, godchildren, students, patients, and student-athletes. All girls deserve to have a positive body image!

Here’s the opening letter from Raina Rose:

Introduction letter from Raina Rose

Hi peeps! I’m Raina Rose.

Body image is a tough subject, and I feel like a lot of girls feel confused. Because on the one hand, we see that body and weight is important in our culture, but when we try to talk about it with grown ups, they just tell us we should love our bodies. I don’t know about you, but that really doesn’t help me.

To me, “love your body” is just another way of making us feel bad about ourselves. That’s why I have a different approach – how about we just know that we’re OK – we’re fine. It’s OK and normal to have bad body thoughts. And it’s OK and normal to look in the mirror and feel bummed sometimes.

Here’s the only thing you need to know: you don’t have to love your body. You don’t have to think it’s perfect in every way. You just have to remind yourself that you’re worthy of respect in any body! I know it feels like you need to fix yourself, improve yourself, and look like the prettiest girl at school. But honestly, you’re good. As you are. No need to do anything or fix anything. You’re fine!

I’m going to provide you with information about body image, fatphobia, and why dieting is not a good idea. These are all tricky topics, and they can feel really confusing. If your mom made you read thousands of puberty books like mine did, you’ll remember that all of them included grown-ups saying something along the lines of, “I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that I was beautiful.” Did you read that in a fake-sounding sing-song voice? I sure did.

“Okay lady, that’s great, but no matter how many times you say that, it’s not changing my self-criticism.”

I remember reading that and thinking, “Okay lady, that’s great, but no matter how many times you say that, it’s not changing my self-criticism.” It’s as if that lady thinks that saying that she wishes that she loved her body back then will make me love my body now.

Reading the same passage again and again didn’t change my thoughts. I thought it was broken. “What’s with this?” I would think, “I’m supposed to think I’m beautiful, but I don’t. So what’s up with that?”

The thing is, no matter how many times you read inspirational quotes about loving yourself. No matter how many times your mom says you’re beautiful. It’s not going to change the fact that the media and our culture at large is built to create self-hatred and body shame. Telling us to “love our bodies” without seeing our bodies within the larger culture just isn’t enough.

If being told you should love your body has changed how you feel about your body, then contact me. Because I will go to your house, bow down at your feet, and shower you with Cadbury eggs, money, and possibly buttons. Seriously, I have a lot of buttons. I need to get rid of them.

We are all beautiful

Nevertheless, we are all beautiful. And sometimes you might not see it or believe it. But I guarantee that if I see you, I will think you are beautiful. That’s because often we can see beauty in other people that we can’t see in ourselves. But don’t be mad at yourself if you don’t feel beautiful. Just remind yourself that you’re normal (and awesome). Don’t diet. Don’t hate your body. You don’t have to compare yourself to other girls or women wearing tiny bikinis on Instagram. You’re fine.

There will be times of doubt. I often find myself complimenting my friends’ looks and then wishing that I looked like them. That’s just how we seem to be, and it’s not an accident. Billion-dollar companies create unattainable beauty standards and encourage us to compare ourselves to others and compete with each other. Then they tell us that if we buy their product we can look just like their models. Don’t feel beautiful yet? That’s OK, they have another product for us to buy! And so the cycle goes. Over and over and over again.

The fact that we feel bad about ourselves and as if we’re in competition with other girls and women doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. But it also doesn’t mean that we have to believe it!

We live in a messed up world, peeps. But this book is hoping to bring a little light into this cave we call society. Enjoy!

About Raina Rose

Hi, I’m Raina, and my mom runs I’m only 13, and I can’t say that I’ve figured all this stuff out. But I can say that I’m really interested in helping all of us find a way to accept ourselves and our bodies.

About Ginny Jones

Hi, I’m Ginny, and I created and run, which helps parents raise kids who are free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. I waged war with my body for too many years, and I’m hopeful that this book will help you enjoy a peaceful relationship with your body.

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Reading list of books that promote body acceptance to help parents create a positive body environment for kids

Parents should become well-versed in the concepts of body acceptance and Health at Every Size if they want to raise kids who are resilient against eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia.

One of the biggest challenges facing many parents today is that we can see that the fatphobic culture in which we live is hurting our kids’ self-esteem, but we don’t know enough about health and weight to avoid perpetuating toxic ideals at home. Luckily, there are some great books to help build a positive body attitude. Body acceptance isn’t about “giving up,” ignoring our health, or unicorns and rainbows – body acceptance is rooted in the science of health and body weight.

Here are some recommendations for books that can help you learn the concepts behind body acceptance and Health at Every Size.

Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, by Linda Bacon, Ph.D. and Lucy Aphramor, Ph.D., R.D.

This book does an excellent job of explaining the many factors driving the Health at Every Size movement, namely that weight loss is not the key to health, diet and exercise are not effective weight-loss strategies, and fatness is not a death sentence. Parents who understand this book will understand why they can relax about their child’s weight status and focus on the behaviors that are actually health-promoting, which include mental health and enjoyable physical movement.

Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out – and Never Say Diet Again by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN

This book provides a wonderful framework for caring for our health without focusing on weight. So much of our societal messages about weight are shame-based. These messages damage how we feel about our own bodies, and they also damage how our kids feel about their bodies. Body Kindness shows the way to health and well-being attained by understanding how to love, connect, and care for yourself—and that includes your mind as well as your body.

You Have The Right To Remain Fat, by Virgie Tovar

Virgie Tovar is a wonderful fat-positive writer, speaker, and activist. She proudly identifies as fat, and does an excellent job of explaining what it was like to grow up as a fat girl who believed that her body was something to be fixed. After decades of trying to be smaller, she found freedom when she discovered that her body is not the problem – our fatphobic society is the problem. This book is valuable for people of all sizes, but it is especially important reading for parents who have children who are living in larger bodies.

Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live, by Megan Jayne Crabbe

Like many of us, Megan Crabbe’s body image issues began when she was just five years old. She chased thinness and developed anorexia at fourteen. She recovered from the worst of the disorder, but still spent years stuck in disordered eating – dieting, binge eating, losing and gaining weight. She discovered the body positive movement and quit dieting forever. This book is an upbeat and positive personal story of eating disorder recovery followed by a period of disordered eating and finding peach with a body-positive approach.

ebook body image for girls

You’re Fine! Body Image for Girls – FREE eBook!

We created this light and easy eBook to quickly cover the concepts of Health at Every Size, Body Positivity, and Intuitive Eating. While it is written for a young teen audience, it applies to all bodies of all ages and is a great introduction to how we can talk about and think about bodies respectfully and peacefully.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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How to feed your child without fear of weight gain

How to feed your child without fear of weight gain

It’s challenging to feed a child when you’re worried about their weight gain. Messages about feeding kids the “right” foods and avoiding weight gain are everywhere.

Many parents worry that they will make terrible mistakes when feeding their kids. They worry about feeding children “too much” so they gain weight. And they worry about creating body image and eating issues. It can seem like an impossible equation.

We live in a dangerous time for body image and eating disorders. Decades of fear-mongering have created conditions in which parents believe they must control or reduce their children’s weight.

Parents believe that if they don’t control their children’s food intake, their children will gain too much weight. They worry that the way they feed a child will either create or prevent weight gain. Many parents believe that larger children result from poor feeding practices.

We think it’s our fault if our kids are larger. Ellyn Satter, a well-known expert on feeding, says the crisis we face today is not childhood weight, but a crisis of parenting and feeding.

Living in diet culture

Living in diet culture has convinced parents that bodies are at constant risk of gaining weight. However, weight is more correlated with genetics and environment than individual behaviors and eating patterns. A parent cannot prevent a child from gaining weight without creating major side effects.

Parents may be surprised to learn that focusing on weight can actually increase weight. Parents who worry about their kids’ weight raise heavier children compared to those who do not. If you feed your child less to try and avoid weight gain, you may accidentally cause weight gain.

Our kids’ weight is not the problem we’re facing in our society. The problem we’re facing is that parents disregard their child’s bodily needs. Parents think they need to control their kids’ food to the point of disregarding their child’s preferences. Parents often attempt to restrict their child’s food intake and accidentally drive dangerous food behaviors.

These problems underlie most eating disorders, which have serious consequences for life. Eating disorders impact at least 10% of the population (NEDA), and are on the rise. And eating disorders have worse health outcomes than high body weight.

Wanting a thin child

From the day of our child’s birth, medical professionals report on our child’s weight and editorializing what it means. It’s always some variation on the theme of BMI. And conversations about weight gain are typically centered on how parents feed a child. Here’s how these conversations go:

  • On the “average” curve, which implies perfect nutrition
  • Below the “average” curve, which implies more food is needed
  • Above the “average curve, which implies less food is needed

But the BMI scale was developed to be used on a population scale. It was never intended to guide individual health. No weight chart can ever tell you what is healthy for your child.

Our healthcare providers spend an inordinate time discussing our kids’ BMI. When faced with an otherwise healthy child, doctors discuss weight because it is one of the only measurements of interest.

But in 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics told doctors to not talk about weight with children and adolescents. This is because it often causes harm, and very seldom is helpful.

This is because weight is much more complex than most of us understand. Even doctors may have these false beliefs:

  • Weight is a simple equation of energy in and energy out (not true)
  • Anybody can achieve low body weight with willpower and effort (not true)
  • People who weigh more, eat more and move less (not true)

None of these beliefs is true. Our bodies are complex. The only way to override a body’s natural and complex weight system is to diet. But dietary restriction creates significant stress on the body. It also reduces metabolic rate, increases lifetime weight, and leads to poor health outcomes.

