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How to handle the Fourth of July with an eating disorder

How to handle the Fourth of July with an eating disorder

Jamie is worried. Her 13-year-old daughter Kayley has an eating disorder, and their annual family reunion for the Fourth of July is around the corner. This event is typically a highlight of their year. Filled with family and friends, four generations, and lots and lots of food. 

“I just can’t imagine how we are possibly going to do this holiday with Kayley’s eating disorder,” says Jamie. “How are we going to feed her, and what will I do when my mom inevitably comments on Kayley’s weight? It’s going to be a disaster if I can’t figure out how to handle this.” 

Jamie is not alone. Lots of parents have to decide whether to attend Fourth of July events and, if they do, how to make it as safe and fun as possible for everyone.

Check with your treatment team

The first thing to do is check with your child’s treatment team. Of course this event is a big deal for you and your family. But an eating disorder occurs on a huge spectrum from manageable to medically dangerous. Depending on where your child is on that spectrum right now, you may need to make the difficult choice to skip this year’s reunion. 

I know this is devastating, and I’m sure you would rather not. But please keep in mind that if your child is medically compromised by their eating disorder, then you are essentially in a similar position as someone who has a child who is in chemotherapy and is immuno compromised. While technically they can go to a family reunion, their doctor may suggest skipping it this year to maintain optimum conditions for recovery. 

If this is the case for you, I’m sorry. But an eating disorder doesn’t have to be forever, so hopefully this is a one-year change of plans with long-term benefits. 

Plan for feeding and eating 

Depending on your child’s eating disorder and stage of recovery, you may expect them to maintain a rigid meal plan, or you may agree to be more flexible during the event. Either way can work for a medically stable person who has an eating disorder, but make sure the decision is made up front and not in response to the conditions at hand. 

You’ve been to this event before so you know approximately what will happen. Is eating typically chaotic and random? Or is it formal and pre-planned? Given this information, plan how you will maintain your child’s need to eat regular, full meals every day. If you can fit in with the way your family operates every Fourth of July, that’s great! It would be wonderful if your child can join everyone else in eating. If not, maybe you can work in a few stable meals between group activities. Or you can plan to feed your child completely separately. 

You have a lot of choices. Don’t let them take you by surprise once the event is underway. Make them in advance and then stick to the plan when you’re there.

Check with your child

Next you need to talk to your child about the event. I wouldn’t put the decision of whether to go or not in your child’s hands. I know this is tempting, and our cultural norm is to empower kids to make their own decisions. But in this case, giving your child the power to decide whether your family will attend a reunion is too much pressure, especially if they have an eating disorder, which means anxiety is high. 

Instead, approach your child thoughtfully with the fact that you will go to the reunion this year, and then set your expectations in terms of the feeding and eating plan that you established. While you do want your child’s engagement in planning for the event, they should not feel they bear the responsiblity of keeping their care on-track. That should be yours to handle.

Also talk about how stress can trigger anxiety and eating disorder behaviors and have a plan in place for dealing with that. Mainly, you want to give your child permission to have feelings and be uncomfortable sometimes. It’s going to happen, so don’t turn something natural into a shameful event. Instead, set up expectations for how your child will recognize and respond to their feelings of anxiety and urges to engage in eating disorder behavior. 

This is not a one-and-done conversation. It is multiple conversations that should take place before and during the event.

Identify the “problem” family members

Every family has its combination of easy-going and more problematic family members. Take some time to think through who will be there and any potential disasters. For example, is your uncle Harry a known dieter who loves to share how many calories he’s restricting himself to and then names how many calories are on everyone else’s plate? Is your sister Jenny doing Whole 30 or Intermittent Fasting? Does Grandma tend to talk about people gaining and losing weight?

Make a list of the family members who may say things that will negatively impact your child’s eating disorder recovery and consider how to handle them.

Depending on your relationship with them, here is what I recommend: 

  1. Make a quick phone call or send a text telling them that your family is dealing with some body image issues and you hope they understand that it would be best if they didn’t mention dieting, weight loss, or weight gain. You do not have to tell them about the eating disorder unless you want to. A boundary does not require full disclosure or understanding to be valid or effective. 
  2. If they are offended by this, then you know to steer clear (and steer your child clear) of them during the reunion. It’s OK to prioritize your child’s health over being around people who refuse to respect your boundaries and requests.
  3. If they say “no problem,” then stay near your child and monitor conversations. Most people don’t even realize they are talking about dieting and weight loss when they do it because it’s such an integral part of their socialization. But just because no harm is intended does not mean it’s OK. You can change the subject, ask them to stop, or simply leave the conversation. 
  4. Talk to your child regularly throughout the event to find out if anyone has said anything upsetting. If they have, you don’t have to storm off and make a big deal about it. It’s in the past. But you can talk to your child about what happened and help them process it. Most of the time we don’t have to force other people to change in order to help our child feel better.

Stick to your plan

One thing that often happens at family reunions is that we get distracted by activities, people, and the chaos of being together. This is a lovely part of seeing people we know and love. But you do need a bit of extra dillgence this year to account for the eating disorder. 

For example, you may be tempted to relax the meal plan because it’s too complicated or feels too disruptive. Or maybe someone questions your decisions or makes you feel bad about doing things differently this year. But if you’ve committed to a meal plan before the event, avoid changing it due to circumstances. While flexibility is wonderful, it should not be applied to feeding when there’s an eating disorder.

Similarly, you may wish you could ignore relatives who say things that trigger your child’s eating disorder because you just want to relax and have a good time. That makes a lot of sense, but your child needs to know you’re paying attention and keeping them in mind even when it’s inconvenient. 

The basic advice for handling a big event like a Fourth of July party during an eating disorder is to make a plan, talk about the plan, and stick to the plan. Don’t avoid doing this even (especially) when it’s hard. Your strong efforts this year will pay off for years to come.

Jamie’s 4th of July

Jamie thought carefully about her family reunion in light of the eating disorder. Kayley’s care team said it was safe for her to go away for the four-day weekend, and Jamie planned out the meal structure and talked to a few problematic relatives. It was stressful for Jamie to talk to her mom especially. 

“I know how much she loves Kayley, and the last thing I want to do is make her feel bad,” says Jamie. “But I knew it was important, not just this year, but forever. Now that we’ve faced an eating disorder, things have to change. We can’t act like nothing has happened, and I can’t let diet and weight talk seep into our lives again. Of course people are going to do what they’re going to do, but I can at least set expectations.” 

And while Jamie’s mom assured her that she would not say anything, in the chaos of the reunion a few things did slip out. But Jamie gently redirected the conversations and it was actually helpful, she said. “My mom has never heard of the body positive movement, and she really hasn’t thought about how toxic it is to talk about other people’s weight. I feel like this gave us a good opportunity to talk about that. She was surprisingly open and curious, which was really helpful.” 

For privacy, names and identifying details have been changed in this article.

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

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

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A holiday letter to family about body positivity

A Christmas letter to family about body positivity

If you have adopted body positivity this year, it may help to send a letter to your family to share your new lifestyle in advance of any holiday gatherings. Many families participate in diet and fitness conversations and actively and passively promote the “ideal body.” They may perpetuate the myth that weight can and should be controlled through restrictive eating and over-exercise.

Getting out of the habit of talking about diets and weight can be hard for even the most enlightened family. This letter is designed to help you share your body positivity journey with your extended family during the holidays.

Letter to family about body positivity

Dear Family,

I’m looking forward to seeing you next week for Christmas! In the past year, our family has, for various reasons, embraced a body-positive approach to health. I wanted to tell you a little more about this in advance of the Christmas party so you’re aware of what’s going on with us. 

What is body positivity?

Body positivity has a lot of definitions, but our family defines it as having positive regard for all bodies. This means we respect bodies of all shapes, sizes, and weights. We embrace the truth that bodies come in all sizes and honor people for who they are, not for what they look like. Additionally, we don’t judge people negatively for having a larger body or positively for having a smaller body. We believe that all bodies deserve respect.

As a family, we also have learned about Intuitive Eating, which is a way of approaching health that has nothing to do with weight. With Intuitive Eating, we have learned to nourish our bodies, giving them what they need with joy and compassion. It’s been quite a change from our previous approach of dieting and exercising to meet specific weight goals. 

Why is body positivity important?

Body positivity is an anti-discrimination stance. It’s founded on the belief that all people deserve respect and dignity regardless of their body’s appearance, health status, or ability. For too long our society has ostracized, blamed, and criticized people who fall outside of very narrow body ideals, and adopting body positivity fits our social and political beliefs because it is inclusive and anti-discrimination. 

Aside from lofty ideals, body positivity is also protective against anxiety, depression, suicidality, eating disorders, and other mental and emotional disorders. And – get this – it’s also healthier! People who are body-positive have better health outcomes than people who pursue specific weight goals and body ideals. So in addition to our political beliefs, body positivity is also something we’re doing for the health of each individual in our family.

What does it mean to have a body-positive approach to health?

For us, a body-positive approach to health means that we care for our bodies. We move them, rest them, enjoy them, and feed them. We invest in a whole-body approach to health. The only thing we don’t do is try to contort our bodies into a different weight, size, or shape.

We have gotten rid of our scales and no longer use weight as a measure of health (because it’s not!). We’re not insisting on a sugar-free lifestyle or rigid exercise plans anymore. We’re all enjoying all foods and eating according to our hunger and appetite rather than diet programs. This is incredibly freeing and has positively impacted each of us. We all feel better than ever now that we approach our health from a place of love and acceptance rather than domination and control.

Why are we doing body positivity?

We discovered body positivity earlier this year and have been working on it as a family. Our main goals are twofold. First, body positivity matches our social justice goals as a family. Secondly, body positivity is great for our mental and physical health!

The truth is that all of us were suffering in different ways under our previous lifestyle. While everything we did looked and seemed like it was healthy, the dark truth is that we weren’t actually taking care of ourselves very well. We recognized that something had to change, and when we discovered body-positivity we recognized that it was a massive change in some ways, but ultimately it fits our values much better than the dieting and restricting we did before.


