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Eating disorders in children: symptoms, evaluations & treatments

Eating disorders in children: symptoms, evaluations & treatments

Eating disorders are a serious problem, and children are not immune to their symptoms and complications. 9% of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and most begin in childhood or adolescence. The number of children with eating disorders has increased significantly since 2000. One study found that hospital admissions among adolescents with eating disorders more than doubled during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, eating disorders and their symptoms now occur in more children under 12 than before.

There are many reasons why an eating disorder arises in childhood. First, there are hereditable and genetic components to eating disorder development. But that genetic predisposition does not explain the massive rise in eating disorders in recent decades since our genes don’t change that quickly. 

Environmental factors play a significant role in eating disorder development. One of the biggest culprits is weight stigma. 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner, and 81% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat. This societal fear of weight gain shapes a child’s psychology around eating and growth and can easily disrupt a healthy relationship with food and the body.

Then there are psychological and family influences. For example, stress and anxiety are frequently associated with eating disorder onset, meaning a major disruption like COVID-19 naturally increased rates of eating disorders, which can become a powerful coping mechanism. How parents and families respond to eating disorder behaviors can influence treatment outcomes.

What are the common symptoms of eating disorders in children?

Eating disorders have many symptoms. Most people think that an eating disorder has a “look.” But only 6% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are medically “underweight.” Most eating disorders are not physically obvious, and the behaviors may easily fly under the radar since we live in a culture in which dieting and food restriction are considered normal.

Here are some signs that a child has an eating disorder

  • A sudden interest in calories, ingredients, fat content, carbs, and other nutritional data
  • Eating too fast or too slow
  • Secret eating or lying about eating
  • Significant weight changes that cannot be explained by natural growth
  • Over-exercise
  • Frequently checking body weight and appearance
  • Mood disruptions and mood swings 
  • Skipping meals
  • Significant changes in clothing, makeup, and appearance
  • Friendship disruptions and losses
  • A negative change in school performance
  • Behavior that is either more aggressive or withdrawn than before

Quiz: does my child have an eating disorder?

Eating disorder symptoms in kids

Eating disorders and their symptoms in children can be hard to spot, particularly if they appear in early puberty and adolescence. These are times of major body changes, and weight gain and loss can happen naturally in developmental cycles. 

This is why weight is only rarely a useful measurement of an eating disorder. Paying attention to your child’s relationship with food, weight, and exercise will give you the best indication of whether your child is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder. 

Early and comprehensive intervention is best, so don’t hesitate to consult with an eating disorder-trained registered dietitian if you are concerned.

Except in extreme cases in which weight is clearly below the standard weight trends on a BMI chart, weight can be an imperfect measure of an eating disorder. Parents should pay attention to other symptoms, including the child’s relationship with food, their weight and appearance, and how much they are exercising. 

Relationship with food: 

  • Has your child suddenly cut out meals, certain foods, or entire food categories? For example, are they skipping breakfast and lunch, no longer eating ice cream, which they loved before, becoming a vegetarian, or cutting out carbs? 
  • Does your child seem uncomfortable with food? Are they playing with their food at the table, avoiding eating it? Or are they eating very quickly and don’t appear to be savoring their food like they used to? Have they stopped eating with your family, preferring to eat alone?
  • Has your son started using dietary supplements and protein shakes? Sometimes parents miss this sign of eating disorders in boys, who may be interested in becoming both leaner and more muscular.

Relationship with weight and body image: 

  • Has your child suddenly started weighing themselves regularly? Do they seem obsessed with the number on the scale? You won’t know this if the scale is in the bathroom. Get rid of all scales in your home and see what happens. There’s no upside to having a bathroom scale since it perpetuates harmful weight stigma and eating disorder behaviors.
  • Does your child check their body in the mirror more than before? Are they pinching their flesh questioningly or disgustedly?
  • Has your child started asking you repetitive questions about their weight and appearance?
  • Is your child wearing very baggy, loose clothing to hide their shape? 

Relationship with exercise:

  • Has your child recently joined a sport like cross country running or other sports where participants tend to be very lean?
  • Is your child exercising daily when they used to exercise little or not at all?
  • If you go on vacation, is your child insistent that they must be able to exercise while you are away? 
  • Is your child exercising constantly, always wanting to be moving? Do they exercise secretly in their room?

Eating disorders in children: medical testing and diagnosis

A physical exam may include measuring weight and height and checking vital signs. Typically this includes: 

  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Temperature
  • Heart and lung function

A doctor may also check skin, nails, and teeth for problems and conduct a general physical exam. Lab tests may be used to further evaluate health, including: 

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Electrolytes
  • Protein
  • Liver, kidney, and thyroid function
  • Urinalysis

X-rays may be done to check bone density, assess for fractures or broken bones, and check for pneumonia or heart problems. Occasionally an electrocardiogram will look for heart irregularities.

Keep in mind that while Anorexia Nervosa does have a weight limit to aid diagnosis, the majority of eating disorders will not include low weight, medical complications, or any measurable physical signs. A doctor’s visit in which everything looks normal does not mean your child does not have an eating disorder. Eating disorders and their symptoms in children are a delicate subject that you want to approach thoughtfully and assertively.

Very few doctors have formal training in eating disorders. This means that while they can be useful in identifying and monitoring physical complications, they can rarely help with the behavioral symptoms of an eating disorder. If your child has medical complications as a result of their eating disorder then it’s best to find a physician who is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) or is getting consultation from someone who is. 

One of the best professionals for eating disorder diagnosis and treatment is a registered dietitian who has the CEDS certification and/or formal training in eating disorders. They are trained and qualified to identify and treat the nutritional symptoms of an eating disorder and can typically direct you to other healthcare providers who can help.

Binge-type eating disorder symptoms 

Statistically, the most common eating disorder symptom is binge eating. This includes repeatedly eating a large quantity of food in a short period. Most people who binge eat report an altered state in which they feel numb or unaware of what they are doing. It is also important to know that most people who binge eat go through cycles of restriction first. If binge eating is part of your child’s diagnosis, make sure their treatment addresses food restriction first. Without changing the patterns of restriction, it’s unlikely that treatment for binge eating will be successful.

Restrictive-type eating disorder symptoms

Most eating disorders involve some form of restriction. This means your child intentionally avoids eating even when they are hungry or even starving. Most people who restrict feel strong and powerful when they overcome the physical sensation of hunger and skip a meal or eat less than they would have before the eating disorder. However, ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is an eating disorder in which the person is not restricting for weight loss purposes but rather eats less due to sensory complications with food, eating, and digestion.

Purge-type eating disorder symptoms

Bulimia features purge behaviors, but all eating disorders may involve some form of purging. Common forms of purging include vomiting and laxative use. Most people who purge begin doing it to rid their bodies of food that they believe is “too much.” They believe they will gain weight if they don’t purge. However, over time, purging can become a powerful form of self-soothing, and it isn’t necessarily tied to weight loss. 

Exercise-based eating disorder symptoms

Many eating disorders involve some form of over-exercise. Most people begin a new exercise program to slim down and eliminate calories consumed. They believe that if they exercise enough every day, they will avoid weight gain and lose weight. Often exercise becomes compulsive, and it will be hard for your child to stop doing it for any reason. Some people with eating disorders will exercise in their bedrooms and in secret to achieve the fitness goals they have set for themselves.

Body image eating disorder symptoms

Most people who have eating disorders (except for ARFID) feel bad about their bodies. They believe their bodies don’t appear healthy or good and pursue weight loss and exercise programs to try and shape their body into what they believe they should look like. In girls, this typically means weight loss. In boys, it may look similar or involve a desire to be both lean and muscular.

Combined type symptoms

Most eating disorders evolve in children, so you often see a combination of symptoms. Bulimia is the most multi-faceted eating disorder, as it features all symptoms (though not always exercise). But even a person who has typical anorexia may sometimes binge eat or purge. During diagnosis, your child’s most pressing symptoms will be evaluated to develop the best label for treatment and insurance reimbursement.

Eating disorders in children: how a diagnosis is made

People who can diagnose an eating disorder include: 

  • Medical doctor
  • Registered dietitian
  • Psychotherapist 
  • Psychiatrist

It is best to find a professional who has received formal training in eating disorder diagnosis and treatment. Look for a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). One of the easiest and best ways to get a diagnosis for an eating disorder is by a Registered Dietitian who has the CEDS credential. They are more common and easier to access than a physician with that credential.


Eating disorders in children: how treatment is prescribed

Treatment is prescribed based on the diagnosis, specific behaviors observed, and the severity of the health outcomes. Depending on the situation, your child may be recommended to one of the following treatment options: 

  • Hospitalization 
  • Residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Personal treatment team: doctor, RD, therapist, and psychiatrist if needed

I strongly recommend finding professionals who explicitly embrace a non-diet, Health at Every Size® (HAES®) approach. In my experience, weight-neutral care, in which the provider is not using weight as the most important indicator of health, is essential to full eating disorder recovery.

See our directory of HAES®-aligned providers

In almost all cases, parental and family engagement will vastly improve treatment outcomes. There is strong evidence for Family Based Treatment (FBT) when weight gain is necessary. Family therapy and parent coaching are very helpful in supporting parents who want to optimize their child’s chance of full recovery.

Eating disorder or disordered eating?

Many parents will wonder if their child truly has an eating disorder or disordered eating. This typically doesn’t happen with classic cases of anorexia which include weight criteria. All other eating disorders do not have weight criteria and therefore leave more room for debate. 