“Being thin is not the most important thing for your child. Most important is knowing you love him and accept him for being just who he is—thin or fat, tall or short.” 

Ellyn Satter

Controlling food

Adults who believe that a child will overeat and eat only junk are reflecting their own food issues. This is not the reality of how children naturally eat.

Our children are born with innate hunger and food satiety signals. They have a perfect system of bodily feedback. Children can be raised without food control. They can be encouraged to eat based on their personal appetite vs. external food rules. These children neither overeat nor under-eat most of the time. Their bodies find a healthy homeostasis based on their unique genetics and environment.

“My message—one that not all parents are pleased to hear—is that your child’s eating is determined by the way you feed,” says Satter. “They depend on regular meals and snacks to know they will get fed. If they don’t know they will be fed and allowed to eat as much as they want at frequent and predictable times, they will eat as much as they can whenever they can. Their fear of going hungry will override their cues of hunger, appetite, and satisfaction and make them eat until they can hold no more.”

How we feed our children reflects our own beliefs about control

Many parents live in a state of fear of weight gain. They control their own food, so it seems to make sense to do the same with children. This approach to eating is extremely “normal” in our society today, but it is also maladaptive and unhealthy. Nobody should live in fear of their bodies and food. Typically, this fear begins early and is reinforced often in our society.

Parents who want to raise healthy children must actively resist cultural messages. We must reject the idea that children are not to be trusted with food and should be tightly controlled. Parents need to forget rules like “no sugar,” “only organic food,” and “no soda.”

Parents worry that if they don’t control their kids’ eating, their kids will eat only candy and potato chips for every meal for the rest of their lives. This is rarely the case. In fact, parents who follow Ellyn Satter’s feeding method find that their children naturally have varied and healthful eating patterns.

This only sounds impossible if you have lived in fear of your own insatiable appetite. Once parents learn to trust themselves around food, they realize that they can trust their children around food, too.

“Normal feeding is providing the child with a variety of nutritious and appealing food, then letting him decide what and how much to eat based on his internal regulators of hunger, appetite, and satisfaction.”

Ellyn Satter

Restricting food

Food restriction is the primary technique in all weight loss efforts. It is also the foundation of almost all eating disorders. It may include restricting all calories or certain food items (sugar, fat, carbs, etc.).

The goal of all food restriction is to reduce weight and improve health. However, the willful restriction of food is consistently shown to do neither of those things. In fact, it typically leads to increased weight and lower health.

Parents who restrict their kids’ food put their children at higher risk of gaining weight and developing eating disorders. This is due to the complexity of weight, food, and eating. When our babies are born, the first thing we do is nurture them with food. Feeding our children is closely tied to loving our children. Our children cannot separate their bodies from themselves. This is why parents who try to restrict a child’s body accidentally restrict them emotionally.

“Restricting hurts both emotionally and physically and in the long run will make your child fatter, not thinner.”

Ellyn Satter

A child who feels insecure in their relationship with their parent will develop many emotional side effects. When food is a battleground, kids may eat more than is physically comfortable or less than their body needs. Both ends of the spectrum find their roots in a fundamental lack of self-trust and a parent’s approach to feeding.

“Children whose eating is restrained by their parents lack internal regulators. When they get out on their own, their lack of internal regulators can distort their eating in a variety of ways.”

Ellyn Satter

Ellyn Satter’s approach


Satter’s approach says that parents are responsible for feeding, and children are responsible for eating. This means that parents should provide healthful and delicious food choices. And they should allow the child to determine which and how much food to put in their body. It’s a simple plan, but often requires some major work by parents who are currently stuck in diet culture.

A good first start is to read any of Satter’s books. A great next step is to get support from a professional who can help you implement the program. With this support, parents can learn to overcome their assumptions about weight and food. They can begin parenting their children without fear of either.

We strongly recommend any of Ellyn Satter’s books, including Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.

“Children have a wonderful way of changing when their parents change—provided their parents really mean it.”

Ellyn Satter

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Do you kind of hate your teenager?

Do you kind of hate your teenager?

Do you kind of hate your teenager? Do you sometimes wonder how it’s possible that the sweet little toddler you loved so much has turned into a monster? Are you out of ideas for how to make things better – or at least not so bad – at home?

The good news is that you don’t have to hate your teenager. The bad news is that it’s going to require significant effort on your part. You may think that they are the one who has a problem. But if you want things to improve, it’s up to you to take action.

Please understand, parents are not to blame for kids’ behavior. Our kids are their own people, with their own temperament, their own experiences, and their own free will. But when parents complain about their children, they have two choices:

  1. Keep complaining and feel hopeless about ever getting along with a difficult teen.
  2. Look inward and see what changes we can make ourselves to improve our experience of the relationship.

When we choose the second path, there is a chance for change, both in ourselves and in our kids.

But remember, this is not coming from blame. It is not meant to suggest that you haven’t tried your very best and given your child everything you could so far. It’s just that if you kind of hate your kid, then what you’ve been doing isn’t working so well for you. Read on if you want to consider one possible way things could get better.

You are not a bad parent, and this isn’t about love

If you kind of hate your teenager, you may feel like a bad parent. You may think that your feelings of dislike for your teenager mean you are unsuited to parenting them. And you may cry out in pain because you love your child so much, and you just can’t figure out what went wrong.

When our kids act out and infuriate us, it’s not because we didn’t love them enough, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love us. But it does mean that your relationship needs help. And if you’re reading this article, then it means that you are motivated to improve it. You’re motivated to translate your love into the sort of behavior that will build a deep and loving relationship with your child. That’s a good place to start!

Remember that we can’t change other people, but often when we change ourselves and our behavior, we change the way people respond to us. This is the key to rebuilding a relationship with a child who drives you crazy. Recognize that you can’t control or fix your child into treating you better. But you can change the way you behave, and you may see some positive results.

4 tips for improving a relationship with your teenager when you sort of hate them

1. Get professional support

This is going to be challenging. You need someone on your side, but not just a cheerleader or someone on whose shoulder you can cry. You need those people, too. But for serious work, you need a professional who can guide you towards a healthier relationship with yourself and your family. A therapist, counselor, coach, or another person will hold you accountable for your part of the problem while gently guiding you towards more productive behavior.

2. Work on your boundaries

A teenager who behaves angrily and hatefully toward their parent is struggling with roles and security. Maybe your boundaries were overly-harsh, and they feel penned in and trapped. Maybe your boundaries were too porous, and they don’t know where you end and where they begin. All of us thrive in relationships that have good boundaries, but a lot of us never learned how to set and hold boundaries with the people we love. Learning to establish appropriate boundaries will improve your relationship.

3. Learn about attachment

All of us have an attachment style. This is based on how we were parented. And while about 56% of adults have a healthy (“secure”) attachment style, the rest have less-secure attachment. Attachment is nobody’s fault. It’s something that happens to us before we have any free will. And even the most loving parents may have less-secure attachment. And even secure parents can raise kids who have a less-secure attachment style. Less-secure attachment can result in a teenager whom you hate. And one of the most important things you can do to rebuild your relationship is to learn about attachment and move towards greater security.

4. Rebuild your relationship

Remember that if you hate your teenager, it means your relationship – that means both of you, and possibly your whole family – needs some relationship repair. Even if it seems like your child is the problem, relationships are, by definition, interconnected. This means that everyone involved plays a role. And the good news is that if you work on yourself and your role, there’s a good chance that your relationships will improve. Perhaps not magically, easily, or quickly. But over time, and with effort, parents can usually rebuild relationships with angry teens.

Bad behavior is a reflection of the relationship

One of the hard lessons we need to learn as parents is that “bad behavior” in our kids is not a result of our child being “bad.” It’s more often a reflection of the state of our relationship.

From a parents’ perspective, it often seems like the child has a problem. Perhaps they are “too stubborn,” or “a jerk.” But a child’s behavior towards their parent is almost always an attempt to communicate.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time our kids’ “communication” seems rude, condescending, and tests our boundaries. But these behaviors are always our kids’ attempt to get our attention and ask for our help.

It makes sense to blame our teens for bad behavior. It also makes sense to feel angry and ashamed when our teens act out. But if we actually want to stop hating our teens, the only possible path forward is to look inward and seek to change our own behavior, which is often the only way to change our family dynamics.

Why teenagers are so difficult

While hormones and maturation tell some of the story of why teens are difficult, they miss a major element: parental attachment. Without a healthy and secure parent-child attachment, teens become increasingly difficult to parent as they age.

How do you know if you and your teenager lack healthy attachment? Well, the most obvious sign is that you don’t like them very much, and they don’t seem to like you, either.

What is attachment?

Attachment theory is a well-established and deeply-researched psychological concept. The idea is that all children develop an attachment style with their parents or primary caregivers. There are four main styles of attachment associated with childhood development:

  1. Secure attachment (~56%): a child who is securely attached feels they can rely on their caregiver to meet their needs. When the child is emotionally dysregulated, they seek their caregiver’s attention and are soothed by their caregiver.
  2. Anxious-ambivalent attachment (~20%): a child who is ambivalent feels insecure about their caregiver. Although they will behave in ways that attract their caregiver’s attention (e.g. whining, yelling, crying, being rude) when emotionally dysregulated, the caregiver is typically unable to soothe the child.
  3. Anxious-avoidant attachment (~23%): a child who has avoidant attachment does not seek their caregiver out when they are upset. When the child is emotionally dysregulated, they tend to go inward and avoid the caregiver and brush off any attempts to draw them out of their shell.
  4. Disorganized attachment (~1%): a child who has disorganized attachment does not rely on their caregiver for any reliable care. When the child is emotionally dysregulated, they may exhibit ambivalent or avoidant attachment patterns, but it is inconsistent, and they are rarely (if ever) soothed by their caregiver.