How body positivity impacts our family

The main thing we’ve learned on this journey is to not judge anyone’s health based on their weight and to stop labeling food as good or bad. It’s all too common to carry unconscious biases about health in our culture. And we’re all influenced by the diet industry that tells us we need to weigh less and eat this/not that, etc. 

Freed from this restrictive view of bodies and health, we now find ourselves identifying how we each feel within our bodies. Now we treat them with the ultimate respect and love they deserve. 

We no longer judge food based on its caloric content or nutritional value. Instead, we seek a varied diet that tastes good and sustains us. Also, we got rid of our scale and have all discovered that not weighing ourselves has taken a huge weight (🤣 haha – couldn’t resist) off our shoulders. 

Of course, we still live in a culture that is critical of bodies, but we’re glad that in our home, bodies are respected and loved exactly as they are.

What this means for you

Of course, this doesn’t have to mean anything to you! But our family gatherings often involve some diet talk and discussion about other people’s and our own weight. So I wanted to give you a heads-up that we’re not going to be participating in those conversations anymore. I know this could be awkward at first. It’s always hard when families change. But please know that we love you very much. And we know that there is so much more we can talk about than weight and nutrition. 

I’m happy to talk to you some more about this if you want to learn more. I look forward to seeing you next week!

Love, me


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

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

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6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

6 tips to handle holidays with an eating disorder

The holidays are typically a stressful time, and it can be even harder to handle with an eating disorder. It could seem like a total disaster, or you could look at this as an opportunity to do things differently.

Our kids thrive in a close and connected family. And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about? These tips are designed to help you achieve closer family connections. So you’ll find that what I’m recommending will help everyone in the family – including you – have a more meaningful, less stressful holiday.

1. Focus on feeding and rest

The first and most important thing when your child has an eating disorder is that you need to manage feeding schedules as much as possible. While we would all like to relax during the holidays, when there’s an eating disorder to contend with, we really can’t let up on feeding regularly and adequately. 

You may have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. All our best, most beautiful plans for the holidays will be derailed if our children’s basic needs are not being met. A child’s basic need for food and rest are both disrupted by an eating disorder, and the holidays will make them even harder to handle. So feeding and rest should be a top priority.

Plan ahead to make sure you have easy, low-stress meals and snacks on hand, and keep to a regular schedule of eating. If there’s a big event that you’re all attending, make sure you feed your child before and after the event.

Prioritize regular bedtimes and plenty of downtime and rest during the day. Our culture glorifies the idea of rushing around during the holidays, trying to cram in everything, and running ourselves ragged. But it’s far better to prioritize rest so you can truly enjoy the meaningful moments when they happen. Slow down and take a mindful approach to the holidays. Less is truly more.

2. Prioritize connection

Once you have figured out the basic needs, you can move up the scale a little bit and focus on belonging and love needs. These needs are met in moments of connection and intimacy with our families. This can take you from managing to “handle” the holidays with an eating disorder to actually enjoying them.

Most of the stress of the holiday season comes from misguided attempts at connection. Rigid traditions that everyone feels obligated to perform are meant to connect, but fail. True belonging comes from authentically enjoying yourself with others. So this year, focus on the things that build connection and let go of the things that don’t.

Traditions build belonging. But they should be regularly evaluated to make sure they’re still doing their job. Create two columns on a piece of paper and write down all the traditions that you typically follow during the holidays on the left side. Now on the right side write down whether these traditions build emotional connections and intimacy. 

It’s not enough to do something because you’ve always done it. Hold your traditions to higher standards and ask: will this build belonging?

If you have a great list of strong traditions that build connections, great! If not, that’s OK! You can try some new traditions this year. Here are some options for connecting that you can consider for your family:

Ways to connect with family

  • Walk: go for a casual walk outdoors and play a game like “I Spy.” 
  • Drive: travel to a beautiful spot in nature and bring a big blanket and hot drinks to share. 
  • Art: get a large piece of paper and different pens and pencils and co-create a “piece of art.”
  • Get Closer: play a game like  Where Should We Begin to learn about each other and build intimacy.
  • Listen: ask each person to suggest a song that represents the past year. Create a playlist and try to guess who chose which song. 
  • Dance: designate a DJ or just pick a playlist, clear out the furniture, and have a dance party.
  • Sit: light (or turn on) a fire, pile the blankets and pillows on the floor, and sit together reading, listening to music or an audiobook, or doing nothing.
  • Make: buy packaged gingerbread house kits and make bizarre gingerbread houses that you would never find in a magazine.

Tip #1: keep these activities short. To optimize the chances of everyone having fun, limit the time you plan for any activity. Let people drift away if they get bored and keep the fun going for the people who want to.

Tip #2: have low expectations. Don’t insist on any activity being magical. Stay loose and be flexible and open to failure. Rigidity isn’t fun.

To handle the holidays with an eating disorder, give yourself the space to reimagine them through an entirely new lens. Ask yourself: am I doing this because we’ve always done it, or am I doing this because it makes us feel connected to each other? Double down on the things that add connection, and drop the rest. You’ll have more time and space and reduce everyone’s stress levels.

3. Know the triggers

If you have large extended family gatherings, then you need to plan ahead. Many of us have magical thinking when it comes to holidays. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we build an image in our head of calm, cozy holidays spent in loving connection with our extended family. 

In this magical dreamland, we fail to prepare ourselves for the realities of our family dynamics.

The way to handle the holidays with an eating disorder is to make sure you have been ruthlessly honest about the most likely triggers your child will face during family events. 

Get a piece of paper and list all the inappropriate or uncomfortable statements and situations around food and body issues that you can think of.

Common family eating disorder triggers:

  • Aunt Bertha likes to talk about what she can and cannot eat on her current diet
  • Grandpa makes comments about what’s on other people’s plates
  • Uncle Jerome is a personal trainer and always talks about “personal goals” and “burn it to earn it.”
  • Grandma will pressure everyone to eat more
  • Cousin Pat will stare at your child and ask why they’re so _____________.

You need to know the potential triggers to have any hope of navigating them gracefully. Most of us don’t prepare and then react and don’t feel great about it. Then we may spend hours after family events reviewing what we said or didn’t say. Flip that around and invest the time up-front to think about what might go wrong so you’re not blindsided. 


4. Set boundaries

Once you have your list of triggers, you can come up with boundaries and responses. Here are some boundaries I recommend every family sets during the holidays when dealing with an eating disorder (or actually anytime!): 

  1. No talking about weight or bodies (positively or negatively), like:
    • You have an amazing metabolism and can eat whatever you want
    • Have you gained weight?
    • My doctor says I need to lose weight for my health
    • You look so skinny!
    • She is always watching her figure – and it shows!
    • I’m concerned about your weight because I worry about your health
  1. No talking about what people are eating (positively or negatively), like:
    • Wow – that plate is really full!
    • I can’t eat that – I’m being good today
    • She eats like a horse and doesn’t gain an ounce
    • I’ve been eating keto and feel 100x better now
    • Have a piece of this – I made it just for you!
    • Are you sure you want seconds?

If you are faced with a boundary violation in real-time, it’s best if you say something at the moment to redirect the conversation and protect your child from additional triggers.

Good responses for boundary violations: 

  • I know you’re trying to help, but we’ve got this, thanks!
  • Let’s talk about something else now
  • I know how important this is to you, but we don’t talk about people’s weight
  • Did you know we’re going to Hawaii next week?
  • Can we talk about something else?
  • We don’t talk about what people weigh/eat
  • I’d rather you didn’t say things like that
  • Eyes on your own plate!
  • Did you see Aunt Lena’s new clogs? They’re wild! 

If boundaries are repeatedly violated and/or you can sense that your child is becoming distressed, it’s OK to take a break from the party or leave altogether. Your child’s emotional safety is your priority, so while it can be awkward, it is within your role as a parent to make that decision.

Remember that everyone has a right to do what they want to do. And there are often consequences. For example, Uncle Jim has a right to talk about his diet, and you have a right to ask him to stop and/or leave the conversation if you want to. The less you make it about controlling Uncle Jim and the more you make it about choosing your responses, the better it will feel for everyone.

5. Check in on your child

Once the holidays begin it can be hard to slow down. But remember that stress is like a snowball that rolls and grows if not interrupted. Check in with your child every day to gauge how things are going. What is their stress level? How are they feeling? Are their eating disorder behaviors getting worse?

If your child is becoming stressed, consider changing your plans for the day or even the whole week. Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy, your child’s physiological needs must be met for them to find any level of comfort and enjoyment this holiday. Are they getting enough sleep? Enough food? 

If stress is a problem, learn emotional co-regulation skills so you can help bring your child into an emotionally regulated spot before any holiday events. This is a skill every parent who has a child with an eating disorder should learn. Check out this eBook for help

6. Embrace the mess

Finally, embrace the mess of the holidays. You’re doing your best. Your best is enough. No holiday is perfect, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. When parents strive for perfection they usually add to the stress. So relax. Be kind to yourself. And remember that this is a short period of time in a lifetime of love and connection with your child. 

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

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

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Why adult kids don’t come home for the holidays

Why adult kids don't come home for the holidays

Very few parents envision a future in which their adult kids don’t come home for the holidays. In fact, most of us picture a future in which we are surrounded by a loving, happy family of our kids and their kids, multiple generations joyously spending time together on special occasions.

Of course adult kids are meant to build their own adult lives and their own family traditions. So sometimes not coming home for the holidays, while hard, feels absolutely right and natural. You understand what’s going on and it doesn’t feel like they’re rejecting you or seeing you only out of obligation. You’re emotionally close and when you see each other it’s mutually gratifying. On the other hand, if you feel as if they are avoiding you or dislike coming home for the holidays, that is a different situation.

Sadly, many adult children dread coming come for the holidays. If you search on Google, you’ll find lots of advice to help adult children avoid coming home for the holidays. You’ll also find pages of advice for tolerating difficult family gatherings and how to get through family gatherings without losing it. This is so sad for so many parents, and I’m sorry if this is happening with your adult child(ren).

I assume that if you’re reading this article, you’re looking to understand why this happens and what you can do to change things. And please understand that while some things may be hard to read, there’s no blame intended in this article. The fact is that when we want to improve a relationship we can only take responsibility for our role within it. We cannot change the other person, only ourselves. This article is about seeing your responsibility and choosing whether you would like to change your own steps in the relational dance to effect positive change.