I encourage you not to worry about the exact diagnosis. Many people who have disordered eating will move on to a full-blown eating disorder, and even if they don’t, they can live their lives with a sub-clinical but severely life-limiting problem. 

The bottom line is that if your child’s eating behaviors, relationship with food, feelings about weight and their body, and the way they exercise are disordered, then you want to treat those problems quickly and assertively.

Full recovery and a healthy, full life are possible for 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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When your child gets violent during eating disorder recovery

When your child uses violence during eating disorder recovery

Sometimes when a child has an eating disorder they may get aggressive and even violent with family members. This is a deeply upsetting situation for parents. It’s especially hard when parents are already worn out from months or even years of caring for a child who has an eating disorder.

The first thing to know is that getting angry, aggressive, and even physically violent are known symptoms that can accompany an eating disorder. They have been studied and observed in anorexia and bulimia. The most common symptoms are verbal and physical aggression against relatives and others who are close.

The most likely reason for the aggression is that it is a natural response to fear and anxiety. The two most common responses to fear are fight and flight. Fight typically looks like aggression and violence. It is often a signal that a person is experiencing extreme fear and anxiety.

Getting violent during eating disorder recovery can make sense through this lens. Anxiety often underlies and drives maladaptive coping behaviors. It makes sense, and it needs to stop. 

emotional regulation

What it feels like

When a child gets physically violent during eating disorder recovery, parents can feel shocked, overwhelmed, and afraid. There’s so much shame and stigma around kids hurting their parents, and it’s rarely spoken about. 

Violent behavior can happen during eating disorder recovery, but it’s also not acceptable. And there are no conditions under which a parent should accept violence. Additionally, your child’s violence is a symptom of extreme emotional distress. This means that ignoring it or pretending it’s not happening is dangerous for both your child and you.

Often it feels like the only possible responses to violence are to fight back, endure/ignore the violence, or call the police. Fighting back rarely ends well for anyone. And it can add to the shame involved for both parent and the child. And enduring or ignoring violence is unacceptable and, like fighting back, is dangerous for both the child and the parent.

The other response, calling the police, is something you may need to do at some point in the future. But most parents want to avoid that. And there are some steps between doing what you’re doing right now and calling the police.

How to prevent and handle violence

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent and respond to violent behavior during eating disorder recovery and keep yourself and your child safe:

1. How you respond

The most common response to violent outbursts is to fight back with some form of physical or verbal wrestling. However, this rarely defuses the emotional tension that drives a person to a violent outburst. Fighting back is ineffective and often makes the outburst worse.

Violent outbursts are usually the result of extreme emotional disruption. And while it may feel as if it comes out of nowhere, there are usually patterns and signs that a violent outburst is coming. 

Before a violent outburst, your child will show symptoms of emotional dysregulation. These may include shifty eyes, tense body posture, pacing, or loud voice. Some kids will signal their dysregulation by swearing or name-calling.

Parents should be aware of the signs of patterns that signal a violent outburst is building and take steps to try and soothe their child’s nervous system as soon as possible. Here are some ways to avoid and/or get through aggressive and violent behavior when your child has an eating disorder:

Manage your own emotional dysregulation

Possibly the hardest thing to do when your child is getting aggressive and violent is to maintain your own emotional regulation. But if you are not emotionally regulated then your child will have a very hard time becoming regulated in your presence.

Work with a professional coach, therapist, or guide who can help you identify your common forms of emotional dysregulation and learn to regulate yourself with self-compassion and mindfulness.

If at any point during an aggressive confrontation you notice yourself becoming dysregulated, try to calm yourself. But if you can’t, take a break. Don’t blame your child for this by saying something like “You’re out of control so I’m leaving!” Instead, tell your child “I’m very upset right now so I’m going to take a break.” Then leave. Give yourself at least 20 minutes, which is how long it typically takes to soothe your nervous system.

Always come back to your child and talk about what happened. Leaving is not a problem, but if you leave without talking about it later, that will put your relationship at risk.

Label and mirror their feelings

An essential emotional regulation skill is to label and mirror your child’s feelings. This is a way of soothing your child. This is because it shows that you are attuned to them and accept their feelings as valid and real. This step alone can transform your relationship with your child. This may not work if your child is already at the point of violence. But it can be used very effectively in the moments leading up to violence and may even prevent it.

Labeling is when you name your child’s feelings. You could say something like “I can see how angry you feel right now. You’re pacing and look agitated.” This video about the concept “name it to tame it” might be helpful:

Mirroring is when you repeat about three of your child’s words back to them. For example, if your child says “you never listen to me and you’re always telling me what to do!” You could mirror back something like “it feels like I don’t listen to you.” If your child says “you can’t make me do it if I don’t want to!” You could mirror back “you don’t want to.”

When mirroring your tone of voice matters just as much, and maybe more, than the words you say. Use what Chris Voss in his book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It calls the “late-night DJ voice.” Imitate the voice of a late-night DJ: slow, steady, and soothing. With this voice, you comfort both your child’s and your own nervous system. It taps into your shared neurobiology to soothe and reassure. It communicates: we can handle this.


If your child does not calm down and moves aggressively towards you, calmly narrate what is happening in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. You could say things like:

  • I sense how furious you feel, but it’s not OK to push me. I’m confident we can get through this without pushing.
  • I can see that you are very angry, but I will not allow you to hit me, so I’m going to leave now. I’ll come back in about 20 minutes and we can try again.
  • I understand that this is making you feel very upset, and you get to feel that way, but I’m not OK with you threatening me. Let’s sit here together and I know we can get through it.

These statements do the same thing:

  • Label the child’s feelings and name the inappropriate behavior
  • Set a clear boundary
  • Show confidence that you can handle it

Your child may not like it when you do this, but that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.

Keep your narration short, simple, and factual. Don’t editorialize or debate what you’re saying with your child. Use the “late-night DJ voice” and keep your voice calm and regulated.

Don’t debate

One key in responding to anger is to not engage in debates with it. You will never win a debate when a person is in extreme emotional dysregulation. Most parents believe there must be a perfect verbal response to violence that will stop it. They think that other parents have figured it out and are doing better than them. But that’s simply not the case. 

Eli Lebowitz, author of Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety suggests you focus not on debating but on simply getting through or getting out of the moment.

“Parents are not expected to be able to manage the disruptive situation, and instead focus on getting through it. Their only role while the child is acting in the disruptive manner is to ensure physical safety and resist being drawn into the interaction.”  – Eli Lebowitz & Haim Ober, Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety

The passage continues with this advice: “remain silent, or state in a quiet way that the behavior is unacceptable. If necessary, parents should attempt to distance themselves from the child in order to minimize the potential for escalation.”

Follow up

Once everyone has calmed down, talk about what happened. Begin by telling your child that you know they are a good kid who was having a hard time. Tell them you are going to work with them on this because even though you know how angry they get, you know that they can handle their anger without getting violent.

Violence must be named clearly and in a detailed but non-emotional manner. Avoid pointing fingers, blaming, or criticizing. Think of yourself as a dispassionate reporter. State what you observed during the violent episode. 

Don’t ask questions like “What were you thinking?” or say things like “How dare you!” Because these will shut the conversation down or escalate another outburst. They will not be useful in preventing future violence. Maintain your own emotional regulation.

Talk through what you did in response to their outburst, and why. For example, if you narrated what was going on, tell them you did that because it’s important to name feelings and behaviors. If you left the room, tell them you needed to do that because violence is not acceptable.

If you did something that you regret, like wrestle with them verbally or physically, take responsibility for that and apologize for it without defending yourself. “When you approached me with your fist raised, I pushed you away. I’m sorry for doing that, as I have no intention of wrestling with you.” Or “When you called me that name, I cursed at you. I’m sorry for doing that, as I have no intention of swearing at you.”

You will likely need to follow all of these steps consistently a few times before you see a change in behavior.  

2. Write a letter

A written letter is a way to make clear your beliefs and what you intend to do in response to violence. It is a way to formally escalate your attempt to solve this problem and make it clear to your child that you take it seriously.

The letter I’m describing here and the next section about calling in supporters is largely based on a treatment called SPACE developed and scientifically tested by Eli Lebowitz and his colleagues. The process is much more extensive than what I’ve written in this article. If this sounds like something that may help you, please consider reading his books, Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety.

I have a treatment program for parents that teaches SPACE.

Lebowitz suggests printing this letter and giving it to your child, then reading it aloud. He also says that even if your child’s response is to put their fingers in their ears and rip the letter into pieces, it has still sent a meaningful signal to your child that you are serious about ending the violence. 

The goals of the letter are to clearly define the specific problem of physical violence and say exactly what will happen in response. This makes clear exactly what is happening and escalates the situation in your child’s mind.

One of the biggest problems with physical violence and intimidation is that families don’t talk about it. This letter states clearly what the behavior is and how the parents are going to respond from now on. 

There is a very important thing that the letter does not do. It does not tell the child what they need to do differently. This is strategic and by design. Lebowitz says that the parents need to take responsibility for what the parent will do and how they will respond, but they should not tell the child what they should do, as this will be perceived as criticism and blaming, no matter how carefully done.

Here is a sample letter: 

August, we love you very much and know how hard you have been working over the past year. We know you have been struggling to control your anger, and we’ve also noticed that lately, you have become violent with Mom. For example, on Friday when she asked you to take out the trash you called her names, cursed, pushed her, and scratched her face with your fingernails.

This has been really scary for all of us, and we know it’s a sign that you’re really struggling. We also know that you are a strong person and that you can manage your anger even when it feels so big and out of control.