Many parents who complain that they hate their teenager are facing a child who is not securely attached.

Luckily, parents can usually improve their parent-child attachment. It takes effort and help. But working on yourself may be the best way to stop hating your teenager.

Teenage attachment problems

Insecurely attached teens don’t believe their parents understand who they really are. This means that we lose authority. Because if we don’t know who they are, how can we tell them what to do?

This is why insecurely attached children are harder to parent in every way.

Our requests quickly escalate to demands, punishments, threats, begging and nagging, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference: our teens won’t do what we ask them to do. This is annoying and infuriating. But doubling down on our attempts to control our teens rarely improves the situation. Instead, we need to build our authority by building our attachment.

Emotional immaturity

Less secure people often lag when it comes to emotional maturity. When a parent is less secure, this can cause them to parent their children with less security. And remember, it doesn’t mean a lack of love. Almost all parents love their children and want what’s best for them. But if you have a less secure attachment style, then your child may struggle. Luckily, parents can become more emotionally mature by working with a professional.

Likewise, if your teen is less secure, they will be emotionally immature. You may see this in their behavior. One minute they are a balanced almost-adult. The next minute they are throwing a toddler-level tantrum because you asked them to take out the trash.

This may seem like a problem with the teen. And if your teen is willing to see a professional, they may gain emotional maturity that way. But parents can also help their kids become emotionally mature by building a more secure parent-child relationship.

In fact, parents can make a huge impact on their kids’ security and emotional maturity if they (the parent) attend therapy even if the child never does!

emotional regulation

We must build attachment with our teens

Our insecurely attached teenagers are at higher risk of dangerous behaviors like drinking, antisocial behavior, eating disorders, and more. They are also awful to parent. Insecure attachment creates a self-perpetuating doom-loop in which we become further and further apart from each other. We must actively build a more secure attachment with difficult teens. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Difficult teens will tell us they don’t want us “interfering” in their lives. But that doesn’t mean that we should go back to moping in a separate room, feeling sorry for ourselves. Nor should we start thinking our kids don’t love us and need us. They do.

It’s tempting, but it won’t help to blame our teens for being ungrateful brats who don’t appreciate everything we have given them.

Instead, we may improve our experience of our kids if we can build a more secure attachment with them. We cannot force attachment, but we can establish basic systems that will be likely to build parent-child attachment. It will take time, it will be hard, but it will be very worth the effort.

How parents can rebuild a relationship with a teen

1. Be together

Find ways to increase physical proximity. Insist upon time spent physically together in the same room every day. A great way to do this is family meals. If you’re new to this and all you can do is ask everyone to be in the same room on separate devices for an hour each night, let that be your starting point.

Over time, you can find ways to be physically together for longer periods of time to build secure attachment. Plan activities on weekends and vacations to encourage physical proximity.

A parent’s physical touch can be very soothing for most children. But if it’s been a long time since you touched your child, tread very carefully here. See what happens if you gently brush the top of their hand while talking, or lightly bump shoulders while walking.

Pay attention to your child’s feeedback. If they draw away from you when you attempt to touch them, don’t push it or confront them. Never coerce them into physical affection or make them feel bad if they’re not ready for it. Just take it very slowly, and follow their cues while looking for opportunities to connect.

Don’t rush physical touch if it’s currently missing from your relationship, but do make an effort to slowly and consistently see if there are ways you can physically show your affection

2. Do things together

Parents should find ways to connect with their children over shared interests. It’s OK if it seems like you have absolutely nothing in common right now. You can develop new interests or reframe your kids’ interests so that they become more compelling for you.

Start by picking something your child cares about. For example, if your child is passionate about a sport, you could ask them to tell you about it. Let them be the authority and show you their passion and excitement. You don’t have to love the sport yourself, but can you find a way to love your child’s passion for the sport? Start there.

If things go well, plan outings to watch the sport live. Or just plan dates to watch it at home together on TV. The main point is that you are going to “show up” to participate in your child’s interests.

If your child enjoys video games, play together. If you have an animal-lover, volunteer at a shelter together. Listen to your child’s favorite music group. Let them teach you the latest TikTok dance. No, your teen may not want to do this. Yes, you should do it anyway.

The act of doing something together is very powerful attachment bonding. If you can’t participate in their passion, do mundane things together. Walk the dog together, cook together, color together, volunteer together, or go to yoga together. Just find ways to share projects and activities.

3. Talk about feelings

Most of us want to quickly soothe our kids with statements like “you’re OK,” “don’t cry,” and “but I thought you would like this!” Or, if we’re angry “stop that right now!” and “I can’t believe you would do that to me!” This leads kids to shut down their emotional expressions.

To build attachment, parents need to learn how to provide complete emotional acceptance of their children’s emotions. Almost nothing is as important to your teen as feeling heard, understood, and accepted by you.

When your child complains, yells, whines, stonewalls, or otherwise throws an emotional tantrum, acknowledge the feelings and emotions taking place. Let them exist without trying to change them. Work on understanding the breadth and depth of the feelings. Talk about the experience. Don’t give advice right now. Listen more than you speak. Just stay in the moment, with the feelings in real-time. Trust that your teen will get through these feelings safely.

It may be scary, especially in the beginning. Until you build a more secure attachment, your child’s emotions are going to feel overwhelming. Your teenager is going to test your love by acting out. As in: you say you love me, but can you handle all of me? Practice showing your child that you absolutely can and will handle all of their feelings.

Remember that expressed feelings, even horrible ones, are feelings, not facts. Often, once we accept and even welcome our teens’ raw feelings, they begin to trust that we can handle them. This, paradoxically, means that the feelings become less intense over time. In this way, we are providing a critical ballast to our teens as they navigate the rough seas of adolescence.

You don’t have to hate your teenager

It may seem impossible, but you don’t have to hate your teenager. You don’t have to white-knuckle your way through adolescence. More importantly, if you build a more secure attachment, you will find that life is much easier. Read more here: Why is my child emotionally withdrawn from me?

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


Helpful book: Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.

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A powerful weapon to fight eating disorders: diet science

the science of weight loss can help people recover from eating disorders

Eating disorders are known to be complex, and many parents find that a child who has an eating disorder seems completely stuck in their misunderstanding of food and body size.

There are two crucial elements to healing from an eating disorder:

The first is emotional: a person must learn to process feelings and emotions in a healthy manner rather than using weight, food and body obsession as a maladaptive coping mechanism. On a personal mind level, the person who has an eating disorder learns to respond to emotional discomfort by placing attention on food and body size rather than acknowledging, accepting and processing the discomfort.

The second may surprise you: it’s understanding and mourning the fact that restricting food in the pursuit of weight loss is counter-productive. This knowledge attacks the social and environmental influences that drive eating disorder behavior. While the core of the disorder is emotional, the behavior of the disorder is a socially-driven assumption that pursuing weight loss is a pathway to goodness, health, and virtue.

Diets gone awry

IDGAF about your diet susan
Sweatshirt available @

Eating disorders are much more than diets, but they can easily be seen as diets gone awry. Our children are bombarded with messages about dieting, weight loss, and the thin ideal hundreds of times each day.

Strangers believe it is their right and their duty to tell people, including children, that they are fat and need to lose weight.

Friends and family members opine about the latest and greatest “healthy lifestyle” that helped them finally lose the weight that has been plaguing them.

Diets are everywhere. They are inescapable. And almost every single eating disorder begins with a well-intentioned diet, and the desire, on the part of the person with an eating disorder, to achieve goodness through a weight loss.

Dieting, which is defined as the restriction of calories with the willful intention of losing weight, is the core of disordered eating behavior. Thus, recovery from an eating disorder absolutely must address the idea of dieting and caloric restriction and address the commonly assumed but woefully incorrect societal “knowledge” that weight loss is possible, healthy, and virtuous.

The science of diets

Dieting is none of these things. In fact, while marketers push out messages from the $70 billion dollar diet industry, scientists have been steadily proving that there is absolutely no justification in pursuing weight loss. In fact, dieting causes people to gain weight.

Here are the facts, which are surprising to all of us given that we live in a sea of diet-positive marketing messages:

1. Diets don’t work

Yes, diets will cause short-term weight loss, but 95% of people who go on a diet have regained all of the weight lost plus more five years later. But it’s not often just a single long weight regain process.

Typically, dieters go on and off several diets in a constant attempt to maintain their weight loss. This leads to weight-cycling, in which a person must perpetually be on increasingly stricter diets in order to maintain a body size that approximates what they believe to be “healthy.”

One year after starting a diet, most people have lost 6% of their starting weight. Following that, the majority of people slowly but steadily regained weight for 5.5 years, which was the concluding date of the study, and showed no sign of ceasing the weight gain following the diet. (Dansinger, et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2007)

2. Diets cause weight gain

Each time a person goes on a diet, they send their body into a red-alert state in which metabolism permanently slows and fat is stored more aggressively for the rest of their lives. Every weight loss cycle increases a person’s baseline weight, and every diet makes it harder to achieve the weight at which the person started when they first began dieting.

For all the “lifestyle programs” that tell us this will not happen as long as we exert willpower, they are wrong. Our bodies have subconscious influence over our weight. These subconscious powers consistently overcome our conscious willpower, no matter the type of lifestyle we pursue.