The truth about family holidays

The sad truth is that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and even birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are often stressful family events that adult kids want to avoid spending with parents. You may have noticed that your adult kids are joining you for holidays less frequently. Or you may notice that your adult children seem stressed and unhappy during holiday gatherings.

The first thing to know is that this is more normal that we have been led to believe. The vision of family togetherness that we see in the media rarely reflects the complexity of our own families. Parenting adult children is entirely different from parenting young children, and it can be challenging for parents and adult kids to make the transition.

The next thing to know is that you can make changes in your own behavior that will make your adult child feel more comfortable about sharing holidays with you. This will make them more likely to come home and more likely to enjoy themselves while there.

10 reasons adult kids don’t come home for the holidays:

  1. Pressure to conform to previous versions of themselves
  2. Different political and religious viewpoints
  3. Criticism and judgement of their lifestyle choices (e.g. where they live and how they live)
  4. Criticism about their job/career choices
  5. Dislike of chosen life partner or criticism due to the lack of a life partner
  6. Criticism and judgement of their appearance (e.g. weight, tattoos, hairstyle, clothing, etc.)
  7. Sexual orientation and/or gender is not respected or is expected to stay “in the closet”
  8. Visits home tend to lead to relapses into addictive behaviors for which they are in recovery (e.g. eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm compulsive shopping, etc.)
  9. Being with family triggers anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts
  10. Family members engage in addictive behaviors that the adult child is in recovery for (e.g. smoking, drinking, substance use, dieting, disordered eating, etc.)

What parents can do to make the holidays easier for adult children

Parents can definitely make holidays more joyful for everyone if they recognize some key changes that are within their power to make. Remember that we can’t force other people to change – we only have control over our own behavior. If our adult kids don’t come home for the holidays, it may help to make some changes in how we behave.

As much as we want our family to be close and loving, we cannot force that situation through cajoling, criticizing, or making our children feel guilty enough that they show up even when they don’t want to. We can only create the conditions that will make family holidays less stressful for our adult children and, over time, help them feel truly welcome and loved during family holiday events.

1. Acknowledge your role in the relationship

It’s important to recognize that while your children are adults now, you held tremendous power over them in the formative years of their lives. Recognizing the power dynamics – mainly that you held all the power for many years – is important as you move into an adult relationship with your child. Acknowledging your impact on your child’s development is not about being blamed for who they are as adults. But it is important to see that old power dynamics play a big role in your relationship with an adult child.

If you used punishment, particularly physical punishment, that was a way you had power over your child. Major family disruptions like divorce, moving, or major illness were also situations in which your child was both impacted and powerless. If these things happened in your family, you may consider talking to your adult child and taking responsibility for how your choices impacted them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you had a true “choice” or did the wrong thing. It just means you acknowledge that what you did impacted your child. If you think your child is looking for an apology for times when they were powerless, give it to them nondefensively. You are not taking the blame (unless it’s warranted). You are taking responsibility as an adult who had the power to change a child’s life.

It’s worth reflecting on your child’s life and considering whether you need to talk about things that happened in the past. Not because you were a bad parent or because your child is stuck in the past. Just because as life progresses, parents, who held the power for so long, often need to revisit old dynamics and address them compassionately and intentionally.

I know this can feel unfair and different from what you got from your own parents. But if you want to have a lifelong relationship with your child. If you want something beyond an obligatory and stressful holiday once per year. This is how you can do it. This is your challenge and your opportunity.

2. Recognize your child as a grown-up

You have known your child through so many growth stages. Most parents cherished the years before 10 years old, when they could play ball or go to the park together. And of course, many parents struggled with the teen years, when they felt irritated and confused by their child’s awkward and tumultuous quest for independence.

But your child is now a grown-up. This is actually the longest period of their life with you. We think in terms of parenting as the first 18 years, but many parent-child relationships extend for more than 50 years.

Don’t let your child’s first 18 years define the rest of the time you have together. You are still and will always be their parent. You are still and will always be the single most important figure in their lives. Even if they say they don’t need you anymore, we all remain our parents’ children in our hearts forever.

Allow your child to be the age they are. Then remember how you felt at that age. Remember how grown up you felt at 20, 30, and 40. Likely your life looked different from your adult child’s, but that’s how life is. You have a child, not a clone. Be curious about who they are today rather than holding onto a previous version of them.

And definitely don’t hold onto the fantasy version of the adults they would become that you understandably nurtured and cherished as all parents do. Celebrate them as they are, and allow them to grow up, decade after decade, gracefully or ungracefully, with the knowledge that they are loved and accepted unconditionally.

3. Remember that they have an adult life and real conflicts

Sometimes adult children use their adult lives as an excuse for why they don’t come home for the holidays. As a parent, you should try to understand how many of their excuses are because of your relationship and how many of them are because of genuine conflicts.

Adult children are typically in the heat of life right when their parents want to see them (and the grandkids!) more often. For example, they may be working a stressful job, trying to keep on top of bills, juggling childcare commitments, parenting, staying in a committed relationship, and coordinating with in-laws, ex-partners, dog-sitters, and more.

Often when an adult child doesn’t come home for the holidays there is a really good reason why it’s too hard or just won’t work this year. Remember in these situations that it’s OK to have holidays on non-holiday dates. For example, Christmas can be any date in December or January (or even July!). The less rigid you are about the date, location, and time, the more likely you are to get your kid to celebrate with you.

If, however, you’re fairly sure that your child is making up excuses because they don’t actually want to see you, then forget about the holiday. Focus instead on rebuilding the relationship and start working towards a different outcome next year.

I know this can seem hard, but pushing for a holiday gathering when your child is angry with you is unlikely to result in a positive, joyful event. It’s more likely to end in tears and anger. Invest time in rebuilding your relationship and understanding why holidays with you are stressful. Then work towards creating conditions that work for your adult child so that next year you have a greater chance of celebrating together.

4. Get to know who your adult child is right now

It’s all too easy for parents and children to slip into a habit of not talking about current interests and passions. It’s much easier to keep the relationship superficial, since it takes less courage to say you’re “fine” rather than talk about the lack of closeness in your relationship.

Likewise, it’s easier for your adult child to say work is “fine” rather than tell you that they are really concerned about recent downsizing efforts and that they actually wish they had gone into a different career. The result of superficial “fine” conversations is that neither person in the relationship feels seen or heard.

Love is almost entirely based on feeling seen and heard.

Most parents are great cheerleaders when things are going well. But how are you when it comes to darkness and difficulty? Having a deep, meaningful relationship with someone means being able to see their darkness, their frustration and anger, without being afraid. It means seeing their whole self – flaws, fears, pettiness and all – and loving it all without fear of what it says about you. If you haven’t practiced sitting with your child in their darkness and accepting their feelings without trying to change them, give that a try.

Love means accepting the darkness as well as the light.

The key to getting to know who your adult child really is right now is to not react negatively or dramatically to information that surprises or upsets you. Adult children have powerful antennae and can sense parental judgement, criticism, and fear in an instant. They may even intentionally bait you to get a negative response. It may seem weird, but it happens.

Coach yourself on being an active listener who does not over- or under-react to your child’s statements. This is a practice that takes time, but it is a huge and worthwhile investment in your relationship.

Adult children can all too easily slip into a pattern with their parents in which they don’t feel seen, known or loved, even when the parents want to see, know, and love them. This is something that most parents need to learn. Take your time, and keep trying. It’s worth it.

5. Understand their recovery process if they’re in one

Does your adult child have a history of eating disorder, substance abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and any other mental health condition and/or behavioral addiction? If so, you need to be conscious of their recovery process and how it is impacted by family gatherings.

If your child is in the active stages of recovery, which varies but can easily continue for five years or more of abstinence/remission, then you need to monitor the environment carefully and consider whether you need to remove any triggers. Your child’s recovery should be a priority for you and every member of the family. If you can facilitate a safe environment for your adult child’s recovery, they are more likely to continue coming back.

If you’re wondering what makes a safe environment for your child’s recovery, then ask them! Don’t stand on ceremony or pretend that your child doesn’t have any problems. They do. If they are in recovery, they have to watch out for triggers. They may not be able to tell you exactly what you need to do, but that’s OK. Just ask, and then do some research on your own. Talk to your family in advance to try and explain any necessary adjustments to accommodate recovery. Any step is a positive step.

Most people in recovery spend significant time before seeing family members preparing themselves for anticipated triggers.

If your adult child has been in recovery for years or even decades, don’t assume it’s as if the situation never occurred. Most of us who are in recovery will spend our lives learning more about why we encountered struggles, and many of us will experience relapses of anxiety, depression, and our disorders. This doesn’t make us failures, it just makes us perfectly normal. For various reasons, our families can be a source of great stress. The more you can do to help us avoid triggering environments at the holidays, the better.

6. Accept your adult child’s life choices without question

Parents want what’s best for their children. That’s a given. But many of us lose our way as our children grow up. We start to think that our kids’ life choices are a reflection of us as parents. While we certainly have a huge influence over our children, their choices as adults are theirs to own. We can support them and accept them, but we cannot control their choices or take too much credit – either good or bad.

Adult kids who don’t come home for the holidays frequently worry that they haven’t lived up to their parents’ expectations. This is often because parents have explicitly or implicitly let their kids know that they are a disappointment. Many parents criticize their children, both when they’re little and as adults. Many parents also compare children, creating a toxic state of competition. This often comes from a place of wanting your kids to succeed, but beware: it’s the most common reason adult children give for staying away from parents.

What adult children want from their parents is the same as what little children want from their parents. They want to be accepted. You may think there’s no way you can accept your adult child. Maybe they are addicted to drugs or a single parent or a bad driver. Maybe they are too thin or too fat. Perhaps they don’t go to church or do go to church or voted for a candidate you think is the devil. But here’s the thing:

acceptance is not the same as approval.

You are allowed to accept your child fully for who they are and still not approve of all their choices. The difference is subtle but critical.

It has been said that acceptance is so closely tied to love that it is indistinguishable. If all you are able to do to show love to your child is accept them, that is enough. Parents who accept their children love their children.