We’ve been trying to ignore that this is happening and not talking about it with you, but we realize that by doing this, we’ve not actually been helping you to manage your anger. Now that we understand this, we’ve decided to make a change so that we can help you better.

We want you to know that we recognize that your behavior is because of how you’re feeling. It’s not a sign of a flaw in your character or personality. We believe in you, and we know that if we work on this together it will get better.

From now on, when your anger gets to the level of physical violence and intimidation (such as getting too close, waving your arms around, hitting, slapping, scratching, biting, or pinching), Mom is not going to argue with you, talk you down, or try to hold your arms at your sides. Instead, she’s going to tell you what she sees and what she’s going to do. Then she will walk into our bedroom and lock the door until she feels it is safe to come out.

We know that this will be hard for you, but we also know that you can handle it.

If this happens, the three of us will talk about exactly what violent behaviors Mom observed in detail. It is important to us that we specifically discuss violence and don’t keep any secrets about it even when we know that you are not intending to hurt your mom. 

We know you have been working really hard on your mental health, and we believe this is an important way that we can help you get better.

Love, Mom and Dad

3. Bring in supporters

If your child continues to physically threaten and attack you, then it’s time to enlist help from your community. This may feel like an extreme response, but it’s much less extreme and often more effective than calling the police. 

This is based on the strength of our social and community relationships. We are social beings, and the thought of someone outside the family witnessing the child’s violence can help end unacceptable patterns of violence. When done with support and love, bringing in supporters can make a huge difference.

“The role of supporters is not to shame children or embarrass them but rather to rally round the children, giving them the message ‘We all care about you, believe in you, and are going to help you.’” – Eli Lebowitz & Haim Ober, Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety

Make a list of people in your family and community who might be able to help you. You are looking for people who have high levels of compassion and a good relationship with your child. Possible options include grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends and family, sports coaches, teachers, school psychologists, guidance counselors, your child’s eating disorder treatment team, and others. 

Lebowitz suggests a list of 5-10 supporters, at least some of whom are in your physical community. Then reach out to them and explain the reason for your request.


Your request:

August has been really struggling with anger, and sometimes he gets violent with me. We are working really hard on this, and we’re reaching out to see if you’d be willing to lend a hand sometimes. We’ve been told that violence thrives in secret, but that bringing in supportive others from our community can help end it. I guess this is what they mean when they say “it takes a village!”

The first thing I’m asking you to do is call, text, or talk to August and tell him that he is important to you, that you care about him, and you understand he is working hard. However, you are aware that he is sometimes getting violent with me. Say you feel strongly that violence is a problem, and you support us (his parents) in this issue. If you’d like, you may offer to help such as being available by text or phone to support him.

Next, I’d like to tell you each time there is an incidence of physical violence. This will be embarrassing for all of us, but it’s important that we stay honest about what is going on. If this happens, I would like you to contact August and tell him you are aware of the violence. As before, please begin by telling him you care about him and believe in him. However, you are aware of what happened and that his behavior is unacceptable. If you’d like, you may offer to help such as being available by text or phone to support him.

Finally, I’ll also let you know when things are going well. This part will be much more fun, as you could reach out to August and let him know you’re proud of him. If you’d like, you could offer to do something fun with him to celebrate.

Telling your child about supporters

Once you have contacted your supporters, tell your child what you have done. You can say something like “August, your violent behavior has been escalating, so we have decided to get some community support. We have contacted [list the names] and told them about what’s going on. They’re going to contact you in the next few days, and we will also tell them each time you get violent with us.”

Your child will not like that you have told outsiders about their violent behavior. Be unwavering in your belief that this is the best approach, as your next option is calling the police, which is really a last resort. Don’t debate why you did this, who you chose, or whether it’s a terrible idea. Stay firm in your conviction that this is the right thing to do.

“Any objection on the part of the child to this step should be met with a simple statement: ‘When you act in a violent way, we will not keep that a secret.’ Parents should adamantly avoid any further discussion of this point.” – Eli Lebowitz & Haim Ober, Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety

When things get violent during eating disorder recovery

This article is designed to give you ideas about how to handle violent and aggressive behavior during eating disorder recovery. As I mentioned, there are two excellent books that describe these concepts in much greater detail: Breaking Free of Childhood Anxiety and Treating Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety.

If your child is getting violent while they are in recovery from an eating disorder, then I encourage you to seek professional support for yourself as you navigate this difficult situation. You will likely need it, and you definitely deserve support. You will also be more effective if you have someone who can help you weather this storm.

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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Affirmations for eating with an eating disorder

Affirmations for eating with an eating disorder

Eating can be really hard when you have an eating disorder, but affirmations can help. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, which means that we need to change our thoughts and beliefs in order to recover. This is where affirmations come in. Affirmations can help us replace our disordered thoughts with healthy thoughts. Over time, this can change the pattern of our thinking and support recovery.

Common thoughts and beliefs that drive eating disorders are:

  • If I eat too much I’ll feel sick and/or gain weight
  • I can’t eat food/carbs/sugar etc.
  • Exercise is required to “burn off” food calories
  • There are some foods that are good and some that are bad
  • I can’t trust my body to make healthy choices for me
  • I’m not hungry
  • That’s too much food for me right now

These thoughts all make sense because we live in diet culture, which perpetuates them all the time. But we can overcome these false beliefs and thoughts with affirmations that counteract the eating disorder thoughts and lead us towards health and recovery.

Having an eating disorder can make it really hard to eat regularly and trust your body to be healthy. Recovery doesn’t happen with affirmations alone, but parents can support recovery by teaching their kids eating disorder recovery affirmations. Here are nine affirmations you can teach your child who has an eating disorder:

1. My body needs food every day no matter what I do

My body needs food. And it’s not just that I need food when I exercise. I need food even if all I do all day is sit on the couch. My brain, lungs, heart, and every organ in my body need food every single day just to exist. My body needs me to eat food every day. Food is the best, most essential, and healthy thing my body needs.

2. All foods are good foods

Even though there is a lot of misleading information about food out there, I know that all foods are good foods. Unless it’s moldy or expired, all food is clean. It’s not better to eat a salad instead of a burger if what I really want is a burger. What I eat should be based on what my body wants and needs, not what someone else has told me is “healthy” or “good.” Right now I need to trust my dietitian and my parents to help me make the right choices for my body. Over time, I’ll learn to listen to my body, which will guide me to eat exactly what I need every day. 

3. I can be afraid to eat and choose to eat anyway

Eating is scary for me right now. It makes sense – I mean, I have an eating disorder! But just because I’m afraid to eat doesn’t mean that I won’t eat. From now on I’m going to feel my fear and eat anyway. Trying to get rid of my fear will never work, but showing my fear that I can eat even when I’m afraid of it will help me feel stronger every day. Fear gets to exist in my mind, but I will not allow it to drive my decisions or put my health at risk.

4. I never need to burn off my food with exercise

My mind thinks that every time I eat, I need to work it off with exercise. And that thought keeps coming up for me, but I know it’s not true. Exercise is healthy as long as it’s not being used as a punishment or way to purge what I’ve eaten. Right now I need to take a break from exercising while I recover, but that doesn’t mean I need to eat less because I’m not exercising. I can’t wait until I’m exercising before I eat more food. That’s just not how bodies work. Exercise is not the price we pay for eating.

5. My body is perfectly capable of digesting food

A lot of times I feel as if I won’t be able to handle the food I eat. I worry that I’ll gain weight, that I’ll vomit, that I’ll feel nauseous, and that I’ve eaten the wrong thing or too much. All of these worries show up in my head, but that’s OK. I’m still going to eat with the knowledge that my body can digest so many things. Sure, if my doctor has diagnosed an allergy I won’t eat those things, but otherwise, I’m going to follow my dietitian’s and parents’ advice about what to eat and how much.

6. I can’t really trust my hunger and fullness cues right now, but I will if I keep eating

Right now my hunger and fullness cues are all over the place. With my eating disorder, I put my mind in charge of my body, and it’s kind of messed with my body’s natural signals. But that’s OK. I know that if I keep practicing and eating what my dietitian and parents tell me is good for me then I will slowly rebuild my brain-body connection. Over time, I’ll relearn how to listen to my body and will be able to eat intuitively, without fear, and according to my appetite.

7. My body does not need to be oppressed to be good enough

For whatever reason, I decided that my mind needs to take control of what my body needed. I’ve been treating my body’s signals like they’re naughty children who need to be dominated and controlled. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve become a dictator, an oppressor! I want to treat my body with the respect and dignity it deserves. My body is strong and wants me to be healthy. My body doesn’t need to be a certain weight or shape to be good enough. It’s already good enough. Over time I will learn to listen to my body, but right now I’m going to stop oppressing it with food rules.

8. Counting calories may feel safe to me right now, but it’s not a healthy way to live

I’ve become a master of calorie counting. It happens automatically for me every time I eat or think about food. But this catalog of calorie counts is not making me healthier. It’s part of my eating disorder. Every time I start to count calories I’m going to ask my brain to stop doing that. I mean, I understand that my brain thinks counting calories will keep me safe, but I’m not buying it anymore.

9. Just because I don’t want to eat doesn’t mean I shouldn’t eat

Right now it makes sense that I don’t want to eat most of the time – I have an eating disorder! And eating has become a huge hassle and drama in my life. But I know that if I eat what and when I’m supposed to, I’ll recover from this eating disorder and won’t need to force myself anymore. So I’m going to keep remembering that even though I don’t want to eat most of the time, I’m going to do it anyway. My body really needs food, and I’m tired of my eating disorder hurting my health and controlling my life.