Within four years, two out of five dieters end up heavier than they were before they lost weight. Deliberate attempts to become thinner strongly predict weight gain over the long term. (Dulloo, et al, Obesity Reviews, 2015)

3. Diets are not healthy

Diets are based on the assumption that high body weight is bad, however, the research showing that fat is actually deadly is surprisingly weak, and there is in fact evidence showing that fat is protective. But even if high body weight is truly unhealthy, weight loss is not a good treatment, given that dieting does not improve standard measures of health and causes more trauma to the body than higher weight itself.

When studies have measured blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels, they did not find that participants’ measurements improved with weight loss. Additionally, low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income, and loneliness, and even the initials of your name(!) are all better predictors of early death than higher body weight.

Given the research that exists, it is surprising that we don’t know these facts. It is even more astounding that doctors and healthcare professionals continue to prescribe diets despite the fact that diets don’t work, weight loss causes weight gain, and weight loss compromises our health.

It is unethical to continue to prescribe weight loss to patients and communities as a pathway to health, knowing the associated outcomes – weight regain and weight cycling – are connected to further stigmatization, poor health and well-being. The data suggest that a different approach is needed to foster physical health and well-being within our patients and communities.” (Journal of Obesity, 2014)

Parents fighting eating disorders

Parents who want their child to recover completely from an eating disorder can directly tackle the science of diet failure and use the science of weight loss to help their child stop reaching for diet behavior as a coping mechanism for uncomfortable feelings.

The science of dieting can destroy our child’s automatic habit to diet and restrict. When parents provide research and support for the fact that dieting is none of the things our child assumed (good/healthy/virtuous), we can make a huge impact on our child’s recovery,

Often, when we destroy the diet behavior, our child may search for another coping mechanism, which provides therapists and parents with an excellent pathway to teaching adaptive coping skills for uncomfortable emotions. These adaptive coping skills can replace the eating disorder and, as they become habitual, the eating disorder can recede completely.

Mourning diets as a cure for humanity

It is surprisingly difficult when we realize that weight loss is not the pathway to goodness and health that we thought it was. All of us have internalized the diet industry’s aggressive marketing messages, and the fact that our trusted healthcare professionals continue to prescribe weight loss is deeply concerning.

It is important to reach for new information about diet science with a gentle hand. Losing weight loss as a coping mechanism for all that we think is wrong in our lives is surprisingly traumatic.

Many of us must mourn the idea that we can improve ourselves through weight loss programs. Those of us who have eating disorders mourn this loss even more than others. Our grief reflects the difficult truth that there is no simple program to achieve goodness and virtue, and they are definitely not achieved via our bodies.

Support your child as she/he mourns the loss of weight loss as a cure for her/his humanity. Your support and compassion will directly impact the other important element of healing: learning to feel feelings.

In this way, parents can help children heal completely from eating disorders and move on with their lives in healthy, adaptive ways.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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The case against antidepressants for eating disorders and depression

Parents should use caution and conduct extensive research before agreeing to antidepressant medication for kids

This article is not medical advice. It’s advice for parents who have children and teens who may be prescribed antidepressants during eating disorder treatment. I am not anti-antidepressants. They were helpful in my own recovery. But I think parents should have access to both sides of the discussion on antidepressants as well as ideas for what else they can do to help. The purpose of this article is to start conversations, not make a medical recommendation and certainly not a judgment of a highly person choice. – Ginny Jones 💕

Taking medication for mental illness is important, and it’s dangerous to question the value of medications. The most common analogy is that if we had a child who had diabetes, we wouldn’t hesitate to treat it with insulin. But when it comes to most mental health conditions, medication is a bit more complicated. These are layered and complex issues that involve genetic, psychological, and social conditions.

Because of the complexity of our mental health, most of the time, medication alone is not enough to “fix” a problem.

It’s surprisingly hard to make a list of antidepressant pros and cons, mainly because it’s hard to find negative scientific studies about them. Speaking against antidepressants is fairly unusual, and many times they are prescribed by primary care doctors as an easy solution to very complex issues. In 2000 the New England Journal of Medicine sought an expert to write an editorial on depression and “found very few who did not have financial ties to drug companies that make antidepressants.”

when considering medication and drugs to treat your child who has an eating disorder, use extreme caution

In this article, I present the case against antidepressant medication. Again, this is not because I’m anti-medication but because I believe parents should have access to different views on the subject. This article provides a recap of Robert Whitaker’s “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.

Depression = brain disorder?

Prozac hit the market in 1987, followed by Zoloft in 1991 and Paxil in 1992. All are designed and marketed as a scientifically sound method of reducing depression by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. This idea is based on the assumption that a “chemical imbalance” causes depression. However, there is no evidence of a biological “brain disorder” that causes depression.

  • There is no correlation between serotonin levels and depression (McGill University, 1974)
  • “Elevations or decrements in the functioning of serotonergic systems per se, are not likely to be associated with depression.” (National Institute of Mental Health, 1984)
  • “There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that clinical depression is due to any kind of biological deficit state.” (Ross, “Pseudoscience in Biological Psychiatry: Blaming the Body”)
  • “In every instance where such an imbalance was thought to be found, it was later proved to be false.” (Glenmullen, “Prozac Backlash”)
  • “We have hunted for big simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them.” (Kenneth Kendler, Psychological Medicine)

Depression outcomes with medication

OK, but what if we accept that even though the drugs are designed to increase serotonin and, even though low serotonin is not associated with depression, they still are effective in helping us manage depression? What if they are poorly understood but still have incredible benefits? That would be great, but research has not shown that to be true.

  • For mild to moderate depression, the difference between placebos and antidepressants was “nonexistent to negligible.” (The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2010)
  • Paxil “failed to demonstrate a statistically significant difference from placebo on the primary efficacy measures. (GlaxoSmithKline internal memo, 1998)
  • Drug companies publish only studies that show benefit, and almost none of the studies that show antidepressants are ineffective. (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008)
  • When all available studies are combined, 80% of people get better with just a placebo. (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008)

Antidepressant side effects

All right, you say. But what if I believe in the power of placebo, and antidepressants don’t have side effects, so why not? Well, that’s not true, either. Antidepressants are known to have significant side effects in almost all people who take them.

  • 86%  of people taking antidepressants have one or more side effects, including sexual dysfunction, fatigue, insomnia, loss of mental abilities, nausea, and weight gain. (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008)
  • Fluoxetine “may negatively affect patients with depression.” (Richard Kapit, FDA, 1985)
  • On Fluoxetine, patients suffered psychotic episodes, mania, and hypomania. Other side effects included insomnia, nervousness, confusion, dizziness, memory dysfunction, tremors, and impaired motor coordination. (Richard Kapit, FDA, 1985)
  • Beginning in the 1990s, Eli Lilly faced lawsuits alleging it failed to warn that Prozac could cause violent behaviors and suicidal thoughts. (Drugwatch)
  • Five of the 93 adolescents treated in a Paxil-run study suffered markedly elevated suicide risk versus one in the placebo group. (GlaxoSmithKline internal memo, 1998)

Evidence of brain changes

Perhaps the most concerning concept of all is that antidepressant medication may actually cause chronic depression in some people. There is evidence presented in “Anatomy of an Epidemic” that antidepressants and other psychological drugs actually cause the very problems (plus more) that they are supposed to be fixing. In other words, someone who is suffering an episode of depression who is treated with antidepressants may become chronically depressed as a result of the treatment.

For example, the National Institute of Mental Health found that people who were treated with antidepressants were nearly seven times more likely to become “incapacitated by depression.”

The trouble, according to “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” is that psychotropic “drugs create chemical imbalances in the brain, and this helps turn a first-time customer into a long-term user, and often into a buyer of multiple drugs. The patient’s brain adapts to the first drug, and that makes it difficult to go off the medication.”

Other investigators have reported that “chronic fluoxetine treatment” may lead to a 50 percent reduction in serotonin receptors in certain areas of the brain.

emotional regulation

Better off without it?

There is a surprising quantity of research suggesting that we’re better off without antidepressant drugs. It is worth reviewing the data:

  • The 18-month stay-well rate was highest for those treated with psychotherapy (30%) and lowest for those treated with an antidepressant (19%). (National Institute of Mental Health, 1990)
  • 65% of people who are depressed who are not exposed to psychotropic medications (whether diagnosed or not) had the best outcomes. They enjoyed much better “general health” at the end of one year, their depressive symptoms were much milder, and a lower percentage were judged to still be “mentally ill.” The group that suffered most from “continued depression” were the patients treated with an antidepressant. The “study does not support the view that failure to recognize depression has serious adverse consequences,” the investigators wrote. (World Health Organization)
  • Depressed patients who were treated for depression were nearly seven times more likely to become chronically ill than those who weren’t. (National Institute of Mental Health, 1995)
  • Those diagnosed and treated with psychiatric medications fared worse – in terms of their depressive symptoms and their general health – over a one-year period than those who weren’t exposed to the drugs. (World Health Organization, 1998)
  • Those who take antidepressants were, on average, symptomatic 19 weeks a year, versus 11 weeks for those who didn’t take any medication. (University of Calgary, 2005)
  • “The story of research into selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor use in childhood depression is one of confusion, manipulation, and institutional failure,” The fact that psychiatrists at leading medical schools had participated in this scientific fraud constituted an “abuse of the trust patients place in their physicians.” Antidepressant drugs “were both ineffective and harmful in children.” (Lancet, 2004)

What to think about

The purpose of this article is to illuminate the fact that giving our kids antidepressant medication is not a given. Just because antidepressants are commonly prescribed, and are increasingly prescribed to children, does not mean that parents should assume they should do so without evaluating the pros and cons.