Parents who do not accept their children … well, they often have adult kids who do not come home for the holidays. Your adult child – whether they are 25 or 55 – wants to be accepted by you. They want to feel that no matter what they do, you still love them.

Getting adult kids home for the holidays

If you want to see your adult kid this holiday season, keep the above points in mind. Remember that your child has a choice whether or not to see you. Many adult kids don’t come home for the holidays.

This can feel really terrifying, but you have the power to improve your relationship with your child and move towards repair and joy. Even families that have been estranged for years can reunite, but it usually requires the parent to make some important changes like the ones listed above.

I hope you have a wonderful, loving holiday, and that you get to see and enjoy your adult child for many years to come!

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

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

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Three gifts to give your child who has an eating disorder

Giving gifts is a beautiful tradition, and most parents love the opportunity to shower their kids with presents on birthdays and holidays. If your child has an eating disorder, here are a few gift ideas.

Reframing eating disorders

Eating disorders, like all maladaptive coping mechanisms (including substance abuse, self-harm, and many behavioral addictions such as shopping, gambling, and gaming) appear to be a superficial problem. We say things like “just eat,” and “just stop binging,” or “just stop shopping,” and “just stop using.” These simplistic remedies seem to make a lot of sense to those of us who are not struggling with a behavioral addiction.

But in fact, behavioral addictions and maladaptive coping mechanisms arise from a deep sense of loneliness, lack of self-worth, and pain. The problem is not the eating/starving/purging/drinking/cutting. The problem is that we are in pain, and we are trying to soothe our pain with eating/starving/purging/drinking/cutting.

When parents can see eating disorders in this light, their own behavior can change. They can see that they are not trying to get their child to start or stop doing something – instead, they can start trying to help their child manage their pain.

And the best way that parents can help their children manage pain is to show up in new and different ways. This doesn’t mean you’ve been doing things wrong. It just means you can do things differently now.

Gift 1: Don’t take things personally

Humans are innately self-focused, which means we tend to take things very personally. Sometimes this can benefit our kids, partners and coworkers, as we are willing to take responsibility for our actions. But more often, our tendency to take things personally causes us to act in ways that are counter-productive and can hurt the people we care about.

When a child has an eating disorder, parents are typically living in a state of high agitation. This is caused by the fact that we can’t help but dwell on the fact that our child is doing something we don’t want them to do, and we can’t help but think about how we might have contributed to this suffering or what we can do to make it stop.

This sort of endless rumination most often leads to us feel defensive about our behavior. When we feel defensive, we build a wall around ourselves to protect our vulnerability. These walls cut us off from our children in an attempt to avoid our feelings of guilt and shame about our parenting abilities.

Defensive parents are not able to help their children manage their pain. Instead, defensive parents are stuck in their own pain. It is a great gift when parents learn to not take things personally and drop our defensiveness so that we can offer our love to our child unencumbered by our own need for validation.

This does not mean you are supposed to not have needs. It’s just that we can’t look to our kids to help us soothe our needs for validation and support. Learning to not take things personally takes time and practice, and it’s best done with the help of a professional therapist or coach who will work with you to learn non-defensive coping mechanisms.

Gift 2: Date your children

When we date someone, we make special efforts to be alone together. We put energy and intention into making ourselves attractive to the person we are dating. And we focus on the other person’s positive qualities, often praising them and complimenting them.

By the time our children develop eating disorders, most of us have noticed increasing levels of distance between ourselves and our kids. This is considered to be a normal and natural part of our kids’ growth. But it’s also very dangerous.

What can happen is that our kids find it easier and more fun to be with their peers, and thus spend less time with us. The more distance grows between us, the harder it can feel to reconnect. This often feels like rejection to us, which we then justify with cultural statements such as “it’s normal for kids to hate their parents.” Or “I try, but she just doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”

These statements are completely normalized, but they are also very dangerous. Maintaining a close connection with our children throughout their adolescence and young adulthood can help protect them against all sorts of dangerous situations and behaviors, including eating disorders, self harm, and addiction.

Try dating your child. Set up some activities that you can do together regularly. Make them special. Make them sacred. Do not skip dates or forget about them. Don’t be late to dates. Invest in your relationship with your child.

Your child may moan and groan. They may say they don’t want to go or even get mean and say it’s “stupid” and “dumb” to spend time together. But hold on. Don’t let go. Insist upon spending time together alone. Spend that time focusing on their best qualities. Flatter, compliment, and soothe your child. These dates are never the time for discussions about poor grades or negative behaviors. They are time to build a deep, loving connection.

Gift 3: Take away the devices

Many parents give electronic devices like smart phones, tablets, and computers as gifts. But consider a new approach. Sure, you can still give your child a device. But set up device-free times during which all members of the family put devices away and spend time together.

Device-free time may seem boring and unmanageable. You might be tempted to give in when people whine and complain about the lack of devices. You might not want to give up your own device. But it’s OK. Do it anyway.

Time without devices means time during which conversations happen spontaneously. We all naturally restrict our conversation when people are on devices because we assume they are engaged in something important and we don’t want to interrupt them. This does not happen when a person is engaged in reading a book, staring out the window, or playing a board game. The ability to start random conversations is how intimacy builds.

Devices should be put away when you are eating together as a family. They should be a different room to avoid the temptation to look at incoming texts and alerts. Try to have device-free family meals once per day, and then extend the device-free time through the after-dinner clean-up. Try to extend it further a few times per week with a family board game or reading time.

People will complain. You may even miss your own device. But don’t take this as a sign that you should not go device-free. In fact, consider the analogy to your child’s eating disorder behaviors. You would like your child to cease their eating disorder behaviors, right? Well, that requires them to delay gratification and sit through discomfort. When the family is required to go device-free, they are all delaying gratification and sitting through discomfort, too. Eating disorders are just as compelling as your phone.

It is uncomfortable to stop using eating disorder behaviors, and it is uncomfortable to not hold your phone, respond to every text, and check on every ping. But you can do it, just like your child can recover from their eating disorder.

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

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

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Family scripts for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Are you heading into Thanksgiving with a child or loved one who has an eating disorder? It’s important to make an effort to plan an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving. Food-based holidays can be especially challenging for people in eating disorder recovery. It can really help to plan ahead for success.

When you have an eating disorder, it’s helpful to avoid situations that focus on diet culture, weight loss, food fear, and exercise addiction. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving is a national holiday that brings out all of these cultural tendencies.

As a food-based event, Thanksgiving puts those of us who have/had eating disorders at risk of exposure to disordered ideas and beliefs. But it doesn’t have to be this way. All of us can introduce our families to new ways of relating to each other in ways that don’t include body and food.

As human beings, we have a powerful need to connect with the people we love, and there is no holiday that is more about connection than Thanksgiving. It just so happens that in our culture we have developed connection scripts based on bodies and food. It’s time to seek other ways to connect with the people we love.

Here are some examples of how we can practice a new script this Thanksgiving:

Greetings for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Many of us are trained that it is polite to mention that someone looks good or otherwise compliment their appearance when we greet them. However, this focus on appearance keeps us stuck in limited relations with each other.

Sure, it’s easy to tell someone they look good, and a lot of people want us to tell them that we look good, but we must seek deeper connections with the people we love, and superficial comments keep us on the surface.

When we make appearance-based greetings, we miss the opportunity to connect with the actual person – who they are, what they mean to us, and what makes them loveable.

Instead of: You look great! Have you lost weight?

Try: I’m so happy to see you!

Instead of: Have you gained weight?

Try: It’s wonderful to see you!

Instead of: What have you been doing? You look great!

Try: How have you been doing? Tell me all about it!

Instead of: You look so pretty today!

Try: I’m thrilled to see you today!

Instead of: You look so skinny! Let’s fatten you up!

Food at an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Try: I’m really glad you came!

Thanksgiving is a food-based holiday, and so, of course, it brings out many of our diet culture scripts, which basically assume that we are “bad” if we eat rich, delicious foods, and we are “good” if we restrict our foods to “healthy” options like salad.

But our bodies are not machines, and dieting and restricting food results in binge eating for most of us. Have you ever gone to Thanksgiving and been “good” all day, only to find yourself eating an entire pumpkin pie that night while standing in front of the refrigerator?

It doesn’t have to be this way. Allow yourself to eat delicious foods that you enjoy every single day, and you will find your instinct to binge eat disappear.

Instead of: Uh-oh – I’m going to blow my diet today!

Try: This food looks delicious!

Instead of: I guess this is a cheat day!

Try: I’m looking forward to enjoying this day with you.

Instead of: I guess the diet starts tomorrow!

Try: I love being here with you.

Instead of: I’m trying to lose weight, so I’m not going to eat that.

Try: Tell me about how you’ve been doing.

Feasting at an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

So many of us live our lives in some form of dietary restriction, and then we may “let it all hang out” at a big meal like Thanksgiving. There is nothing wrong with feasting, but it comes dangerously close to binge eating, which is an eating disorder behavior.

When we allow ourselves to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, we don’t need to talk about how much we are eating or what we are eating.

We don’t need to talk about how many calories, points, macros, fat, carbs, nutrients, or other elements are in the food we are eating. Let’s avoid obsessing about what we eat and how much we eat. We can simply enjoy the food and move on.

Instead of: I’m stuffed!

Try: That was delicious!

Instead of: How many points does this have?

Try: Thank you for being here today.

Instead of: I’m “eating clean” so I can’t eat any of this food

Try: I’m so happy to see you all.

Instead of: Are you really going to eat all that?

Try: I love being with you.

Instead of: Are you sure you need seconds?

Try: Isn’t it wonderful to be together today?

Instead of: Oh my gosh! That’s a lot of food!

Try: This is a great day!


Exercise for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Most of us think of Thanksgiving as something we need to “work up to” or “work off.” We may go for an extra-long run in the morning or immediately following the meal.

This is called compensatory exercise and is a form of disordered eating. When we eat food we enjoy, we will naturally stop when we are full. Our bodies will balance the intake with our outtake and drive our appetites accordingly. So that extra-long run in the morning?