These affirmations should help your child gain confidence in eating disorder recovery. Recovery takes time, but repeating these affirmations supports the process of building new beliefs and thoughts. 

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 handle doctor’s appointments with an eating disorder

How to handle doctor's appointments with an eating disorder

Often you need to make various types of doctor’s appointments during eating disorder recovery. Sometimes they are related to the eating disorder, sometimes not. Either way, doctor’s appointments can be very stressful when you have an eating disorder. So how do you handle it if you need to take your child who has an eating disorder to the doctor?

While doctors are driven to care for their patients, many are unfamiliar with the complexities of eating disorders. I don’t believe doctors mean harm to their patients. However, I do know doctors can accidentally cause harm by saying and doing things that encourage the eating disorder.

How doctors can go wrong with eating disorders

Here are some things that may accidentally happen during doctor’s appointments that can exacerbate an eating disorder: 

1. Automatic weigh-ins

Most doctor’s offices do an automatic weigh-in. However, this can be triggering for a person who is in eating disorder treatment and recovery. Seeing, hearing, or otherwise encountering weight gain can spark a desire to lose weight. Also, finding out about weight loss may provide a “rush” of success and entrench eating disorder behaviors even deeper. It’s common practice to avoid sharing weight information with a person who has an active eating disorder and/or is in recovery. Many people who have fully recovered from their eating disorder continue to avoid automatic weigh-ins due to their triggering nature. In a surprising number of cases, weight is not required to provide healthcare.

2. Talk about weight

Unless your child’s doctor is trained in eating disorders, they may accidentally make unhelpful comments about your child’s weight. In some cases, they may be dismissive of weight. Doctors may suggest that a child who is in weight recovery is “fine” and doesn’t need to gain more weight. Or they may become concerned if the weight recovery goal is higher than they think it should be. There are a lot of landmines when it comes to talking about weight with a person who has an eating disorder. Eating disorder recovery specialists are trained to handle the nuance of talking about weight, but most other people, including doctors, will, unfortunately, make mistakes.

✨Check out our “Don’t Talk About My Child’s Weight” cards✨

3. Talking about food as good/bad or suggesting more/less

Doctors often try to make helpful suggestions about eating. They may discuss food in terms of “healthy” and “unhealthy” choices. They may also ask about how many servings of dairy, vegetables, or other nutrients your child is consuming. While understandable, this sort of talk can be very triggering for a person in eating disorder recovery. Similarly, casual comments about eating more or less can be upsetting for a person in eating disorder recovery. Remember that while doctors are very knowledgeable about bodies and physiology, they have limited training in eating disorders and mental health. They really want their patients to be healthy. But the impact of uninformed food and diet talk can be disruptive to the process of eating disorder recovery.

4. Dismiss your concerns

Some parents bring their children to a doctor to help them diagnose and validate concerns about an eating disorder. But this can, unfortunately, backfire. Few doctors are qualified or comfortable enough to make a non-weight-based diagnosis. In other words, unless your child is at a level of medical underweight that they require hospitalization, a doctor may not recognize their eating disorder symptoms as serious. Except in specific cases, your child’s doctor may not be the best person to diagnose your child. But they can often participate in treatment in other ways. It’s just important to know what to expect. You want to avoid being in a situation in which your child’s doctor dismisses your belief that they have an eating disorder in front of your child. 

A note for parents who have an adult child: I recognize that much of this advice will not be applicable to your situation. Most adult children do not bring a parent to the doctor with them. Hopefully, this article will at least give you some ideas of things you can talk to your child about before and after they see a doctor so you can help them avoid dangerous situations and/or process them if they do occur.

How to prepare for a doctor’s appointment with an eating disorder

First, unless your doctor is specifically trained in eating disorders, you should expect to do some level of appointment preparation and management. While doctors want to care for their patients, they receive very little training about eating disorders and mental health in medical school. 

Any mistakes they make are most likely coming from the best intentions. But the outcome of any mistakes can nonetheless be serious. 

Here’s how to prepare for a doctors appointment if your child has an eating disorder:

1. Set realistic expectations

Recognize that without special training, your child’s doctor is not an expert in the treatment of eating disorders. This means that while you can of course consult the doctor for your child’s health, they may not be the best person to make a diagnosis and support you through recovery. Unless you are seeing a specialist, the best people to guide your child’s treatment will likely be a team of a psychologist and a dietitian, with possibly a psychiatrist and a parent coach. This team may ask you to get your doctor involved in checkups, but it’s unlikely that they will expect your doctor to provide guidance and care when it comes to actually treating and managing the eating disorder. 


2. Know what you’re asking for

It’s best if you’re clear about your intention for the visit. Are you looking for a general checkup? Or maybe you’re going in for something unrelated to the eating disorder like a sprained ankle or sore throat. On the other hand, you may be taking your child in for blood work and weight to assist their treatment team. Know what you are looking for, and if it’s not an appointment that is specifically designed to support your child’s eating disorder treatment team, you can let the doctor do what they’re best at, like treat that sprained ankle or sore throat, without talking too much about the eating disorder. I’m not saying you can’t talk about it, but it’s best to be clear about the purpose of your visit. Remember that visits are typically 10-15 minutes long, so it’s helpful to have a clear purpose in mind before you begin. 

3. Ask for accommodations

If your doctor’s appointments are specifically about your child’s eating disorder, then ask your child’s treatment team to either contact the doctor directly or assist you in how best to approach the appointment. If the appointment is not about the eating disorder, then you can do the following:

  • Ask that your child not be weighed or, if it’s required, to be blind weighed, making sure the weight does not appear on post-visit paperwork
  • Ask the doctor not to talk about your child’s weight during the visit. If they have any questions, direct them to you or your child’s treatment team
  • Ask the doctor not to talk about food and eating during the visit. If they have any questions, direct them to you or your child’s treatment team 

4. Anticipate stress and discomfort

Going to the doctor when you have an eating disorder is typically an emotionally stressful experience. Most people who have eating disorders are highly concerned with their health and also suffer from anxiety. It’s best if you can anticipate their stress and spend time before the appointment helping them to feel safe and connected with you. This pre-work will go a long way to supporting your child’s experience at the doctor and avoiding major trigger events. If you need some help, check out this eBook on emotional regulation.

emotional regulation

During doctors appointments with an eating disorder

During doctor’s appointments, you can advocate for your child who has an eating disorder by making sure that if weight is taken, it is not shown, discussed, or printed on aftercare materials. Additionally, you can intervene if the doctor begins a discussion of weight or “healthy” food and eating. 

If your child’s doctor is doing an assessment for your treatment team, obviously the eating disorder will be a topic of discussion. Just keep a close eye on it and try to guide the doctor if you feel they are getting into dangerous territory. Remember that you know your child best right now, and it’s OK to intervene if necessary.

Additionally, if your visit is not related to the eating disorder, you can keep the visit on-topic. While your child’s doctor should know they have an eating disorder, as long as they are getting treatment, it’s OK for the visit to focus on the sprained ankle or whatever you came in for.

Most importantly, try to keep your own emotional state regulated during the appointment. Remember that your emotional state impacts how your child feels, so do some work in advance and during the appointment to stay as regulated as possible. If you or your child becomes emotionally dysregulated during the visit, be sure to do some after-care to get you both into balance. Seek to reconnect and coregulate as soon as you can.

You can do this!

Navigating the health system when there’s an eating disorder can be really challenging. Doctor’s visits should be safe and healthy, but it’s best to prepare and remain vigilant to optimize your child’s experience given where they are right now. 

We have been trained to defer to doctors at all times, and they certainly deserve our respect. However, your first priority is your child’s recovery. You know what your child can and can’t tolerate right now, and it’s OK to speak up and politely redirect a doctor if needed.

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

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

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What are eating disorders anyway?

What are eating disorders anyway?

Eating disorder definitions are typically clinical and boring, but the truth is that eating disorders are complex and multi-layered. The people who develop eating disorders are worthy of so much compassion and love. I hope this article brings some color to the conversation and helps you understand eating disorders more clearly.

I’m sharing all my knowledge of decades living with an eating disorder and several years in full recovery. I’ve built on my own experience with many years spent researching and studying eating disorders. And I’ve also interviewed hundreds of professionals who treat eating disorders, people who have eating disorders, and parents who have kids with eating disorders.

From my perspective, the information currently available about eating disorders is clinical, dispassionate, and biased. These rigid clinical diagnoses and behavioral descriptions of eating disorders keep us locked in place. We miss the larger truth of why eating disorders occur and what comprehensive treatment looks like.

What follows is a wholehearted description of how I see eating disorders right now. This is personal but also factual. I’m not going to give you a boring, dispassionate account of the technicalities of eating disorders. Rather, this is an attempt to share the human reasons we suffer. And, hopefully, how we can find our way to recovery.

Remember that each eating disorder is unique. Therefore, this article is just one lens through which to view eating disorders.