I also think it’s worth considering that antidepressants don’t need to be a lifelong prescription. Many psychiatrists will prescribe them for short-term use to help a person get through the worst of their depression before implementing other anti-depression strategies, mainly lifestyle interventions like movement, connection, and sleep.

What to ask

Your child’s health is important! If their physician recommends an antidepressant, they are qualified to evaluate your child’s individual risk factors and should be willing to talk to you in-depth about this decision.

A few questions you can ask in evaluating your child’s possible antidepressant use include:

  • Which medication is being prescribed, and why?
  • Is this medication being prescribed for short-term use or long-term use?
  • What specific outcomes can we expect, and when?
  • How will we know if the medication is working or not working?
  • When will we re-evaluate the necessity of this medication?
  • What other treatments do you recommend for my child’s depression treatment?

Other options

Depression is a serious condition that must be taken seriously. The question is not whether to treat depression but how to treat it: with or without medication. Your child may benefit from antidepressants to get through this stage of their recovery. That absolutely may be the best decision right now. But at the same time, consider the power of lifestyle influences on depression. Lifestyle changes that are known to reduce symptoms of depression, often at higher rates than antidepressant medication, include:

Also, don’t underestimate the impact your own mental health can have on your child’s mental health. If your child is in therapy, it will help if you pursue therapy or coaching as well. This is a great way to reflect on the patterns in your family and how your behavior impacts how your kids feel. Such self-reflection can have a huge impact on how your child feels. Therapy is not a punishment for being a bad parent. It’s a way for you to continue to learn and grow so you can meet your child’s needs and remain close even as they face their own mental health issues.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Are eating disorders a type of addiction?

young woman wondering whether an eating disorder is an addiction

Eating disorders are complex conditions that involve genes, psychology, and the environment, but whether they are a type of addiction remains up for debate.

Some feel strongly that eating disorders are distinct from other types of addiction, but I believe it is helpful to at least look at the similarities and consider their overlap. Additionally, many people who have eating disorders also suffer from other addictions, including substance abuse, compulsive shopping, gambling, and sex addiction, so I think it’s helpful to explore the similarities.

It is becoming apparent that eating and drug disorders share a common neuroanatomic and neurochemical basis.

Gold & Star, Eating Disorders chapter 27

Eating disorder “addictions”

Addictions are characterized by how a person feels and responds to their addictive behavior or substance. This includes:

  • Feeling compelled to do something
  • A preoccupation with doing something
  • Persistently doing something despite negative consequences
  • Relapse despite a deep desire to stop
  • Craving the action when not doing it

Here’s how you can line up eating disorder behaviors with the list of addictive behaviors:

  • Feel compelled to restrict, binge, and/or purge food
  • Are preoccupied with body weight, the next meal, or a desire to feel complete emptiness
  • Persist in eating disorder behaviors even when families beg them to stop and they are shown evidence of negative consequences
  • Commit to ending the behavior, only to repeatedly relapse
  • When abstaining from behavior, crave the “high” that the behavior created

The “addictive” neurobiology

“The constellation of behaviors we call addiction is provoked by a complex set of neurological and emotional mechanisms that develop inside a person,” says Gabor Maté in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Addiction research has found biological, chemical, neurological, psychological, medical, emotional, social, political, economic, and spiritual contributing factors.

From a neurobiological standpoint, addictions engage the brain’s attachment, reward, and incentive-motivation systems. The engagement of these systems reduces the rational thinking and impulse control areas in the cortex.

There are four dominant brain systems involved in addiction, all of which exhibit signs of being out of balance compared to non-addicted brains:

  • The opioid attachment-reward system
  • The dopamine-based incentive-motivation apparatus
  • The self-regulation areas of the prefrontal cortex
  • The stress-response mechanism
emotional regulation

The purpose of an addiction

Many people who struggle with addictions also suffer from co-existing mental disorders including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, these conditions, as well as addiction, often coexist with eating disorders.

Eating disorders and addictions may appear like “bad habits,” but they are much deeper than a habit. They are firmly entrenched behaviors that we use to moderate our inner state of being. They can literally rewire the brain and nervous system, bringing a sense of calm and peace that is otherwise unattainable.

Dismissing addictions as “bad habits” or “self-destructive behavior” comfortably hides their functionality in the life of the addict.

Vincent Felitti, MD

Addictions serve an important purpose in the life of the person who is addicted. Most importantly, the addiction gives the person a temporary sense of relief. Unfortunately, the relief is short-lived. The long-term impact of continuing to use the addictive behavior or substance is continued, often increasing dependence on the addiction.

Personality traits

Several personality traits are found among people who become addicted to substances or behaviors. These traits stem from genetic and neurobiological conditions that create psychological impacts including:

  • Poor self-regulation
  • Lack of basic differentiation
  • Lack of a healthy sense of self
  • A sense of deficient emptiness
  • Impaired impulse control

These traits may pre-date the addiction, and they often become more entrenched and obvious as the addiction continues.

Social traits

Eating disorders and addictions don’t exist in a vacuum. They arise in a society in which the addictions begin as something that is socially acceptable, even honored and praised. But there is a critical tipping point. At that point, a person who was doing something socially acceptable like shopping, having a drink after work, or going on a diet, slips into disordered behavior. People who are addicted exhibit the following social behaviors:

  • Loss of integration into family and culture
  • A sense of exclusion, isolation, and powerlessness
  • A sense of shame and the belief of being inherently “bad”
  • Utilizing deception and manipulation, regardless of the consequences, to pursue the addiction

Seeking peace

People who have addictions are seeking something outside to soothe their inner state of mind. But this is not obvious to most people. The paradox of addiction is that a person is seeking something to curb their insatiable emptiness, yet they will never feel sated as long as they are stuck in the addiction. It’s never enough because the emptiness is inside.

What characterizes an addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have the power to stop. It seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure that invariably turns into pain.

Ekhart Tolle

A person craves eating disorder behaviors because they believe it soothes their deep sense of lack and emptiness. And yet eating disorder behaviors never actually soothe because it is not what they really need.

“The addict is never satisfied,” says Gabor Maté. “His spiritual and emotional condition is one of impoverishment, no matter how much he achieves, acquires, or possesses. In the hungry-ghost mode, we can never be satiated.”

What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood.

Alice Miller, Breaking Down the Wall of Silence

The fear within

Many people who have an eating disorder believe the eating disorder is a harmless, even healthy, friend. But in order to recover from an eating disorder, a person must decode the language the eating disorder used to communicate.

An eating disorder can mask a deep pain in the psyche. At some point, the person learned that they must not speak of this deep pain, and thus they adopt an eating disorder or other addiction in order to manage their deep discontent. The pain must emerge in some way and, for some, it is through eating disorder behaviors.

Addictions displace a person’s ability to truly feel emotions and express them in a natural, healthy way. The longer a person remains in an eating disorder, the further underground their vulnerability burrows. Recovery requires a person to bring their vulnerability into the light and see that the eating disorder was a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Not a choice

When a person is addicted to a behavior or a substance, they are not in charge. They are not making a choice. Even though the behavior hurts them, they are compelled in unseen and unobserved ways to keep doing them. They firmly believe it is the only way they can survive. To imagine a life without an eating disorder is incomprehensible. Their sense of self, their sense of worth, is innately connected to the disorder.

Finally, eating disorders share addiction’s central dilemma: “if recovery is to occur, the brain, the impaired organ of decision making, needs to initiate its own healing process,” says Gabor Maté. “An altered and dysfunctional brain must decide that it wants to overcome its own dysfunction: to revert to normal—or, perhaps, become normal for the very first time.”

Luckily, this does happen. Full recovery is 100% possible. Many people have made a full recovery from eating disorders. They have gone beyond abstaining from eating disorder behaviors and achieved full sobriety. Don’t ever lose hope!

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté provides comprehensive and deeply compassionate insight into addictions and the people who live with them. The main focus of the book is substance abuse, some behavioral addictions are also explored, including Maté’s. However, Maté does not directly address eating disorders in any of his books.

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Stop hating fat people, being afraid of getting fat, talking about people being “too fat” and all forms of fatphobia

beautiful woman living in a larger body

We must look carefully at our society’s deep hatred of fat on a personal, societal and political level. We must question ourselves as a society when we openly and loudly criticize 70% of our population. In a society in which it is socially acceptable to ridicule and complain about people who live in larger bodies, our children are suffering from eating disorders at higher rates every year.

Eating disorders are more than fear of fat

Eating disorders have their roots deep in the psyche. They are typically built upon genetic, temperamental, experiential, societal and other factors. Often we see them in conjunction with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But before therapists can work on the deep underlying factors of an eating disorder, they often have to address fatphobia, the fear of getting and/or being fat and the belief that being fat is both a choice and a moral failing.

Most people who have eating disorders are afraid of fat

Many eating disorders begin in pursuit of the “perfect body.” With the media focus in the last decade on the “obesity epidemic,” fatphobia has become an acceptable form of discrimination against a significant portion of our population. Almost everyone feels they are justified in shaming people who live in larger bodies.