It will just make you hungrier and therefore more likely to eat more. That long run after the meal? It will just make you hungry again sooner. When we eat in a balanced way and move our bodies in ways that feel pleasant and natural, we don’t need to compensate with special exercise plans.

Instead of: I need to take a walk so I have space in my belly for all this food.

Try: I’m going to take a walk because it feels so good to be outside.

Instead of: I’m going to have to go to the gym after this!

Try: This has been a wonderful meal.

Instead of: It’s going to take weeks to work off all the food I ate!

Try: I have been really enjoying this day and being with you.

Plan in advance for an eating disorder friendly Thanksgiving

Consider talking to your family and friends before this year’s Thanksgiving and see if you can agree to dump diet culture and gather with the intention of celebrating people, not bodies.

See if you can avoid making comments about bodies and food and instead make comments about souls and inspiration.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a minefield for someone who has an eating disorder, and it will be more fun for everyone involved if we reduce the focus on food and bodies and focus instead on the many other things that make being together so meaningful.

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

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

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How to make Thanksgiving eating disorder safe

How to make Thanksgiving eating disorder safe

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be very stressful for people who have eating disorders. Here are some tips to help make your Thanksgiving eating disorder safe.

Food-based holidays can be hard

Often when families get together, the first thing they talk about is dieting and body size. Dieting is a national obsession and is even more prevalent on a food-based holiday.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, it’s important to set some guidelines around food and body talk so that all family members and friends are aware of your desire to create an eating disorder safe Thanksgiving.

We can’t control everything that happens at family gatherings, but at least we can express our wishes for a diet-free day. Here are some guidelines:

1. Don’t talk about diets

It’s very common for families to talk about the latest diet or “lifestyle change.” Men and women of all ages and sizes will passionately discuss their Whole 60 plan, Juice cleanse or gluten-free diet and the wonders it’s done for them personally or someone they know.

Many people will talk about committing to going to the gym, taking up running, and other exercise programs designed to support weight loss.

As the parent of a child who has an eating disorder, by now you should know that diets have a 95% failure rate, and exercise does not lead to weight loss.

But you don’t need to get into debates about the value of diets on Thanksgiving. Just ask your family members and friends to please not talk about dieting, which includes all forms of food restriction, food monitoring, and exercise with the goal of reducing body weight.

Your relatives and friends may honestly believe that talking about their latest diet program is the most interesting thing they have going on right now. They probably also feel compelled to share their success and “help” everyone else get “healthier.”

This is not because they are bad people – it’s just an indication that they are living in a diet culture. Gently remind them that you’re in the process of healing a child who has trouble with an over-identification with food and exercise, and you would really appreciate it if they kept diet talk off the table. This will automatically make your Thanksgiving more eating disorder safe.

Diet talk around someone who has an eating disorder is not benign. It is extremely dangerous.

Talk to friends and family members before the event, and gently steer conversations away from diet talk whenever necessary. Interrupt and redirect diet-based conversations as graciously as you can. If the gathering cannot stop talking about diets, you may need to excuse your family from the event. It’s OK (and necessary) to put your child’s recovery first.

2. Don’t talk about body size

Do you live in a family in which people’s body size is a common topic of discussion? Do people want to constantly discuss whether someone is larger or smaller than they were before? This can go both ways – from Aunt May telling your child she’s too skinny (in a bad way) to Aunt May telling your child he’s “bulked up” (in a good way).

Even the standard “you look healthy” or “you look great” can be difficult for someone who is in recovery for an eating disorder. This is because eating disorders are based on an over-identification with the body’s appearance. When people comment on your child’s body, look critically at their body, and otherwise make their body (or anyone else’s body) a topic of discussion, it can be triggering.

Talk to your family and friends in advance, and let them know that it would be great if all talk of body size could be avoided if possible, especially if it’s directed at your child.

Whatever your child’s current weight, it should not be discussed or commented on.

During the event, it’s likely that people will slip up and start to talk about bodies. After all, this is a frequent topic of conversation. Uncle Jimmy may talk about how his ex-wife has “put on the pounds” since their divorce, and Grandpa may grunt and nod in affirmation.

Comments like that, especially when they are greeted with agreement, are absolutely unacceptable and dangerous to your child who has an eating disorder. You need to speak up and say something like “Jimmy, I would rather we didn’t talk about Margaret’s weight like that.”

If the group continues to criticize other people’s bodies, you may need to leave the gathering in order to protect your child. Not everyone is ready and able to create an eating disorder safe Thanksgiving.

3. Don’t talk about stuffing yourself

Thanksgiving is our national “stuff yourself” holiday. Leading up to the event, people say they look forward to a binge day during which they will gorge themselves on Thanksgiving foods and then sit around with their pants unbuttoned.

If people choose to binge on Thanksgiving, that’s their prerogative, but it is not OK to talk about casual binge eating in front of a person who has an eating disorder.

Even though Grandma may think it’s perfectly acceptable and “has always been done,” you need to remind her that binge eating is an eating disorder behavior, and you have a child who has an eating disorder. Therefore, it is absolutely not all right to talk about binge eating this year (or, any year in the future).

4. Don’t talking about compensating for the meal

After the feast, people tend to talk about their compensatory behavior such as:

  • “I’m not eating again for a week!”
  • “Back to the gym tomorrow!”
  • “This makes up for the fact that I didn’t eat all week!”
  • “I woke up early and went for a long run, so I’m allowed to eat!”

This sort of compensation after eating is eating disorder behavior. You have a child who has an eating disorder. Therefore, talk of restriction or extra exercise to compensate for the Thanksgiving meal is not eating disorder safe. 

Interrupt and redirect any and all conversations related to compensating for the Thanksgiving meal. You may worry that you’re being rude, but your child must be your first priority.


It’s not easy, but it’s necessary

None of these things is easy. We have agreed as a society that Thanksgiving involves all four of the above behaviors. But it’s your prerogative to change the conversation and, as the parent of a child who has an eating disorder, it is your responsibility to avoid the danger these four actions can have on his or her recovery.

Depending on your relationships, you may need to make a few phone calls in advance of Thanksgiving this year. If you haven’t told your family about your child’s eating disorder, this may be the moment to do so. However, you should only discuss it if your child agrees.

We would like it if eating disorders carried less shame in our society. However, until that point. your child’s comfort and privacy come first. Schedule a special appointment with your child’s therapist to discuss this topic, and adhere to whatever agreements you make during that meeting.

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Take control of Thanksgiving

If you are able to talk to your family about the eating disorder, consider sharing this article or otherwise giving them some tips or requests in advance to help smooth the way. It’s important to know that we live in a culture that naturally does not follow these four guidelines, but that doesn’t mean our families can’t buck culture and follow a kinder, more thoughtful Thanksgiving pattern that is eating disorder safe.

It will be more challenging to follow these four guidelines if you are not able to talk to your family about the eating disorder. Nevertheless, parents can and must advocate for peaceful environments that support their children. You can tell your family that you are adopting these four guidelines this year so that they have a heads up in advance that you’ll be steering conversations away from food and body talk.

Finally, if you feel your family cannot adapt to these four guidelines, it may be best to skip the large family dinner this year. Your child’s recovery must take priority, and if you have a family that is stuck in diet culture, you may need to skip the big gathering this year and opt instead for a smaller gathering of people who already know and follow a non-diet approach and can easily follow these guidelines.

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

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

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How to vacation when your child has an eating disorder

How to enjoy a vacation when your child has an eating disorder

Taking a vacation with a child who has an eating disorder can be a challenge, but it is also entirely possible with a little bit of planning. Here are a few fundamentals to consider:

1. Take into account the timing of your trip

If your child is in early eating disorder recovery, you may need to reschedule your vacation plans. It’s not fair, but it’s still necessary. Remember that your child has a serious disorder that deserves treatment as much as if they had a physical condition such as a broken leg or even cancer.

If your child were undergoing chemotherapy, you would probably reschedule your vacation. Once your child’s cancer is in remission, then a vacation could be a wonderful way to celebrate together. Eating disorders are serious conditions and it takes time and patience to recover.

Check with your child’s therapy team to make sure your child is stable enough to travel.

⚠️ If travel is absolutely necessary and your child is medically unstable, then you need to make sure you have a medical emergency plan in place. Work with your child’s medical team to get all the information and supplies you need in case of a medical emergency. And make sure you have information about the nearest hospital and know how to contact emergency services wherever you are. Consider getting medevac insurance if you are traveling outside of the country in the event that your child needs to be returned to your home country under medical care. ⚠️

2. Consider the clothing situation

If you are going to a tropical beach or a location in which your child will be expected to wear very little clothing and will be exposed to people showing off their bodies, you may want to reconsider. Eating disorder recovery is a delicate time in terms of body image. Not only can it be hard for someone who has an eating disorder to fully relax in bathing-suit-oriented locations, but it can also be triggering to see other bodies in bathing suits. This year’s vacation may be better if it involves mostly fully-clothed activities and locations in which other bodies are not on display.

3. Think about the food situation

If your child has an eating disorder, you need to optimize the food environment on your vacation. Find out as much as possible about the food situation, and talk to your child and their treatment team about menus and food planning. You need to have snacks available and plan out meals to minimize stress around eating. As you plan, keep in mind any food aversions your child has. If your child has an aversion to meat right now, then avoid the steakhouse where they carve the meat off a spit at the table. And if your child is only comfortable eating certain foods, then take note of whether those foods will be available during the trip. If your child is working with a dietitican, they should be able to help you work through this topic before the trip.

⚠️ If your child is still highly resistant to eating regular meals and snacks and eating and meals are a major issue, or if your child is still purging, then reconsider your trip. A vacation is not a good place to do early eating disorder recovery, and the entire trip could be derailed by eating disorder behaviors. Think carefully about whether now is the right time to travel. ⚠️

4. Plan ahead

While vacations can be a lot of fun, they can also cause a lot of stress, even for family members who do not have eating disorders. If you’re going on a vacation with a child who has an eating disorder then you need to double down on the details to avoid stress during the trip.

First, try to organize as much as possible in advance. You want to minimize surprises that may throw the group’s stress levels into high gear. You also want to minimize the angst caused by wondering every single night where you’re going to eat dinner. Planning ahead will help you avoid stressful day-of decision-making about what to do (if anything).