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a set of beliefs and behaviors that disrupt a person’s relationship with food and their body. It is a mental disorder that includes obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors, including*:

Body Thoughts:

  • I need to weigh less and eat less
  • If I control my weight/body I will be good
  • There are good and bad foods
  • People who eat/weigh too much are bad
  • If I don’t control my weight/body I’m bad

Eating Behaviors:

  • Eating too little/too much
  • Purging
  • Compulsive exercise
  • Measuring/counting food
  • Following a strict food plan
  • Banning major food staples (e.g. carbs, fat, meat)
  • Ignoring physical signs of hunger/fullness
  • Lying about and hiding disordered food behaviors

*These beliefs and behaviors apply to most eating disorders except ARFID

We live in a disordered eating culture. Therefore, sometimes I think the best way to define an eating disorder is to define the opposite. So here’s my definition of a non-disordered approach to eating and weight:

Someone who does not have an eating disorder believes their body is fine as it is. They trust their hunger and fullness cues. And they follow their appetite rather than a set of rules about what to eat, how much to eat, etc. While they don’t necessarily “love” their body, they accept it and treat it with respect. They pursue their own individual health holistically (body & mind) without weight goals or expectations.

Who gets eating disorders?

The common belief is that eating disorders impact white, wealthy teenage girls. However, we know that eating disorders impact people of all ages, genders, race, and socioeconomic status. Our stereotypes about what eating disorders look like make it harder for both professionals and parents to recognize an eating disorder. 

Eating disorders don’t have a single “look.” They may look like a: 

  • 45-year-old Asian mother who has a successful career and three children. She gains and loses weight each year with the enthusiastic support of everyone around her. Her eating disorder hides in plain sight.
  • 16-year old white girl who is a vegetarian, gets straight-A’s, does cross-country running, and is medically underweight. Her doctor has told her she can’t run with the team, so she runs in circles around her bedroom.
  • 28-year old Black mother who is food insecure. She struggles to feed her two young children and herself. She is plus-sized and feels constant pressure to lose weight. 
  • 34-year-old white man who can’t miss a single day of going to the gym. He rarely eats anything other than plain oatmeal, protein shakes, and steamed chicken with vegetables. His rigid lifestyle gives him little time to socialize, and he refuses to meet friends at restaurants.
  • 12-year-old Hispanic boy who has autism and has fallen off his growth curve for both height and weight. The list of foods he will eat keeps shrinking, and he’s currently only accepting chicken nuggets from McDonald’s and baby carrots.
  • 67-year old white grandmother who maintains her age-24 figure. Her email signature includes “I’m one stomach flu away from my goal weight.” She tells her granddaughters her diet secrets regularly.
  • 14-year-old Indian girl who has always been on the chubby side. She learned to purge last year and though it hasn’t helped her lose weight, she can’t stop.

Eating disorders vary, and there is no standard “look.” It’s important that we expand our understanding of eating disorders so we can adequately diagnose and treat everyone who is suffering.

Read more about racism and eating disorders.

What causes eating disorders?

A combination of biological, psychological, and social factors contribute to eating disorder development. 


  • Genes appear to play a role in eating disorder development. There is not a single gene recognized as the cause of eating disorders. But there are numerous genes that researchers have identified as common among people who develop mental disorders. This may explain why eating disorders typically show up alongside other disorders like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc.
  • Epigenetics is a sort of code that triggers genetic activity. A person may have the genes that underlie mental disorders. But researchers agree that genes alone don’t cause mental disorders. Epigenetic triggers come from environmental conditions beginning in utero. They can even pass through generations in a family. It appears that epigenetics can be shaped by trauma, abuse, and neglect (physical and emotional).
  • Neuroception is a body-based sensation of being either safe or unsafe. Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, neuroception means that neural circuits in the body distinguish safety or threat and cue the body to respond physiologically, emotionally, and cognitively. When neuroception senses emotional and physical threats, the body responds with a state of fight, flight, freeze, or shutdown. This impacts every aspect of the physical and emotional experience of being alive. A person who has an eating disorder is often living in a heightened state of threat, sensing danger in their body and mind and seeking comfort and safety in their eating disorder behaviors.


  • Anxiety is a common partner to eating disorders. Since it can be hard to spot, it may be helpful to know what anxiety looks like. In its more active form it looks like perfectionism, people-pleasing, and codependency. In its less active form it may look like procrastination, avoidance, and withdrawal. Other signs include chronic shame, stress, and worry.
  • Emotional regulation skills are likely protective against eating disorders. Emotional regulation is something children learn from parents beginning in infancy and extending through early adulthood. When adequately developed over time, a person becomes able to self-regulate. Sometimes we miss emotional developmental milestones. When this happens, a person will have trouble self-soothing and responding appropriately to everyday stress and disruption.
  • A person who has an eating disorder may believe that their identity – who they are – is based primarily on what they look like and what they do. This belief can lead a person to try and “perform goodness.” When this happens, a false self takes over and the true self is hidden in shame and unworthiness. This can happen when a family and/or society teaches a person that they need to change who they are and how they behave to be loved. Healing takes place when the true self is allowed to emerge and be loved as-is.
  • Mental disorders often appear in clusters, and eating disorders are part of a larger psychological ecosystem. Disorders that commonly show up with eating disorders are autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidality, self-harm, substance abuse, and obsessive compulsive disorder. These disorders should be addressed holistically. Otherwise, an eating disorder may fail to recede, morph into something else, or return after treatment.


  • Families are a child’s first social group. And family norms and structure shape how a child feels about themselves and the world. Families don’t cause eating disorders. However, family beliefs and behaviors about emotions and bodies can contribute to an eating disorder. For example, many parents are not aware of the role of emotional co-regulation. Therefore their kids may miss emotional developmental milestones. Additionally, many families accidentally enforce and encourage disordered eating. Therefore they may pass along harmful messages about food and bodies based on their own cultural training.
  • There is a strong connection between diet culture and weight stigma and eating disorders. These two conditions lay the groundwork for the thoughts and behaviors that comprise an eating disorder. Diet culture is founded in the belief that bodies can and should be weight-controlled using food restriction and exercise. Weight stigma is discriminatory acts and beliefs against people who live in larger bodies. Diet culture and weight stigma are pervasive in our culture. And they are likely the driver behind increasing rates of eating disorders in the United States. Since the BMI levels were arbitrarily lowered in 1998, the weight loss industry has grown dramatically. In 1985 the U.S. weight loss industry was valued at $10 billion in annual revenue, but today it is worth at least $72 billion.

As a culture we assume weight loss is a personal goal, but it is in fact a money-making industry.

Read about the non-diet approach to health.

  • Cultural group oppression:
    • There is evidence that people who are not heterosexual and/or cis-gender are at higher risk of eating disorders. LGBTQ+ people are chronically oppressed in our culture. And self-repression is often required to maintain physical and emotional safety in a hostile culture.
    • While eating disorders can impact anyone, females are at higher risk than males. The most likely reason for this is the cultural oppression of females in a patriarchal, male-dominated culture. The chronic objectification of the female body leads women to self-objectify. Then they naturally fall into unhealthy pursuit of the “thin ideal” or “wellness culture.”
    • People of color are much less likely to receive a diagnosis for an eating disorder. But they are at least as likely (if not more likely) to have symptoms. The trauma of living as a person of color in a white-dominant culture likely contributes to eating disorders.

Most eating disorder treatment fails to address the social aspects of the disorder. The focus is on eradicating the behaviors of the eating disorder and “fixing” the person with the disorder. But in fact we have social problems that drive and sustain eating disorders. I believe we must address the social aspects of eating disorders in order to reduce the number of eating disorders and improve treatment outcomes.

Why do people get eating disorders?

There are so many factors that contribute to eating disorders. One way to view them is as coping mechanisms. I believe eating disorders develop in response to unmanaged stress and emotional dysregulation. In our culture, stress is chronic, and many people are raised without adequate emotional regulation development. Thus, coping behaviors become essential to function within our high-pressure society. Eating disorders join shopping, gambling, gaming, sex, using drugs and alcohol, and other addictions, compulsions, and obsessions as a way to cope with life. 

An eating disorder is just another way to numb a person from the pain of being human in our society. Dieting* is constantly prescribed and weight loss is celebrated. Thus, an eating disorder often begins with a well-intentioned plan to feel better and meet societal goals. There are many false and misleading health claims associated with diet plans and weight loss. And these actively promote eating disorder beliefs and behaviors. 

While not everyone who diets will develop an eating disorder, almost all eating disorders** begin with a diet. 

*defined as any effort to lose/control weight using food and/or exercise 

**with the exception of ARFID 


What are the most common types of eating disorders?

According to research published by Hay et. al. in 2017, the rates of eating disorders are as follows:

47% OSFED. The most common eating disorder is a catch-all category called other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). This category includes a mix of eating disorder behaviors.

22% BED. The second most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder. This often involves a restrict-binge cycle in which a person restricts food and then binge eats. 

19% Bulimia. This often involves a restrict-binge-purge cycle. A person restricts consuming calories for an extended period of time. Next, they eat and then seek to purge the calories consumed with vomiting, laxative use, and/or over-exercise.

8% Anorexia. This is characterized primarily by restriction and being medically underweight. It is the only mental disorder that has a BMI requirement for diagnosis.

5% ARFID. The only eating disorder that is not technically associated with a desire to lose weight. ARFID typically involves restricting food and appears to be due to sensory and emotional drivers.

While these categories may be helpful, it’s important to remember that all eating disorders are mental disorders. This means that regardless of the specific behaviors, effective treatment must get beneath the behaviors to address the underlying thoughts, beliefs, and emotional dysregulation that drives them.

A path forward

This description of eating disorders hopefully adds some flavor and nuance to what you’ve seen elsewhere. But of course each eating disorder is unique. And I can’t possibly capture the vast nature of these complex mental disorders in a single article. I hope that if you have an eating disorder, you get help and find your path to healing.