Headlines scream at us constantly:

  • The Growing Toll of our ever-expanding waistlines (New York Times)
  • Obesity epidemic at new high, costs $150B a year, hurts military recruiting (Washington Examiner)
  • As America’s waistline expands, costs soar (Reuters)
  • Nearly half of America’s overweight people don’t realize they’re overweight (Washington Post)

People think obesity is a personal failure

Obesity is frequently perceived as a preventable disease brought on by people who gorge themselves on fast food and candy and never exercise. Obesity is seen as something we must “eradicate” and “end forever,” even though, throughout history, and throughout the world, there have always been people who are in larger bodies.

Science has different things to say about obesity than the headlines suggest

Despite all the headlines and everything we believe we “know” about obesity as an “epidemic,” scientific research suggests that we know very little about the cause of rising human weight, or its direct link to disease and death.

  • People who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as lower-weight people, and often longer [1, 2, 3, 4].
  • Pooled data for over 350,000 subjects from 26 studies found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight [5].
  • Data on the elderly (among whom more than 70 percent of all deaths occur) found no evidence of excess mortality associated with being overweight [6].
  • When socioeconomic and other risk factors are controlled for, obesity is not a significant risk factor for mortality; and… for those 55 or older, both overweight and obesity confer a significantly decreased risk of mortality.” [7]

For more scientific research, visit our science library

Fatphobic headlines get more clicks

The media gains more click-throughs (which is directly linked to revenue income) when they publish articles with a fat bias. Moderate headlines and articles that present a nuanced look at fat do not garner as many clicks/revenue.

The media flagrantly appeals to our fear of fat and makes gross assumptions, extrapolations, and correlations about weight. Headlines are built to draw eyeballs and rarely reflect scientific data accurately.

swimsuit models over the years (1)
Even as our waistlines have expanded, the media’s presentation of what is “beautiful” has changed dramatically.

Images of thin, emaciated women and bulked-up, lean men get more clicks than those of people living with average or larger bodies.

When the media drives our perception, and the media is driven by clicks, we must acknowledge irresponsible behavior in relation to fat bias.

Obesity can be linked to the diet industry

The diet industry tells us that each individual is personally responsible for their body weight and has the ability to change it. But remember that the diet industry is a money-making machine that only survives if people continue to gain weight and repeatedly pursue weight loss.

“The first thing is that you can’t believe anything that [the diet industry says]. And that’s by definition because their job isn’t to tell you the truth — it’s to make money. And they’re allowed to lie,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., author of Secrets from the Eating Lab, in an interview with the Washington Post.

In fact, for all of the yelling about sedentary lifestyles and fast food consumption, the greatest correlative factor for increased weight may be the size of the diet industry, which has ballooned from $10 billion in 1985 to almost $70 billion in 2012.

The diet industry growth

While the diet industry is seven times larger than it was in 1985, our BMI has increased from 129.9 in 1960 to 152.1 in 2010 (17%). And eating disorders have steadily increased – in both women and men – at the same time.

Hmmm … let’s think about that.

There is no proven cause of obesity

It may surprise you to know this, but even though we all assume that obesity is driven by eating too much and exercising too little, there is no evidence for those factors as being the cause of weight gain.

  • People who have higher BMIs do not eat more calories than people who have average* BMIs.
  • People who have higher BMIs do not exercise less than people who have average* BMIs.

*Given that 70% of the population is “above average” BMI, the word “average” is not actually accurate. BMI is actually a bogus measurement. It was never intended to be used on an individual level.

There is no proven cure for obesity

Even if we did agree with the idea that obesity is the worst thing ever, we do not have a cure for obesity. In 95% of cases, people who have lost weight on a diet have regained the weight plus more within two years (UCLA).

Diets are not a cure for obesity, and they have tremendous potential to cause harm. With no proven “cause” or “cure” for obesity, the vitriol our society places on people who are living in larger bodies is irresponsible and cruel. 

This is known as discrimination

The most common openly acknowledged and casually repeated discrimination most people engage in is fatphobia. People who live in larger bodies are openly accused of overeating, not exercising, being morally suspect, intellectually inferior, physically disgusting, and taking money out of our pockets.

But it goes beyond casual ridicule. Weight bias, stigma, and discrimination are correlated with poor medical care and lower income.

There is a word for this: discrimination.

How fatphobia leads to eating disorders

This agreement to vilify the majority of citizens in our society leads parents to inadvertently hurt their children in a desperate attempt to save them from being “overweight.”

Parents put their children on diets, both openly and surreptitiously. If they accept their child’s “high” body weight, they are attacked in articles like this one: Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic (New York Times).

The pressure for parents to control their children’s weight is high, and it negatively impacts a child’s self-perception.

And this is how fatphobia feeds the development of eating disorders. The hatred of one’s body is virtually unrecognizable from the hatred of one’s self. And when we hate ourselves, we turn our hatred on our bodies and starve them. Food restriction is the core behavior at the heart of anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia.

Eating disorders are about much more than weight, but we cannot ignore fatphobia as a significant contributing factor in their development. It is at our peril that parents ignore society’s hatred of fat, and we must curb our instinct to judge and ridicule people who live in larger bodies.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


We recommend the book Two Whole Cakes, by Lesley Kinzel. It is a short and easy read that quickly and without apology explains what it’s like to live in a larger body in our society. The best part is that it’s written from a place of power, not victimhood. Kinzel writes about the political, financial, emotional, and spiritual struggles resulting from America’s obsession with weight.

Also consider reviewing: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Nutrition Journal, 2011


[1] Flegal KM, Graubard BI, Williamson DF, Gail MH: Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. JAMA. 2005, 293: 1861-1867. 10.1001/jama.293.15.1861.

[2] Durazo-Arvizu R, McGee D, Cooper R, Liao Y, Luke A: Mortality and optimal body mass index in a sample of the US population. Am J Epidemiol. 1998, 147: 739-749.

[3] Troiano R, Frongillo E, Sobal J, Levitsky D: The relationship between body weight and mortality: A quantitative analysis of combined information from existing studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996, 20: 63-75.

[4] Flegal K, Graubard B, Williamson D, Gail M: Supplement: Response to “Can Fat Be Fit”. Sci Am. 2008, 297: 5-6.

[5] McGee DL: Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Ann Epidemiol. 2005, 15: 87-97. 10.1016/j.annepidem.2004.05.012.

[6] Janssen I, Mark AE: Elevated body mass index and mortality risk in the elderly. Obes Rev. 2007, 8: 41-59. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00248.x.

[7] Lantz PM, Golberstein E, House JS, Morenoff J: Socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors for mortality in a national 19-year prospective study of U.S. adults. Soc Sci Med. 2010, 70: 1558-1566. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.02.003.

[8] Berrington de Gonzalez A, Hartge P, Cerhan JR, Flint AJ, Hannan L, MacInnis RJ, Moore SC, Tobias GS, Anton-Culver H, Freeman LB, et al: Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med. 2010, 363: 2211-2219. 10.1056/NEJMoa1000367.

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10 facts about Instagram and body image in girls

Instagram and body image in girls

It’s fun to scroll through Instagram, but it can have a negative impact on body image in girls. Instagram is not inherently bad, but research suggests that people who use Instagram – particularly young women – need to be cautious about managing what they see on their feeds.

Curated feeds and sexy poses

The greatest danger for young women on Instagram is images of other women. These images are typically highly curated, Photoshopped or otherwise edited, and staged.

Furthermore, Instagram provides a platform that directly rewards women for posting sexy poses that focus on the body’s shape. This leads to something called “self-objectification,” a dangerous condition linked to eating disorders. We created a video showing how this works:

“Body image disturbance is one of the most common clinical features attributed to eating disorders.” (Eating Disorder Hope)

Instagram use has been directly correlated with poor body image in young women. Monitoring social media use may be very helpful in preventing and reducing the impact of eating disorders. This is why we believe it is critical for parents to talk to their daughters about the dangers of Instagram.

Parenting for positive food and body

10 facts about Instagram and body image in girls

Here are 10 facts about Instagram and its impact on young women’s body image and therefore potential for disordered eating:

1. Instagram ranked the worst app for mental health and body image, especially for young women. [1]

2. Instagram encourages young women to compare themselves against unrealistic versions of reality [2]

3. Instagram makes it easy for girls and women to feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as they ar.e [2]

4. Young women who spend more than 2 hours on Instagram and other social networking sites report poor mental health. [2]

5. As little as 30 minutes per day on Instagram can make women fixate negatively on their weight and appearance. [3]

6. The more frequently that young women look at #fitspo images, the unhappier they felt about their own bodies. [3]

7. Looking at fitness influencers and models on Instagram has a negative influence on self-esteem, which could predict eating disorders. [4]

8. Women are less satisfied with their bodies after looking at #fitspo images compared to travel images on Instagram. [4]

9. When a teenager’s post gets a lot of “likes” on Instagram, her brain responds in a similar way to seeing loved ones or winning money. [5]

10. When young women make social media comparisons, they report being more likely to start unhealthy weight-loss activities. [3]

body image for girls ebook

What parents can do to help

Parents can help reduce the impact of Instagram on girls’ body image by doing the following:


Keep an eye on how much time your child spends on Instagram. Try to keep total social media time to an hour or less per day. Your child will grumble, but it’s important to stand strong. Every half hour spent on Instagram can decrease body satisfaction.


Monitor who your child follows on Instagram. Talk about the content you see. Are women being treated as objects? Have they been airbrushed, filtered, and perfected? Are all women very thin with shapely breasts and butts? Encourage your child to follow people who don’t make her feel bad about herself.