Family trips are notorious stress-causers. So you want to create a firm plan in advance that everyone can agree to, and then stick to it as much as possible. No surprise visits from Aunt Mary, no spontaneous 15-mile-hikes into the great unknown, and no sudden changes of venue.

Create and share your schedule so that everyone feels they know what is going on each day. The more information you have available, the better you can alleviate anxiety during the trip. It takes effort, but this sort of advanced planning actually makes family vacations more pleasant for everyone.


5. Un-stress yourself

One of the most important things you can do as a parent who has a child who has an eating disorder is to make sure that you are not stressed. All parents know that vacationing with the family is not actually very relaxing most of the time. We often find ourselves running ragged, trying to meet everyone’s needs. And with a child who is recovering from an eating disorder, you will be even more taxed than usual. This doesn’t mean the vacation is going to be terrible. But it does mean that you should go into it with open eyes and an open heart.

The week before the vacation, take some time each day to relax mindfully. Don’t turn to fake relaxants like scrolling through your phone with a large glass of wine. You need purposeful relaxation, which usually involves disengaging from email and social media and one or more of the following:

  • Moving your body for pleasure
  • Being outside
  • Breathing mindfully
  • Talking to a good friend, therapist, or coach

Invest at least 10 minutes to relax your body, mind, and spirit every day before the trip. This will mean you are well-rested and have the energy you need to navigate a vacation with an eating disorder.

During the vacation, squeeze in 10 mindful minutes each day. You can do a 10-minute guided mediation, go for a gentle (solo) walk outside, or soak in the hot tub (without your family). You need time to center yourself!

emotional regulation

6. Roll with the punches

While you’re on vacation with your family, any number of things can and will go wrong. Whether it’s a missing rental car, inadequate food, or just a stubbed toe or missing sunglasses, things always go wrong on family vacations.

Just because you planned everything in advance does not mean that everything will go perfectly, so release that fantasy. Nobody – absolutely nobody – has an Instagram-worthy vacation every minute of their vacation.

The best approach is to roll with the punches and go with the flow. Try not to take things personally or get angry about snafus. This will put a pall over the whole group, solve the problem as best you can. And then, once everyone is settled again, talk about the misstep, blow-up, or argument lightly and with humor. Some families even enjoy documenting these moments and make a game of retelling vacation horror stories with much hilarity. This is an excellent bonding activity as long as nobody is taking the mistakes personally.

Stuff happens. No vacation is perfect. No parent can plan for every possibility on vacations. The point is not perfection – it’s having fun together and enjoying each other.

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

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

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Have an eating disorder in the family? Then this is the one gift that everyone deserves

Family therapy is an excellent way to recognize and address deep family dynamics, especially when a child has an eating disorder

The holidays bring so much joy and laughter and wonderful gifts … at least, that’s what they are supposed to bring.

But for many of us, eating disorders darken the holiday spirit, adding stress, concern and a sense of deep unease. If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then it’s very possible that you are at a loss this year, and feel confused about how to celebrate the holiday.

The gift every family deserves

There is one gift that every family facing an eating disorder should get: family therapy. Sure, it’s not something that you can put in a box, but it is something that will pay off for decades.

While many people understand that when a child has an eating disorder, therapy is a critical element of healing the individual, many of us don’t recognize that eating disorders often expose deep roots of discontent in our families that will continue to fester if we don’t address them.

More importantly, however, while the eating disorder is a very obvious and identifiable problem, the fact that it exists in your family likely means that every member of the family is suffering in some way, and now is the perfect time to shine a light on the family’s health.

This does not mean that your family is messed up or broken. It just means that you have the opportunity with the eating disorder to recognize the thing that many families do not understand until it is too late: love takes work.

Building a family is not easy

Do you think that building a happy family should be easy and natural? Do you think that parenting children should be a piece of cake? Do you believe that you are an excellent parent, but that your child who has an eating disorder is an anomaly and the disorder came from something wrong inside him or her, and that there is nothing about your family environment that should change in light of the diagnosis?

It may feel deeply uncomfortable, but none of these ideas is true. Loving our children may be innate, but the giving of love and raising of children is not easy. If all we do is sit back and assure ourselves that our love-giving is just fine and requires no active work, then we are missing a huge opportunity to parent in a deeper and more meaningful way.

Sure, we can be “fine” parents with this approach, but to be a great parent, and to help our children and our long-term family cohesion, we need to work our butts off to get better at giving love.

Learning to give better love

It’s is one of our greatest tragedies that we believe that innate love is enough, and that we shouldn’t push ourselves every day to learn to give better love to the people who matter most to us.

Learning to give better love is slightly different for every family, but it includes the following elements:

  • Accepting the people you love for who they are as individuals (not as an extension of yourself)
  • Appreciating the people you love by specifically naming specific actions, traits and behaviors that you believe are positive on a daily basis
  • Acknowledging mistakes that you have made and taking action to learn more and improve your parenting
  • Listening without defensiveness
  • Educating yourself about the psychology of parenting
  • Actively building a sense of belonging and group identity in your family
  • Allowing the people you love to give you love (don’t be a martyr!)

No parent is perfect at any of these things. The most masterful parents recognize that there is no end to the things we can learn to improve our parenting skills and our ability to give love.

Family therapy and the family unit

This is why family therapy is the gift you need to give your family this year. A good family therapist will help you work together as a family to learn crucial listening, acceptance, and love-giving skills.

Family therapy focuses on the family unit. The goal is never to blame any individual for bad behavior, but to openly acknowledge how the family works together and areas in which each individual can grow to become better at giving love to everyone.

Sometimes the focus will be on parental behaviors, sometimes on the children’s behaviors, but it will be evenly assigned to ensure that the group develops as a whole. The family therapist will model effective communication and support everyone in learning to ask for what they need. Because the key to giving good love is learning how to ask for and accept love for ourselves.

Family therapy can be painful at times, but it can also transform your entire family dynamic and build a stronger connection between everyone involved. The key, of course, is to approach family therapy with an open mind and an open heart, and be willing to be vulnerable. We must approach family therapy as a student rather than a master.

You’re not there to fix the eating disorder

When you go to family therapy, it is important to set aside the idea that the goal is to “fix” your child who has an eating disorder. Family therapy is about the whole family, not the eating disorder.

Hopefully your child is in the care of a trained professional who has the skills necessary to work on the eating disorder itself. While you are in family therapy, your focus is on everyone in the room.

Most of the gifts we give this holiday will be forgotten in a few months, but the gift of family therapy will last a lifetime.

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3 reasons to take the focus off food at Thanksgiving

3 reasons to take the focus off food at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has traditionally been a food-based holiday, but there are good reasons to take the focus off food at Thanksgiving. Whether you’re serving people who have limited food choices, disordered eating or eating disorders, Thanksgiving can quickly become fraught.

What this means is that we need to make some changes to Thanksgiving, possibly the most heavily food-based holiday on the calendar.

Three reasons to take the focus off food at Thanksgiving

It makes sense to shift the focus of Thanksgiving away from food. Here are three reasons why it’s important to take the focus off food this Thanksgiving:

1. It’s stressful for people who have eating disorders

Being surrounded by food on Thanksgiving creates a great deal of anxiety and stress for anyone who is in recovery for an eating disorder. For someone who has an eating disorder, food equals stress, so it makes good sense to remove the focus on food while building a sense of community and belonging. This doesn’t mean you don’t serve food, but it does mean food is not considered the centerpiece of the holiday.


2. It’s stressful for people who are paleo/vegetarian/vegan/clean/carb-free/gluten-free, etc.

Whatever your personal opinion of these dietary restrictions, you’re likely to have guests who follow them. When you have removed entire categories of food from your diet, it is very stressful to be presented with options that you cannot eat. Even someone who is completely committed to their lifestyle can’t ignore the feeling of slight rejection when there is not “safe” food available for them at an event.

3. It’s stressful for the host

Hosts have found their Thanksgiving preparations exhausting now that they must accommodate their own tastes as well as those of their guests’ varied preferences. Thinking about a menu that accommodates everyone’s needs is very stressful, more expensive, and more time-consuming than the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal.

However you look at it, a food-based Thanksgiving means that everyone feels more stress, and we can all agree (regardless of our food preferences) that stress is not conducive to a pleasant and meaningful holiday.

Three ways to take the focus off food this Thanksgiving

This doesn’t mean that you don’t serve food at Thanksgiving, it just means that you approach the food with less anxiety and stress, focusing your energy instead on meaningful connection and belonging.  Here are three ways to take the focus off food this Thanksgiving:

1. Ask people to bring a dish

Instead of asking people how you can accommodate their food preferences and planning a menu that meets each person’s individual needs, tell people exactly what you are making, and invite them to bring a dish to share with everyone that meets their unique dietary needs and preferences.

This way you can limit your menu to a reasonable level and still cook your personal favorite dishes for Thanksgiving, and you can encourage people who have special diets to share their recipes with everyone. This may feel impossible, but, really, it is absolutely an option! Remember that the story of Thanksgiving was about sharing food, and it is a wonderful idea to have everyone bring their own contribution to the Thanksgiving table.

If you think that you should be solely responsible for cooking the entire Thanksgiving meal (and that you have to meet each person’s unique dietary restrictions), then perhaps you have an unrealistic idea of what it means to be a modern woman.

Come on – we’re not 1950s housewives, and we can stop acting like we are! Food is not how we show our love … we have many, many other ways to share love, and it can have nothing to do with food.

And, of course, even if you don’t have an image of a 1950s housewife in your head, you may have Martha Stewart in there. Get rid of that image, too! We are way beyond needing to prove our feminine power through perfectly, carefully, painstakingly prepared food. Let it go.

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2. Do something together before you eat

Since Thanksgiving is a food-centric holiday, most hosts think primarily about planning the menu for Thanksgiving. But when we take the focus off the food and look instead at building connection and belonging, we have so many other options.