And if you love someone who has an eating disorder, please remember that there is a lot you can do to help recovery. Eating disorders are so much more than a personal problem, which means loved ones can make a significant impact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to tell family members about anorexia

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

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

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

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

Family letter: about anorexia

Dear Family,

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

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

Here’s what we’d like you to know:

Eating disorders are an illness, not a choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid comments like:

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

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

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

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

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

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


What to say to me

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

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

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

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

We want to talk about other things

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

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

Love, Jordan

How to send a letter to family about anorexia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s not easy to get a diagnosis or be treated for an eating disorder

The problems with an eating disorder diagnosis

Getting diagnosed and treated for an eating disorder can be a problem. In our series to help parents understand eating disorders, we take a look at how the diagnosis of an eating disorder can be a challenge. This article is a great companion to the free eBook, What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders. Please feel free to get a copy.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you have probably been told that eating disorders are “complicated.” So what does that mean, and why are eating disorders considered so complicated? More importantly, how can parents help? This is Part 4 of a series about eating disorders. These four elements combine to create the complexity of eating disorders. They are:

In this article, we’ll untangle the fourth element, the eating disorder diagnosis. And we’ll take a look at how having an eating disorder diagnosis can create challenges. These are mainly due to a lack of education and understanding as well as limited care and insurance reimbursement. I’ll also provide some tips for parents who want to help their child recover.

How an eating disorder diagnosis can be a problem

There are three reasons the eating disorder diagnosis can be a problem:

  1. Misunderstood: lots of people think of eating disorders as based on vanity and having a certain “look”
  2. Low education: few people, from parents to educators and healthcare professionals, will have training in recognizing and treating eating disorders
  3. Specialized care needed: eating disorders often require multiple care providers, including medical, psychological, and nutritional

An eating disorder is not like having a physical diagnosis like a broken arm or cancer. First, many people will never receive a diagnosis. This is because we tend to misunderstand eating disorders and assume eating disorders are based on low weight. Therefore, if a child doesn’t have low weight, few people will recognize the eating disorder. Without a diagnosis, the eating disorder can dig in and become more entrenched with time. Then, once an eating disorder is diagnosed, it requires multiple care providers. These providers may or may not work together, and it can be expensive and confusing to navigate the system.

1. Misunderstood: lots of people think of eating disorders as based on vanity and having a certain “look”

Eating disorders are misunderstood. They have been portrayed as conditions that affect only young, white girls. And they are almost always presented as looking like low-weight anorexia. But low-weight anorexia is actually the least common eating disorder. And eating disorders affect people of all genders, races, and socio-economic levels.

The media presents eating disorders as primarily based on vanity or achieving a certain appearance. They are called “silly” and even “ridiculous.” Meanwhile, binge eating disorder is presented as a “food addiction” and even “gluttonous.” Bulimia is rarely presented at all because it’s generally considered shameful, even “disgusting.”

But eating disorders look almost nothing like their media presentations, and no eating disorder is a choice. It’s a serious mental disorder built on distorted thoughts and beliefs. Behavior is the symptom, not the cause.

Tips for Parents: You can help your child by learning about what eating disorders are, and what they are not. Explore your biases and assumptions about what it means to have a child who has an eating disorder. Recognize that anyone can develop an eating disorder. And weight is not the only factor to measure in terms of diagnosis and recovery.

Additionally, know that another misunderstanding about eating disorders is that the parent did something to cause it. You did not. No parent can cause an eating disorder. It’s going to make parenting even harder if you blame yourself. And I assure you that even if you made mistakes, you’re not to blame. Keep learning, and stay curious, but don’t blame yourself.

2. Low education: few people, from parents to educators and healthcare professionals, will have training in recognizing and treating eating disorders

Eating disorders are not rare, and yet there is little education and understanding about eating disorders. Part of the problem is that we have a social stigma against eating disorders, so we don’t talk about them. Medical doctors and therapists rarely receive adequate training in eating disorder diagnosis. A few hours is the norm. Teachers and coaches are seldom trained to recognize eating disorders.

This means that aside from very obvious symptoms (mainly low body weight), eating disorders can be easily missed.

Tips for Parents: Begin with yourself. Learn as much as you can about eating disorders in general and your child’s particular eating disorder. You may need to advocate for your child and protect them from biases. Some parents even say they need to fight to get their child diagnosed and treated.

For instance, you want to keep an eye out for athletic coaches who inadvertently dismiss and even encourage your child’s eating disorder behaviors. Also look for family members who encourage weight loss or food-shame. And know that therapists and doctors can miss eating disorders. All of these people mean well, but low education means that parents need to stay alert to possible mistakes.

Parents often find themselves trying to educate people about their child’s condition. This includes family members, teachers, coaches, and even healthcare providers. Parents often need to advocate for and defend their children even as they are still learning about eating disorders themselves. The lack of widespread education about eating disorders makes the diagnosis a lot harder for everyone.

3. Specialized care needed: eating disorders often require multiple care providers, including medical, psychological, and nutritional

Finally, eating disorders often require a team treatment approach. Your child may need a doctor, therapist, and dietitian. They may need to attend inpatient and/or outpatient care for a while. Unfortunately, eating disorders aren’t typically well reimbursed. Often the cost of paying for care falls on parents. This all adds up to a significant burden.

Tips for Parents: Your child needs specialized care. There are often limitations in terms of geography, access, and financial restraints. You may have to fight for insurance reimbursement. There’s not a lot of advice here other than do the best you can. If you’re able to find providers who specialize in eating disorders, that’s ideal. If at all possible, extend treatment for as long as possible. But my most important tip here is to have self-compassion for yourself. This part of care is really hard.

In other words, parents need to be vigilant with insurance providers and care providers. Unfortunately it’s necessary to work hard to ensure a child gets the best care possible. However, this comes at a cost. Parents’ emotional labor during a child’s eating disorder is significant. Therefore, consider how you can care for yourself and get care from others while you navigate your child’s disorder.


Getting help

The eating disorder diagnosis is often a problem because of the misunderstanding and stigma associated with it. It helps if you can learn about eating disorders and help your child recover. This takes effort. I hope you are able to counterbalance the work involved in supporting your child with support and care for yourself, too.

If your child has an eating disorder, you can help them recover. Parents can make a tremendous impact on recovery. So please get support to help you navigate this process. If at all possible, see a therapist or coach to help.

Books to help

These books can help you understand the eating disorder diagnosis a bit more.

Famished: Eating Disorders and Failed Care in America, by Rebecca J. Lester

An inside view of the complexities of eating disorder treatment.

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling, by Anita A. Johnston PhD.

Illuminating the nature of eating disorders.

Free eBook: What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders

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.

Posted on 5 Comments

Does society cause eating disorders?

Does society cause eating disorders?

In our series to help parents understand eating disorders, we take a look at how society can contribute to, and even cause, eating disorder development. This article is a great companion to the free eBook, What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders. Please feel free to get a copy.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you have probably been told that eating disorders are “complicated.” So what does that mean, and why are eating disorders considered so complicated? More importantly, how can parents help? In this four-part series (this is Part 3 – check back for more later) we review the four elements that are linked to eating disorder development. These elements combine to create the complexity of eating disorders. They are:

  1. Genes, Personality & Experiences
  2. Family Dynamics
  3. Societal Norms & Beliefs
  4. Eating Disorder Diagnosis

In this article, we’ll untangle the third element, societal norms and beliefs. And we’ll take a look at how society can impact, shape, and even cause eating disorders. We’ll also provide some tips for parents who want to help their child recover.

The societal norms and beliefs linked to eating disorder development

The five major societal norms and beliefs that are associated with eating disorder development are:

  1. Sexism: women are expected to be small, and men are expected to be strong
  2. Beauty standards: <5% of the population meets current beauty standards
  3. Thin ideal: thin bodies are considered “healthier” and “better” than larger bodies
  4. Diet culture: believing that all bodies can be thin and those that aren’t are doing something wrong

Our society drives unhealthy body norms and beliefs. These norms and beliefs have a significant impact on eating disorders. Think about it this way: if I’m feeling bad about my life in general, that is overwhelming and I don’t know how to solve the problem. But if I feel bad about my body, I feel as if I have control over that. I’ve been taught that if I eat right and exercise enough I can limit my risk of disease, ridicule, and unhappiness. I can increase my chances of success in this society. So of course it makes perfect sense for me to put my negative feelings and thoughts into my body, which I think I can control, rather than elsewhere.

1. Sexism: women are expected to be small, and men are expected to be strong

Eating disorders are intertwined with sexism. First, they primarily affect women, although eating disorders in men are steeply rising. And all genders suffer from the stereotypes that drive sexism. The belief that women must be small and men must be big set us up for the belief that our appearance is vital to who we are.

Tips for Parents: Take a look at your assumptions about gender. All of us make assumptions, and they were taught to us by our families, peers, and the media. But luckily we can overturn generational sexism and improve our child’s ability to live confidently.

Talk to your child about society’s beliefs and expectations of girls and women. It’s OK if you learn about this together. Start investigating whether you assume women should be small and delicate. Explore whether you prefer women to keep their voice soft, avoid being angry, and jump to take care of other people before themselves. These are deep and powerful social norms, so give yourself time to learn new beliefs and behaviors about a “woman’s place” in our society.

Also, explore society’s assumptions about boys and men. How do you feel about men being vulnerable, afraid, and sad? Talk about how we pressure girls to stay small while we praise boys to grow “big and strong.” Masculinity can trap boys and men as much as it puts women and girls in rigid gender roles.