Be especially aware of #fitspo accounts that promote weight loss methods and “healthy lifestyles.” These are often diets in disguise, and they can be very damaging. Obsession with weight and food are both symptoms of disordered eating. And eating disorders related to following social media influencers are on the rise.


Talk to your daughter about what she’s posting on social media. Is her content highly curated and heavily filtered? Is she posting photos of herself in sexy, pouty poses? Does she post photos that expose her body in ways that make you uncomfortable?

It’s OK to talk to her about what is and is not acceptable to you. You don’t need to be draconian or a sexist about this. It’s not about her “tempting pedophiles,” it’s about learning healthy boundaries in a society that objectifies women.


Pay attention to how your daughter behaves after consuming social media. Does she seem upset? Maybe she spends more time looking in the mirror. Talk to your daughter about how she feels. Let her know that a lot of people notice that they feel bad about themselves after going through their feed. This is a natural response to seeing a false world in which perfection rules.

It’s very common for people to clean out their Instagram accounts of anyone they follow who doesn’t make them feel good. If someone doesn’t make your daughter feel good about herself, they don’t belong in her feed!

This is serious parenting

Putting limits on a girl’s social media is not for the faint of heart. This is serious parenting. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself confused, tripped up, and frustrated when you’re trying to set boundaries on social media. Social media can be fun, but it needs boundaries to be safe. Stay strong!

Consider reading the book Getting to Yes for help with negotiating difficult conversations with your child.

Ginny Jones is the editor of She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders.


[1] CNN: Instagram worst social media app for young people’s mental health

[2] Royal Society for Public Health: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing

[3] Macquarie University: Impact of Instagram use in young women

[4] New Media & Society journal: Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification

[5] UCLA Brain Mapping Center 

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I just really want it to stop! How to get your teenager to get over their eating disorder (HINT: It’s not what you think)

Our children who have eating disorders are behaving in a way that is contrary to everything we want them to do. With their eating disorder behavior, they are abusing their bodies with starvation, binging and purging.

Let’s be honest. As parents, eating disorders are really inconvenient, frustrating, and expensive. It’s totally OK to acknowledge that parenting in this situation can make us feel really angry, scared and impotent.

Yes, we are parents, and yes, we love our children, but we are also human beings. We have our own lives, thoughts, opinions, and feelings. And we desperately want our children to be free of their eating disorders.

So we plead. We beg. We threaten. We take them to specialists to “fix” them. We may hospitalize them or enroll them in inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. We take them to countless therapy sessions. We are likely spending a lot of money on treatment to make them better.

Are you, like many parents, frustrated to find that this approach is not working? Are you surprised that the eating disorder is still living on in your child, despite your best efforts?

Many eating disorder experts say this is because the majority of healing takes place in life, outside of treatment. So while professionals can give our children excellent healing tools, the true healing takes place outside of their direct care.

This gives us hope as parents that there are in fact ways that we can help our children heal from their eating disorders. Yes, our children need professional treatment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make changes at home that will support their healing.

In the book Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, the Arbinger Institute discusses how interpersonal problems at work, in our communities and at home can be solved by recognizing the ways in which we think and feel about people. They say that we all tend to go into “the box,” in which, when emotions run rampant and the stakes are high, we inadvertently label our colleagues, friends and family members as “bad” so that we can remain “good.”

When our children have eating disorders, the stakes feel huge. Emotions run wild. We can’t help but feel scared and betrayed. We can’t help but secretly think things like:

“I’ve worked so hard, and sacrificed so much to be a parent. I’ve done everything for her! I am a good parent!”

“She is just selfish, stubborn and looking for attention!”

“All she does is lie to me. I can’t trust her anymore!”

“She shouldn’t treat me like this! It’s not right!”

“I’m sick of this! Why won’t she just grow up and realize that she’s not the center of the universe?”

These thoughts are understandable. Even though our children are the ones who have eating disorders, their eating disorders impact everyone around them. We are not bad people for having these thoughts, but they will not make anything better. The trouble is, our children (and almost all humans) can subconsciously sense when our thoughts head in this direction.

This happens at work every day. Executives attend workshops to learn communication techniques to get their employees to do things, but no communication technique can overcome an executive’s attitude towards an employee. No matter what words come out of the executive’s mouth, the foundational thoughts of incompetence are what the employee hears. This is why so many workplace environments are toxic and inefficient.

Similarly, we can attend parent training and learn what to say to our children, but if we don’t learn how to address how we feel about them, our children resist all our attempts to guide them.

We think we are able to hide our true feelings from others, but, according to Arbinger, “we can always tell when we’re being coped with, manipulated, or outsmarted. We can always detect the hypocrisy. We can always feel the blame canceled beneath veneers of niceness. And we typically resent it.”

The more we try to control someone when we have negative thoughts about them, the less likely they are to change.

Until we change the way we think and feel about our teenagers, we will have no success in changing their behavior. Your thoughts and feelings about your child are much more important than what you say to them.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


Learn about how you can shift your thoughts and feelings about your child by reading Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box

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Rethinking eating disorders as misguided life savers trying to help us, not beasts trying to attack us

Eating disorders don't have to be evil. Sometimes we can see them as lifesavers. Once we learn to swim, we can let them go.

It’s completely normal for a parent to view an eating disorder in their child as a terrible beast that must be overcome. We gather our weapons and seek to control the eating disorder and drive it from our child’s body. “Just fix it!” we tell the professionals who are trying to help our child. “Just make it go away!”

But there are alternative approaches to fighting. As surprising as it may seem, there is also the option to understand the eating disorder’s purpose and teach your child new skills for managing life without using food or restriction.

With the proper professional guidance and loving parental support, an eating disorder can be reimagined. Check out this original video we created to illustrate this concept.

The River Story

It’s quite normal when you find out that your child has an eating disorder to want to wage battle against the evil monster that has taken over. But that might not be the best approach. Here is an alternative way of thinking, using a metaphorical story, from Dr. Anita Johnston.

Imagine that your child is standing on the edge of a fast-flowing river. Suddenly, she has fallen in! She’s drowning! A log passes her by, and she grabs on. The log saves her life.

But she realizes that now the log is between her and where she wants to go. As long as she holds on to the log, she can’t get to shore. The people who love her call out from the shore, telling her to “just let go!” But when she lets go, she is not strong enough to cross the river, and she begins to drown again.

Terrified, she grabs hold of the log again. She wants to let go, but she’s not ready yet. She starts thinking about how she can get strong enough to make it to shore. She can see her loved ones there, waiting for her.

Slowly, she starts practicing letting go of the log. She sees the people who love her encouraging her slow, steady practice. As she gains confidence and skills, she begins letting go of the log. And then, she is able to let it go, and she is able to make it to shore safely, all by herself.

Once there, her loved ones realize that the log wasn’t an evil monster – it kept her safe when she didn’t know what else to do. But now she has the skills she needs to swim without the log.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


This metaphor of the life-saving log is just one of many thoughtful stories presented in Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling. If you enjoyed this video, please read the book!

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Building trust with your teenagers to empower them to become competent adults who can thrive – based on the Educaring method by Magda Gerber

If your teenager has an eating disorder like anorexia, orthorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, you may be wondering how to move forward as a parent. One the one hand, you may need to take complete control of your child’s life for a while. However, there are many teenagers who benefit from a different approach.

Below is a trust-based parenting approach that based on the Educaring® method developed by Magda Gerber for infants. We believe this approach can make a significant impact on your ability to connect with and support your teenager as she or he transitions through an eating disorder and into a competent, thriving adult.

As always, please discuss these concepts with your child’s treatment team.

Many times we parent either from in front of or behind our children. We tell them what to do and how to do it up front and then nag them from behind to make it happen. This parenting method becomes more and more difficult as our teenagers grow into their own unique beings. It is impossible to truly control them as they evolve into adults. In many cases, we are better off working respectfully beside our teenagers, helping them figure out how best to navigate the world given their unique temperament, genetics, and point of view.

Here are three critical elements of building a trust-based relationship with your teenager:


Look for ways to connect with your teenager every time you interact. Connection can be big or small, physical or verbal. A small physical connection is pausing what you are doing and making eye contact when you speak to them. If you are driving somewhere together, consider making a no devices in the car rule. Just being device-free will mean they notice that they are physically in the same space as you.

When you first start to build connection with your teenager, it will be awkward. Make no mistake that they will resist your attempts to connect. They will fight back if you set aside non-device times. They will fight back if you say that you are going on a family hike together, no excuses. They will fight back if you ask them how they are feeling, or how a therapy session went.

But stick with it. Connecting with teenagers is not easy or straightforward, but it is well worth it. Don’t let your ego or damaged feelings stop you from consistently pursuing this critical parenting element. Through these acts of connection, you and your teenager will learn to trust each other.


Provide a safe, challenging and predictable environment for your teenagers. They should feel as if they can count on specific behaviors and situations. It is within safety and predictability that they find healthy ways to explore their world physically and intellectually.

You knew this when your child was small. You knew how important it was to have some sort of schedule and to minimize major disruptions in your child’s life. As they grow, we tend to forget how important consistency of environment is to our kids. No matter how old they are, they still want a sense of safety at home. Try to maintain some schedules and routines that they can count on so they feel safe.

Within a safe environment, your teenager will learn to trust that he or she can count on you for stability. This means that he or she will be more likely to seek your counsel when teenage risk-taking behavior opportunities arise. Rather than feeling as if she needs to lie to you or hide his behaviors, she will trust you enough to protect her.


Having respect for your teenager does not mean that you don’t have boundaries, rules and discipline. The difference is that we present discipline from a place of respect vs. a place of control.