Instead of worrying about the perfect food, think about an activity that will bring your guests together in non-food ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Play board/card games
  • Play a sport like baseball, football, etc.
  • Go for a hike
  • Volunteer for a few hours
  • Visit an elderly neighbor who may be lonely
  • Plant a tree or do some gardening
  • Go to a beach, hiking trail or other state park land and pick up trash
  • Do an art project
  • Learn something new together

Spending time together before sitting down at the table is important to building connection and belonging. It allows the group to loosen up and enjoy each other’s company in a non-food setting. This will make the moment when everyone sits down to eat the meal much less stressful.


3. Take the food off the table

Every magazine and blog shows a table laden with food. Your vision of a good Thanksgiving is probably something like this:

Take the food off the table

Yes, it’s lovely, but having food on the table means that people who have dietary restrictions are faced with many things they cannot eat. At the same time, people who have eating disorders feel much more anxiety and stress when food serving platters are directly in front of them during a meal.

Most importantly, having the food platters on the table literally puts the food “front and center” of the event. Instead, set up a buffet table off to the side so that everyone can serve themselves the food choices they prefer at quantities they desire.

If you are used to a more formal “food on the table” setting, this may feel like a stretch to you, but remember that food preferences are varied, and we don’t live in a society in which everyone eats the same food at a meal. When you allow people to serve themselves from a buffet, you will likely see that each plate has its own unique contents.

And, of course, once everyone has enjoyed food they enjoy, and you have all enjoyed each other’s company, it may be time to turn on football and chill out while basking in the pleasant glow of belonging and connection.

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

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

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Going to a birthday party when your child has an eating disorder

Going to a birthday party when your child has an eating disorder

Like many things that were once easy, going to a birthday party when your child has an eating disorder gets a bit more complicated. An invitation to any large celebration such as a birthday party, which might have been welcome before diagnosis, can take a difficult turn when your child is working on eating disorder recovery.

First, a person who has an eating disorder is very sensitive to environmental stress. And although parties sound like so much fun, they also include loud noises, lots of people, and complicated interreactions that can be hard for someone in recovery. On the other hand, a party may be an excellent motivation and distraction from the eating disorder. Both of these considerations should be taken into account.

The other major consideration when considering a birthday party with an eating disorder is thoughtless comments about food and body size. Unfortunately, friends and family members tend to make triggering comments about food and body size, ranging from comments that are unintentional to ignorant.

While your child heals, it is important for you to prepare for birthday parties and other food-based social events in advance and be prepared to address triggers as they come up.

Should you go?

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, carefully consider whether the birthday party is a good idea. Talk it through with your child’s treatment team. Whenever possible, avoid parties that are being hosted by someone you don’t know, or large events that will be full of many people who you and your child don’t know. These types of events can add far too much anxiety to a child who is already sensitive so you may want to make different plans.

If you do know the hosts and guests well, consider whether they are an appropriate environment for your child right now. Remember, your child’s eating disorder is a crisis now. But hopefully in the future it will cease to be a problem. Therefore, while you may need to sit some events out this year, there is hope that in the future that won’t be necessary.

Make a phone call

Depending on the stage of treatment, your child’s treatment team may suggest that you discuss your child’s eating disorder with the host in advance of a food-based event. One approach is to call the host and let them know what’s going on, and give them a heads up that you may be acting a little differently at the party. Advance conversations, even with family members, can be a bit awkward. Here’s an example of a pre-party conversation:

Parent: Hi, Jane. I wanted to let you know that Sam is currently being treated for an eating disorder. It’s a bit complicated to go into right now, so I wanted to give you a heads-up before we come over to the birthday party next weekend.

Host: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. Why didn’t you tell me?

Parent: Thanks. Well, as I said, it’s a bit complicated, and we’re just doing our best to help her heal. Something I’ve had to learn is that a lot of things that we naturally say can be triggering for someone who has an eating disorder. For example, it can be hard when people mention Sam’s appearance – good or bad. Also, talk about dieting, stuffing yourself, or being “good” or “bad” with food can be really difficult. I just wanted to let you know in advance that I may try to avoid or redirect conversations if I see them going in that direction. I hope you understand.

Host: Oh, well, I guess so. Sure, that makes sense.

Parent: Thanks so much. I really appreciate it, and look forward to seeing you next weekend!

Remember that this conversation can be awkward for both sides. You are making a request that can make the host feel uncomfortable. Don’t expect too much. Instead, just remember that you’re all doing your best.

The host in the above situation doesn’t dig in for too much information or get defensive, but some people may push a bit harder. Don’t panic – just do your best.


The digger

Digging Host: Oh, well, I guess so. So what exactly is going on? Is Sam anorexic? Bulimic? What exactly is Sam doing?

Parent: Oh, thanks so much for asking. We’re working on everything with a therapist right now, and I’m just not really comfortable going into too much detail. I hope you understand.

Digging Host: Of course. But did Sam need to be hospitalized? Is Sam starving? How are you doing?

Parent: Well, I’m doing as well as I can right now. The most important thing is having friends who I can count on, so I’m really thankful that we had this conversation, and I can’t wait to see you at the birthday party!

The defender

Defensive Host: Well, we never talk about that kind of stuff. I’m not really sure what you mean.

Parent: Oh, I’m sure that’s true, and this is a bit of an awkward conversation for me. I hope you understand that I just wanted to let you know. I didn’t want to show up and take you by surprise.

Defensive Host: Oh, OK. Well, I can see that. OK – see you next weekend!

Prepare your child

Before you go to the party, make sure you talk to your child with his or her treatment team to prepare for triggering situations. Come up with some signals that your child can use if they become uncomfortable. Agree as a family whether you are willing to take two cars in case one of you needs to leave early with your child.

Before the event, talk to your child about social anxiety. Almost everyone gets some form of social anxiety before an event, and that is amplified when a child who has an eating disorder is going to a food-based event with lots of people. Your child may be concerned that people will be watching every morsel of food and analyzing whether they are “really sick” or “just looking for attention.”

Your child is vulnerable right now. Help them prepare for the event by working through some meditations or yoga poses together. Get grounded and help your child connect with their body. Do whatever you can to both address and decrease pre-party anxiety.

Prepare a light snack for the whole family and eat together if possible before the party. Connect as a family, and remember that you are all a team working towards the goal of health, love, and belonging. This isn’t just for the child who has an eating disorder – this will benefit everyone.

emotional regulation

Mindless comments

It would be very unusual if there wasn’t a single mindless comment about food or body size during the party. However, a birthday party is rarely a good place to educate people about eating disorders. That is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved. Don’t go to the party ready to fight or teach people lessons. Just go in with awareness that you will probably need to acknowledge and redirect mindless comments.

Your goal is to let your child know that you heard the statement and respond in a way that lets him or her know how you feel about it. Then move away from the conversation. Start a new topic, or simply walk away if you can.

Statement: Oh my gosh! I was so bad at lunch! I ate three tacos! No food for me tonight!

Parent’s response: Tacos are so delicious. Tammy and I are planning to get some tomorrow.

Statement: Wow! You’re eating fast! You must be hungry today!

Parent’s response: Yup! Food is good when you’re hungry.

Statement: Ugh! I ate too much! The diet starts tomorrow!

Parent’s response: Oh, well we all feel full sometimes, but it always passes.

Statement: What’s wrong? You aren’t eating anything.

Parent’s response: Oh, we’re all set, thanks!

Statement: You’re looking great! Have you lost weight?

Parent’s response: Oh, Joanie, it’s so great to see you – how have you been?

Statement: You’re so skinny! What’s your secret?

Parent’s response: Hey, Matt, how’s your new job going?

In the last two examples, it can feel very awkward to completely ignore someone’s statement, but the good thing is that parents often interrupt conversations when their children are involved. It’s good if you can blow the conversation in a totally different direction to take the focus off your child’s body. You and your child are never required to discuss their body size with anyone, no matter how awkward it feels.

Post-party review

After the party, take some time to decompress with your family. Anxiety was almost certainly triggered for all of you, so do some deep breathing exercises or take a gentle walk to reconnect and get grounded. If your child didn’t eat much at the party, prepare a light snack and eat it together. If your child binged at the party, remind him or her that the feeling of fullness will pass, and sit with them supportively as it does.

Take some time as a family to review how the party was for everyone involved. Did things go smoothly? Do you think the party was a positive event for your child who has an eating disorder? Is there anything you could do in the future to make parties better/easier for all of you?

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

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

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New Year – New You! Thoughts about New Year’s resolutions inspired by BOPO leaders on Twitter

December and January can be some of the hardest months on the eating disorder calendar. If the family events, disrupted schedules, and endless food events weren’t enough, we also have advertising and promotions everywhere about New Year’s Resolutions, which almost always include eating/food/weight rules and, of course, diet resolutions.

For people who have eating disorders or who love someone who has an eating disorder, New Year’s diet messages are disturbing and dangerous.

2016 might not have been the best year in many ways, and if 2016 was the year your child was diagnosed with an eating disorder, then it may very well be one of the worst years you can remember, but one positive that has come out this year is the rise of body positivity (BOPO). Social media accounts led by fearless women who aren’t ashamed to stand up and embrace themselves as they are have garnered millions of followers and likes.

We think the rise of body positivity, driven by many people who have suffered from eating disorders, is awesome and amazing! Check out some inspiration for the New Year from some of our favorite BOPO babes:

Megan @BodyPosiPanda

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Gina @NourishAndEat

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Hotpants @DoTheHotpants

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Kenzie @KenzieBrenna

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Michelle @Mindset_forLife

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

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

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Handling the holidays when you have a child in the weight recovery stage of eating disorder recovery, an interview with Dr. Renee Rienecke

The holidays can be a real challenge for people who are in the weight recovery stage of recovering from an eating disorder. There is a lot of food around, and a lot of stress in the air. If your child or adolescent is currently in the weight restoration phase, being out of a normal routine, and around relatives who are well-meaning but not helpful, can be very disruptive.

Below is an interview we conducted with Dr. Renee D. Rienecke regarding this topic:


My biggest advice for families who are in FBT is to plan ahead as much as possible. Think carefully through the actual holiday and the school break, and plan meals, snacks and rest into your schedule. Choosing your child’s meals, plating the food for them, serving it to them, and sitting with them while they are eating can be really challenging if you have people staying with you or if you are staying with others during the holidays. Each family will figure out their own path for this situation, but it’s important to know that there are a lot of options – the main goal is just that you think it through.