2. Beauty standards: <5% of the population meets the current beauty standard

Our culture’s beauty standards are so rigid that fewer than 5% of people meet them naturally. Social media has embedded these standards deep into our kids’ brains. Beauty standards can drive a person to believe that if they meet the standards they will be successful, happy, and loved.

Tips for Parents: Beauty standards are perpetuated by advertising and media in order to sell products. Most of us learned what it means to be beautiful and accepted at home, school, and even the grocery store where we see magazine covers featuring striking cover models.

Consider how you have interpreted beauty standards. What standards are you holding yourself to, and why? Many beauty standards keep us pursuing goals and ideals that are simply out of reach. How do your beliefs about what is beautiful impact your daily life?

Talk to your child about beauty standards. A great vehicle for this is social media. Look at social media and consider that the algorithm prefers slender, conventionally attractive bodies. We know that social media contributes to body shame. So talk about how social media makes your child feel. Don’t threaten to take it away (which could cause serious panic!) instead use it as a vehicle for having conversations about cultural beauty standards.

3. Thin ideal: thin bodies are considered “healthier” and “better” than larger bodies

The thin ideal is the belief that thin bodies are healthier and better than larger bodies. This ideal is perpetuated in almost every arena of life, from homes to schools and doctor’s offices. It impacts all of us by making us believe that being thin is a sign of health. But health is not based on BMI, and the pursuit of thin can lead to eating disorders.

Tips for Parents: There’s a really good chance that you grew up in a household that perpetuated the thin ideal – most of us do! The thin ideal is rooted so deeply in our culture that most people don’t recognize it.

One of the best things you can do is learn about the science of Health at Every Size®. This approaches health from a weight-neutral perspective. In fact, it demonstrates that the thin ideal is a greater risk to our health than high weight.

Your child’s recovery may mean they gain weight, and it almost always means they need to let go of their belief that thinner is better. So if you learn that thin is not a requirement for health, it will help set the foundation for their recovery.

4. Diet culture: believing that all bodies can be thin and those that aren’t are doing something wrong.

Diet culture perpetuates the idea that all bodies can and should lose weight, and that it is healthy to intentionally lose weight. However, 95% of people who intentionally lose weight regain the weight, and 65% of them gain more. And unfortunately, people who diet are 15x more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Tips for Parents: The diet industry has been exploding for the past 30 years and is currently at $72 billion. It has driven the belief that all of us can and should lose weight to be healthier, happier, and more attractive. But it can really help to educate yourself about the diet industry and the culture it has created.

The fact is that 95% of diets fail. And dieting itself is unhealthy and sets us up for weight gain. Are you a lifetime dieter? It’s OK if you have dieted or tried to control your weight in the past. Most of us do! But it will really help your child recover if you can let go of diet culture and learn to accept your body. I’m not saying this is easy – it’s not! But it will definitely help.


Getting help

Society is a contributor, even a cause of eating disorders. The more you can identify and understand areas where you can counterbalance social messages, the better your chances of helping your child recover. This is hard because so much of society’s messages are hidden and hard to find within ourselves. but learning about societal untruths can help you create an environment that fosters recovery.

If your child has an eating disorder, you can help them recover. Parents can make a tremendous impact on recovery. So please get support to help you navigate this process. If at all possible, see a therapist or coach to help.

Books to help

These books can help you understand society’s messages about food and body and challenge some of the assumptions we make about health.

Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.

An extremely popular method used to treat and prevent eating disorders.

The body is not an apology

The Body Is Not an Apology, Second Edition: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor

A radical and loving approach to having a body.

Free eBook: What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders

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.

Posted on 5 Comments

How family dynamics impact eating disorder development

How family dynamics impact eating disorder development

In our series to help parents understand eating disorders, we take a look at how family dynamics impact eating disorder development. This article is a great companion to the free eBook, What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders. Please feel free to get a copy.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you have probably been told that eating disorders are “complicated.” So what does that mean, and why are eating disorders considered so complicated? More importantly, how can parents help? In this four-part series (this is Part 2) we review the four elements that are linked to eating disorder development. These elements combine to create the complexity of eating disorders. They are:

  1. Genes, Personality & Experiences
  2. Family Dynamics
  3. Societal Norms & Beliefs
  4. Eating Disorder Diagnosis

In this article we’ll untangle the second element, family dynamics. And we’ll take a look at how they impact and shape eating disorders. We’ll also provide some tips for parents who want to help their child recover. I encourage you to reflect on your own family dynamics and think about how they may have contributed to your child’s eating disorder. This is absolutely not coming from a place of blame, but in pursuit of understanding.

The family dynamics linked to eating disorder development

The five major family dynamics that are associated with eating disorder development are:

  1. Low emotional literacy: don’t talk about feelings and emotions
  2. Conflict avoidance: ignore or avoid difficult conversations, walk on eggshells
  3. Poor boundaries: have trouble setting and maintaining clear interpersonal boundaries; the child may over- or under-perform for the sake of the parent
  4. Rigid and controlling: parent demands discipline and respect
  5. Chaotic: there is little structure and parent has low authority in the home

This cannot be overstated: parents are not ever responsible for a child’s eating disorder. It’s important to note that there are four major factors that appear to contribute to eating disorder development, and family dynamics are just one. Parents are neither responsible for eating disorder development nor in control of recovery. But they can make a significant impact on a child’s chances of recovery if they work to improve family dynamics and optimize the healing environment.

1. Low emotional literacy: don’t talk about feelings and emotions

There is evidence that families that have low emotional literacy or don’t talk about feelings and emotions may be more likely to have a child with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are often viewed as emotional coping mechanisms that a child adopts in order to process feelings and emotions.

Tips for Parents: Build your family’s emotional literacy. This means intentionally talking about how you feel. It will take practice and consistency to build up your vocabulary and comfort with emotions. Start by trying to describe and truly feel your own feelings at least once per day. Use words beyond just sad, mad, afraid, or happy. Next, ask your kid(s) how they feel. Ask them to describe and sit with their feeling. Make this a daily practice and it will become easier and more natural.

2. Conflict avoidance: ignore or avoid difficult conversations, walk on eggshells

Conflict avoidance is commonly associated with family dynamics that may encourage eating disorder development. This is a way for the family to avoid talking about feelings and emotions by avoiding them entirely.

Tips for Parents: Start by noticing when you avoid conflict. Do you feel irritated when your partner loads the dishwasher, but instead of saying something, you just fix it? Pay attention to how many times during the day you have a feeling or opinion and shove it down to keep the peace. Next, start to clearly and calmly tell people how you feel. In the dishwasher example, you could say, “John, it would mean a lot to me if you would load the dishwasher like this.” Similarly, if you suspect your partner is upset with you about something, say “John, it seems like you’re frustrated about something. Can we talk about it?” The more you address conflict directly, the fewer eggshells will exist in your home. And if you start with yourself, the results will feel organic and are less likely to be resisted by your child(ren)

3. Poor boundaries: have trouble setting and maintaining clear interpersonal boundaries; the child may over- or under-perform for the sake of the parent

Families that have poor boundaries may raise kids who either over- or under-perform for the sake of the parent. These children may be “parentified” in that they feel they need to take on a parental role. Or they may be enmeshed with the parent and have trouble knowing where they end and the parent begins.

Clear interpersonal boundaries arise when each person in the family feels both strong as an individual and linked to the group. But in many family systems, boundaries become blurred. This is often because the parent(s) did not grow up in families that had good boundaries. Family patterns, especially dysfunctional ones, get passed down unless they are intentionally interrupted.

Tips for Parents: Work with a therapist or coach who can help you learn healthy boundaries. This will improve your life in every aspect, and will benefit everyone in your family. As you learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries, your child who has an eating disorder will feel released from significant pressure they may have been feeling in the relationship.

4. Rigid and controlling: parent demands discipline and respect

There are two completely different parenting styles often associated with eating disorders. On the one end are rigid and controlling parents who demand discipline and respect from their children. These parents believe that children should conform to the parents’ will. They tend to minimize, ignore, or be unaware of the child’s needs.

A rigid and controlling parent tends to make children feel they don’t have a voice. As a result, they will often rebel by using dangerous behaviors. One of the greatest rebellions for children of all ages is eating or not eating to show displeasure. Feeding our children is the very first thing we do for them, and hunger is their first impetus for communication. So when a child has an eating disorder, it may be a sign that they have something to say to a parent.

Tips for Parents: Take a deep look at how you may be trying to control your child. Now take steps to stop trying to control your child through criticism and restriction. Get help, since this will be a major adjustment for you.

5. Chaotic: there is little structure and the parent has low authority in the home

On the opposite side of the spectrum are parents who tend to be chaotic. These parents impose little structure and feel they have no control over their children. The challenge is that when a parent has low authority the child feels unsafe and insecure.

Tips for Parents: If you feel your children control you or you just don’t have the energy or interest in setting limits, then take some time to learn how you can claim some authority in the home. This will take time and practice, and it’s best if you get professional support to examine why this became your parenting style and get the help you need to turn it around.

Getting help

Family dynamics are a contributor to eating disorders. The more you can identify and understand how your family dynamics are affecting your child, the better your chances of helping them recover. This is hard, deep work, but it is the area in which parents can have the greatest impact. Parents who work on themselves and their family dynamics are more likely to create an environment that fosters recovery.

If your child has an eating disorder, you may think they are the only one who needs help. But make no mistake: eating disorders impact the whole family. And parents can make a tremendous impact on recovery. So please get support to help you navigate this process. If at all possible, see a therapist or coach to help.