Establish defined rules and communicate your expectations clearly and without judgment. Tell your teenager what you expect, and why you expect it as his or her parent. If they fail to meet your expectations, talk to them about it with the understanding that they made a bad choice – they are not a bad person.

This is tricky, but here’s an example:

“I expect you to be home by midnight. That is the time that I feel is appropriate for your age, and I feel confident about this curfew. As your parent, it is important to me that you respect my curfew. I don’t want to be forced into a situation in which we have to re-evaluate the freedom I offer you. Do you understand?”

If they miss the curfew:

“I’m really disappointed that you missed the curfew. I told you exactly what it was, and I told you why it was important to me. There is no valid excuse for missing the curfew. The curfew is important to me. It is a sign of trust and respect when you honor my curfew. What are you going to do next time to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

If they miss the curfew again:

“I’m so bummed out about this. We talked about it, and in giving you the freedom to stay out until midnight, I’m respecting your need for freedom and autonomy. However, you did not meet curfew for the second time. As a consequence, you’re not going to be able to go out next Friday. We can talk about how you can better meet curfew in the future, but this consequence is non-negotiable.”

Remember, respecting your teenager does not mean you don’t have boundaries; it just means that you enforce boundaries with respectful, honest conversation. This will take patience and resilience on your part, but it will also result in a more trustworthy teenager over time.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-10-49-35-amIncorporating a deep respect and appreciation of the baby as more than a helpless object, Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach encourages infants and adults to trust each other, learn to problem solve, and embrace their ability for self-discovery. When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover and inspire the best in themselves and in others. Website



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Does your teenager have trouble with overeating and binge eating? Some ideas from Andrea Wachter, LMFT

newgoocoverWe interviewed Andrea Wachter, LMFT, author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. The book is written for teens that struggle with overeating, binge eating and body image. Although teenagers are the primary market, the book is also valuable for parents who want to support their teenagers with eating issues.

Andrea approaches healthy eating from the perspective of having a “Stable Table.” This analogy is based on a metaphorical table with four legs: feelings, thoughts, body and filling up.

We really like the idea of not focusing on eating alone. While eating is the external behavior of binge-based eating disorders, it is only part of the equation. The stable table helps parents think of the deeper issues that may be driving binges.

Here are the four main points presented in the book:


Many parents inadvertently teach their kids that there are acceptable and unacceptable emotions. Specifically, they are happy when their children are happy, but censor sad, mad and scared feelings. When we only allow space for “acceptable” feelings, our children do not learn to process the gamut of natural feelings in a healthy way.

Andrea says that overeaters will either feel their feelings, or eat in an attempt to stuff their feelings down (and then have feelings about that!). If you help your child stabilize their “table” by learning to process feelings without excess food, he or she is more likely to find the natural weight range that is healthiest for them.


Most overeaters have what Andrea refers to as a loud “unkind mind.” We need to help our children understand that we all have the propensity to engage in conversation with our “unkind mind.” Unkind thoughts lead us to painful feelings, which, in turn, are often processed by overeating.

When we don’t know how to manage our unkind thoughts about ourselves, we actually listen to them and believe them. These unkind thoughts lead to painful feelings and overeating. Learning to challenge, quiet or ignore unkind thoughts will help kids to reduce them and over time, lead to a healthier relationship with food and body issues as well as life in general.


sufferMany parents consciously or unconsciously seek ways to support their child in losing weight or staying at a low weight. This usually means focusing on just one leg of the table: the body. When people focus just on eating and exercise, they fail to create the stability required to balance the child’s deeper needs. An over-emphasis on the body with little or no focus on the other three areas is what leads to diet failure and an endless cycle of pain and suffering over bad body thoughts.

In addition to helping kids have a healthy relationship with their emotions and thoughts, it’s also important to teach them (and role model) a healthy, non-diet, loving relationship with food and movement. This means learning how to tune into natural hunger and fullness cues, listening to your bodies wisdom when making food choices (as opposed to dieting or supersizing), and seeking a balance between enjoyable movement and rest.

Filling Up

Finally, it is important to learn how to “fill up without feeling down.” We are not bodies alone, and we seek self-actualization through our activities and passions. Our children need our support to find ways to connect with others, belong to stable loving groups, and seek personal fulfillment through healthy, fulfilling activities.

Many teens mistakenly believe that if they can improve their bodies, they will improve their lives. Parents can help their children nurture the deepest parts of themselves so that their kids will recognize that food is fuel for the body, not a balm for the soul. Parents can teach their kids how to truly fill up emotionally in ways that won’t leave them feeling physically stuffed and ashamed.

Andrea Wachter, LMFTAndrea Wachter, LMFT is the author of three books: Getting Over Overeating for Teens; Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell; and The Don’t Diet Live-It! Workbook. She maintains a private practice in Northern California where she works with people of all ages who struggle with eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, grief and relationships. Her website is here.


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Understanding and working with your child’s brain when battling an eating disorder – thoughts from the book The Whole-Brain Child

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., is a book by a neuropsychiatrist and parenting expert offering advice for integrating a child’s brain to transform the natural struggles of raising a child into opportunities for growth and expansion.


Learning how the brain is wired can be helpful as we parent through everyday life as well as larger struggles such as eating disorders. The book is written largely for young children through 12 years old, and the authors promise a second book to address adolescents. But there is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t read this book if your child is older than 12. It applies to all human beings, not just children, and also offers skills for using the concepts in our parent brains, too.

The concept is that in our noble moments, we all want our children to thrive. We want them to live fully-integrated, successful lives. However, most of parenting is not noble. Most of parenting is surviving through chaos and confusion. We all feel as if we are treading water, and if we wait for noble moments in order to pass along vital parenting information, we will never succeed.

This book offers specific tools and approaches for working with our kids during the difficult moments. The tantrums, the fights, the stubborn refusals, and provides brain science to harness the opportunities to be noble even during awful times.

By understanding how the brain works, you can “help your kids be more themselves, more at ease in the world, filled with more resilience and strength.” And is there any greater goal than that?

Here are some key tips from the book:

Connect with the emotional right brain before attempting to connect with the rational left brain

This is a very common problem in parenting. We tend to want to jump in with advice, solutions and rational thought with our kids. In striving for maximum efficiency and impact, we actually miss out on teaching our children because we have failed to connect with them emotionally first.

The fact is that unless your child is in a state of trust and comfort, nothing you say will be of much value.

When a battle is raging, connect with your teenager emotionally first. No matter how ridiculous the situation seems to you, don’t jump in with rational advice. This is a misguided attempt to soothe your child, and it does not work with the brain chemistry.

Only once he is feeling safe and secure should you offer advice, discipline or correction. Even better, especially with adolescents, don’t offer any advice unless your child specifically asks for it. Instead, debate and discuss the situation to enable him to find her own path with your guidance.

It is true that this takes more time. You may feel you don’t have time to spare. But when you take the time to connect with your child and build trust before offering advice, you save time in the long run. This is the “power of trust” explained in Stephen Covey’s book The SPEED of TRUST: The One Thing That Changes Everything.

Seek opportunities to intentionally connect  the instinctual “downstairs brain” with the more thoughtful “upstairs brain”

The authors call the more primitive part of our brain the downstairs brain. You may also have heard this called the “lizard brain.” This is the part of our brain where we are programmed to fight, flight or freeze when faced with a difficult situation.

While these instincts are honed for avoiding physical danger (which they very rarely face in today’s society), they react equally strongly to perceived emotional danger. This means that when your teenager perceives a threat to her identity, it is just as terrifying as if she were being chased by a lion.

Your teenager also has an “upstairs brain,” which is capable of strategic decision making, insight, empathy and morality. It is very likely that your teenager’s downstairs brain drives you absolutely crazy, while the upstairs brain gives you hope in parenting.

We ignore our children’s downstairs brains at our peril. The authors suggest using storytelling and intentional speech to acknowledge and integrate the downstairs brain and how it impacts the very real sense of fear and dread that often are constant companions for our teenagers.

Parents can help teenagers acknowledge and understand the downstairs brain while gradually engaging the upstairs brain when overcome with dangerous feelings that may be driving some eating disorder behaviors.

Parents can improve themselves and their parenting outcomes


The authors say that they have met with thousands of parents, and all of them say that what matters most to them is the ability to “survive difficult parenting moments, and they want their kids and their family to thrive.” Parents want their kids to be happy, independent and successful. They want them to live lives full of meaning and purpose. They want them to be able to sustain fulfilling relationships.

And yet, “think about what percentage of your time you spend intentionally developing these qualities in your children. If you’re like most parents, you worry that you spend too much time just trying to get through the day (and sometimes the next five minutes) and not enough time creating experiences that help your children thrive, both today and in the future.”

We have the opportunity as parents to intentionally support our children’s life outcomes, but too often we become overwhelmed by the day-to-day survival, and by the worrying about the future, to actually apply our intelligence to being better parents. By developing yourself as a human being, and learning what you can about your child’s brain, you can make a big impact on your child’s future.

This book is about using everyday moments with our kids to help them thrive. It teaches us about how our kids’ brains works so that we are better able to help them develop resilience, strength and health.

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

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, by Daniel J. Siegel M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Do children conspire to make their parents’ lives endlessly challenging? No-it’s just their developing brain calling the shots! In this pioneering, practical book, Daniel J. Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and author of the bestselling book Mindsight, and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson demystify the meltdowns and aggravation, explaining the new science of how a child’s brain is wired and how it matures.