If your child is in weight restoration, maybe consider taking a year off from staying at a relative’s house. Keep in mind during the holidays that it’s OK to simplify this year if you need to. You don’t have to do everything like you normally do because your life isn’t like it is normally. There is next year. Looking for ways to simplify your life around the holidays is good advice for anybody, but especially for someone in treatment.


A pitfall that families run into during the holidays is that when kids are off school, they tend to sleep in, and then they are more likely to miss breakfast and throw off their eating schedule and eating plan. During the holidays, everyone gets busy, and it’s easy for parents to take their eye off the ball. It’s a challenge for parents to stay focused, but it’s really important. You don’t want to let a week go by without any progress.


Families have a lot of balls in the air this time of year, and things are probably not going to go perfectly. Plan ahead, do your best, but remember, the holidays are going to be over soon. You’ll be back to your normal routine soon. Things are not going to be perfect, and that’s OK.


Whether or not you share the information about your child’s treatment plan is really dependent on your individual situation. It’s always a balance between respecting the desire for privacy, but at the same time not feeling embarrassed about your situation. The unfortunate truth is that not everyone you tell is going to react the way you want them to. Think through carefully who to tell, and what sort of information to share. If you do share the situation, it’s best to discuss it individually with each family member or guest. Let them know what’s going on, what will be helpful to talk about, and what topics to avoid.


If your kid has requested that you not tell anyone about treatment, then you will need to work together on how to handle comments that might come up from unknowing relatives and friends. Just talk about what might come up, and how your child or you will respond if someone comments on weight, either positively or negatively. Also, be prepared for well-meaning curiosity about diet and eating habits. It can be hard to hide that there is something going on when in the weight recovery phase, so the more you prepare, the better.

Ground rules

What many of my families have done is to speak with relatives individually before social gatherings and let them know personally what’s going on. It allows for more conversation. They may have a lot of questions, so having a conversation really allows them to have more back and forth. If you do tell people about your child’s weight restoration and eating disorder recovery, it can be helpful to have some ground rules so they understand safe and unsafe topics during this time. Here are some basic suggestions:

  • Don’t comment on appearance
  • Don’t comment on what they’re eating
  • Don’t comment on food (good/bad)
  • Don’t talk about your own weight loss plans/experiences
  • Don’t talk about other people’s weight

Plan an Escape

Weight recovery can be a difficult time in eating disorder treatment, so it’s good to have an escape plan for meals and events just in case your child becomes overwhelmed. Some parents will limit the time of the event, also, saying we’ll only go for 2 hours. If the meal gets too hard, there can be a code word that the patient can use to signal to the parent that they need help.

renee Reinecke eating disorders

Renee D. Rienecke, PhD, FAED, is the Director of the MUSC Friedman Center for Eating Disorders at the Medical University of South Carolina. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan, her Ph.D. from Northwestern University, and completed her clinical psychology internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include the role of expressed emotion in treatment outcome for adolescent anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Website

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5 tips for supporting your child through recovery over the holidays, by Melainie Rogers, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD

When you have a child recovering from an eating disorder, the holidays are often layered with uncharted stressors and unpredictable situations. What we envision to be festive, convivial gatherings may evoke tension, anxiety and a myriad of complex emotional reactions. As parents, we struggle to protect our children from emotional triggers while navigating the confusing, often heartbreaking territory that is recovery.

As a dietitian, recovery expert, and owner of BALANCE Eating Disorder Treatment Center in New York City, I’ve compiled a few tips for supporting your child or teen in recovery over the holidays. They won’t guarantee a stress-free holiday season, but they will help you feel more equipped to combat the inevitable challenges the season brings to you and your child.

1) Set realistic expectations

It’s natural to hope your child will continue on a linear recovery path right through the holidays–after all, it should be easier with the support of family and time off from school pressures, right? Not so. The holidays can be a time laden with emotional triggers: complex family relationships, changes in normal routine, multiple social events many of which center around food & drink, and unsolicited and sometimes harmful comments (albeit generally unintended) by others. Any of these factors can elevate stress and increase anxiety. Our natural response to increased anxiety is to fall back on habitual coping mechanisms and that can sometimes mean engaging in eating disordered behaviors.

It’s important to set realistic expectations for both your child’s experience during the holidays as well as for the level of influence you’ll have over their recovery. If you hold onto unrealistic expectations, you’ll set yourself up for feelings of frustration and disappointment. Remind yourself that backsliding and feeling stuck are natural steps in the process of recovery, and are by no means reflections on your parenting.

Watch perfectionism: The holidays are a time when there can be added pressure for “everything to be perfect” and for “everyone to get along.” Use extra care in managing your expectations. Do not expect things to be magically different or for your child’s eating disorder to suddenly disappear just because it’s holiday time. Some parents may hold the false belief that their son or daughter isn’t “trying hard enough” and feel frustrated and angry by the eating disorder. This is normal but be aware when you are experiencing such reactions and keep your expectations for yourself and for your child reasonable.

2) Make a game plan together

Don’t wait until family arrives before making a holiday recovery plan with your child. Work together to anticipate stressors and see how you can best support your child’s recovery journey remembering that your child is out of routine and presented with unique challenges.

For example, if your daughter states she absolutely cannot have stuffing or dessert, consider coming to a place of compromise where there might be a “safe” stuffing or dessert alternative she’d be willing to try. Revisit recovery goals and see where your child can incorporate challenges when feeling empowered to do so.

Anticipate triggers together that might cause anxiety for your child. For example, does Uncle Bill like to comment on weight? Does cousin Jennifer always talk about her latest diet? Will overwhelming subjects such as college applications or SATs be brought up? If you are able to anticipate these situations beforehand and prepare accordingly you will be navigating less of a minefield and will be on steadier footing.

Additionally, discuss self-care: this could mean removing oneself from the environment when it all becomes too much, inviting a friend to events, or permitting a reliance on safe foods during this tenuous, vulnerable time. If your child is working with a therapist or dietitian, consider meeting with the treatment team to come up with a plan together. That way you can ensure your child is still striving toward her recovery goals, while feeling safe and supported within your relationship.

3) Communicate and Listen

Did the plan you and your daughter made to have some pumpkin pie turn into an argument that ended in tears? Did Aunt Jessie comment about how “everyone will need to go on a diet” after the holiday? Inevitably, everything will not go according to plan and you will not be able to control others’ behavior. Make sure that communication stays open and encourage your child to come to you when feeling vulnerable. Emphasizing to your son or daughter that you’re an ally in their recovery process and are asking for nothing other than openness will not only leave them feeling supported, it will help mitigate your own feelings of anxiety and helplessness.

Just listening without reacting to your own internal fears and anxieties is one of the most difficult things a parent can do. Fight the tendency to become reactive and engage in a power struggle with your child. Keep the door open and don’t build walls that block communication. Breathe, think things through and speak to others who can support you before responding at the moment.

4) Plan non-food oriented activities as an alternative to traditional holiday events

It’s evident that social & family events based on food are numerous during the holiday season. For those who are engaged in the process of recovery some of the most stressful occasions can be a meal or an event centered on food. To counter this, take the emphasis off of eating and drinking and plan a variety of different activities.

For example, make ornaments and create homemade crafts that can be given as gifts, volunteer for a local charitable organization which provides an opportunity to help others, go to the movies (there are many during the holiday season), enjoy a music concert, play board games, or plan activities with younger children such as playing in the snow or reading stories together.

Keeping the focus on pleasurable and stimulating activities and sharing time with loved ones is a reliable antidote to the power the eating disorder can reap during this period.

5) Seek your own support and practice personal self-care

Supporting a child in recovery can be a heartbreakingly depleting experience. Don’t let your own wellbeing go by the wayside while tending to your child. Speak to a therapist for professional guidance and talk regularly with your partner, a friend or loved one in whom you can confide. Attend a support group or seek online support and connect with other parents who are coping with a child with an eating disorder. It’s so important to know that you are not alone and to feel supported. Remember you won’t be able to support your child if you’re emotionally burned-out, so take time for yourself and do what recharges you.

Get plenty of rest, keep your own routines going whether that be a morning walk, a cup of coffee and some quiet time reading the paper at a local café, or practicing yoga or meditation. Carving out time for yourself is tremendously restorative and provides good role modeling for your child. Self-compassion is another vital element of self-care so think about extending the love and compassion to yourself that you normally direct to your child and to other loved ones in your life.

Finally, bask in moments of connection with your child when the eating disorder isn’t putting a wedge between you. Depending on where your child is in his or her recovery, those moments may be few and far between; so take them as the gifts that they are, and trust that with the right support 2017 will be filled with deepened connection and continued healing.

gylp75a88vuck-s81pbyxa-gcrf5q9lnmsldjw9-mlpsslo1vfxfg71_3pz4ujot_aizs-mhms7e_98zmsyh2keqdtwkfdgp9d4rvl_mv97arugjth7bjdu207v8g2-1muzzrzl1rw3vr5qy5ququws0-d-e1-ftMelainie Rogers, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and accredited supervisor in the treatment of eating disorders. She is the Founder and Executive Director of BALANCE eating disorder treatment center™ and Melainie Rogers Nutrition, LLC in Manhattan. Among her many affiliations Melainie is the founder and recent past President of the New York City Chapter of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) and currently an Advisory Board Member at the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia (CSAB). Website

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Let’s try something different this Thanksgiving! No diet or binge talk – let’s focus on gratitude instead

Hey! Here’s an idea! How about instead of talking about dieting and bingeing during this thankful holiday, we focus on gratitude!

No talk about getting stuffed or having to starve yourself for a week after Thanksgiving. No talk about “saving up” for the Thanksgiving feast and then devouring everything in sight to the point of groaning discomfort. No swapping diet techniques in between courses. No squishing your belly after the meal in disgust.

Instead, let’s talk about stuff that moves us forward. That fulfills us. That makes us happy.  That motivates us.

Let’s talk about family. Let’s talk about friends. Let’s talk about making a difference in the world. Let’s swap success stories between courses. Let’s talk about something that made us feel really good this week. Let’s talk about something that we want to do to make the world a better place next week.

Have a very, very wonderful Thanksgiving!

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

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