Books to help

These books can help you understand your child’s personality and learn how to manage it more effectively during and beyond eating disorder recovery.

The Power of Showing Up

The Power of Showing Up, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Helps you understand the nurturing role of parents and how it supports mental and physical health.

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld

Learn how parents can maintain authority in kids’ lives and improve their mental health.

Free eBook: What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders

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.

Posted on 4 Comments

7 genetic, personality & experiential factors linked to eating disorders

7 genetic, personality & experiences linked to eating disorders

In our series to help parents understand eating disorders, we take a look at how genes, personality, and experiences impact their development. This article is a great companion to the free eBook, What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders. Please feel free to get a copy.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you have probably been told that eating disorders are “complicated.” So what does that mean, and why are eating disorders considered so complicated? More importantly, how can parents help? In this four-part series (this is Part 1 – check back for more later) we review the four elements that are linked to eating disorder development. These elements combine to create the complexity of eating disorders. They are:

  1. Genes, Personality & Experiences
  2. Family Dynamics
  3. Societal Norms & Beliefs
  4. Eating Disorder Diagnosis

In this article we’ll untangle the first element, genes, personality, and experiences. And we’ll take a look at how they impact and shape eating disorders. We’ll also provide some tips for parents who want to help their child recover. I encourage you to reflect on your child’s life history and think about how these aspects of their life and personality may have combined to encourage an eating disorder.

The individual personality traits and genetic factors linked to eating disorders

The seven major genetic, personality, and experience factors that impact eating disorders are:

  1. Sensitive temperament: highly sensitive to noise, taste, touch, and more
  2. Perfectionistic: strives to do well and be the best, critical, hates mistakes
  3. Adverse experiences: divorce, trauma, surgery, accident, and more
  4. Mental disorder: anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, ASD, and more
  5. Low self-worth: difficulty seeing self as valuable and worthy
  6. Genetics: inborn traits, a relative who has/had an eating disorder
  7. Marginalized identities: impacts of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.

As you probably know, parents cannot control whether and how their child recovers from an eating disorder. The only thing we can do is learn as much as possible and develop our own skills and self-knowledge so that we can help (not hurt) the process. By understanding how personality, genes, and experiences are linked to eating disorders, we can optimize our child’s chances of recovery.

1. Sensitive temperament: highly sensitive to noise, taste, touch, and more

Each person who has an eating disorder has a unique combination of factors that contribute to the disorder. For example, there is evidence that people who develop eating disorders tend to have highly sensitive personalities. This inborn temperament means they are more reactive to outside stimuli. Perhaps you have noticed they are quick to startle or hard to soothe. Maybe they refuse to wear “itchy” clothing or hate malls because they are too loud.

Tips for Parents: Consider how you can reduce stimulation, especially before, during, and after meals. Avoid pushing your child into environments that are highly stimulating. When you sense that your child is over-stimulated, help them regulate by soothing and calming them verbally, or just sit quietly next to them and take some deep breaths. If you can regulate your own nervous system, your child’s nervous system will automatically become more regulated.

2. Perfectionistic: strives to do well and be the best, critical, hates mistakes

It’s common to see perfectionistic tendencies in people who have eating disorders. For example, you may notice they hate to get a bad grade, miss a shot in soccer, or have a messy room. Perfectionistic qualities make someone highly self-critical and you may also notice they are also critical of others, especially their parents.

Tips for Parents: Help your child talk through their perfectionism. If you sense they are being self-critical, remind them that mistakes are absolutely OK. Avoid telling them what to do and how to do things, which can trigger perfectionism. Instead, focus on soothing their fear of mistakes. If they become critical of you, remind them that you make mistakes, and can always apologize for something if needed. But don’t apologize for the very fact that you make mistakes. Mistakes are normal, human, and healthy.

3. Adverse experiences: divorce, trauma, surgery, accidents, and more

Adverse experiences can take many forms, and they can create a foundation for eating disorders. It’s not the experience itself that is the problem – lots of people have adverse experiences and are fine. Adverse experiences become a problem when they aren’t managed and processed adequately.

Tips for Parents: Seek to define and understand your child’s adverse experiences. But don’t do this by asking them lots of questions, which could be triggering. Instead, recreate the event in your mind and consider how it might have felt for your child. Ask your child’s therapist to evaluate whether the event(s) may be impacting their eating disorder. If your child is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that will need to be treated in addition to the eating disorder.

4. Mental disorder: anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, ASD, and more

Eating disorders often co-exist with other mental disorders. These may or may not be diagnosed and treated. If your child has an eating disorder, it’s well worth considering whether they may have another disorder that could be interacting with their symptoms.

Tips for Parents: Recognize that many of these disorders are under-diagnosed and under-treated. If you suspect your child may have one of them, ask your child’s therapist whether there is anything they recommend. Meanwhile, keep a log of any events and behaviors that you feel may indicate that your child is on the spectrum for one of these other disorders. While your child’s current therapist may prioritize the eating disorder at this point in treatment, your notes may be helpful once the eating disorder symptoms are reduced.

5. Low self-worth: difficulty seeing self as valuable and worthy

Many people who have eating disorders struggle with self-worth. They do not see themselves as inherently worthy and pursue achievements and activity in an attempt to overcome what they see as a lack in themselves.

Tips for Parents: Find ways to reinforce the idea that your child is valuable and worthy of your love no matter what they do. This needs to be explicitly stated often and sincerely. For example, they are worthy regardless of their grades, their performance in sports, their body weight, how and what they eat, etc. Your child needs to know that you will love them even if they gain weight or eat “unhealthy” food. They will likely struggle with self-worth long after their eating disorder symptoms have reduced, so keep this up!

6. Genetics: inborn traits, typically a relative who has/had an eating disorder

There is evidence that there can be a genetic predisposition to eating disorders. This is most often identified when another family member also has/had an eating disorder.

Tips for Parents: Look back at your family tree and consider whether anyone in your family had or has an eating disorder or disordered eating. This may include an obvious case such as an aunt who was treated for Anorexia. But it could also include your brother who eats a very limited, rigid diet and exercises obsessively. Or your mother who was on one diet after another her whole life. Remember that your male relatives are almost as likely to have disordered eating and exercise patterns as your female relatives. Finally, consider your own relationship with eating and body image.

7. Marginalized identities

It’s important to note that there are special considerations for people who have marginalized identities based on race, gender identity, sexual identity, disability, (high) weight, etc. Someone who has a marginalized identity is at higher risk of eating disorders and also tends to have a hard time within the traditional eating disorder treatment paradigm, which is primarily oriented towards people who are white, thin, female, heterosexual, cisgender, etc.

Tips for Parents: If your child is in a marginalized identity, it is especially important that you pay attention to how their identity has shaped their experiences and personality. If at all possible, seek treatment that specifically identifies an understanding of your child’s marginalized identity.

Getting help

Personality, genes, and experiences are all linked to eating disorders, and your child will need help understanding them to recover. Therefore, parents can help kids recover by becoming aware of how these factors combine within their child to create an eating-disorder-friendly environment. The more you understand them, the better able you will be to support your child through recovery.

If your child has an eating disorder, you may think they are the only one who needs help. But make no mistake: eating disorders impact the whole family. And parents can make a tremendous impact on recovery. So please get support to help you navigate this process. If at all possible, see a therapist or coach to help.


Books to Help

These books can help you understand your child’s personality and learn how to manage it more effectively during and beyond eating disorder recovery.

Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, by Lisa Damour

Helps you understand stress and anxiety, which are commonly intertwined with Eating Disorders.

the highly sensitive child

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When The World Overwhelms Them, by Elaine N. Aron Ph.D

Explains the temperament most often associated with eating disorders.

Free eBook: What Kids Want Parents to Know About Eating Disorders

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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When your college student gets an eating disorder

When your college student gets an eating disorder

If your college student has an eating disorder it can be disorienting and terrifying. Eating disorders are most often diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 21 years of age. So it’s not uncommon to find out about them in college.

One of the biggest challenges with college-onset eating disorders is that your child is now a young adult. They often don’t live with you anymore, and even if they do, you cannot force them into medical treatment. Nor can you access their medical records without their written consent.

Some college students will gladly sign paperwork. They will allow their parents to help them with an eating disorder. But others will resist. Either way, parents often feel left out, confused, and frustrated. So what can parents do?

The first thing is to recognize that your child’s eating disorder is serious. It’s not a passing trend or something to be taken lightly. At the same time, recovery will require your child to be engaged and determined in the process. This is when things can get hard.

Often people who are inside of an eating disorder aren’t convinced that they want to recover. It’s quite normal to feel unsure about whether recovery is necessary or worth it. And even if they do want to recover, college activities can compete with recovery. Social and school activities often feel more urgent and important than dealing with an eating disorder.


When you find out your college student has an eating disorder

How you find out that your college student has an eating disorder can make a difference in how you proceed.

If your child has come to you with news that they have an eating disorder, ask about their diagnosis. Congratulate and thank them for being proactive about seeking support, and assure them that you are proud of their bravery. Avoid throwing doubt on the diagnosis or questioning the person who made the diagnosis. For right now, try to keep communication open by asking questions in a positive, respectful tone.

If your child has not been formally diagnosed but has shared that they believe they may have a problem, then support them in seeking help. Let them know that it is courageous to seek help for mental health, and ask how you can support them. In a perfect world, it would be best to seek a diagnosis from a trained eating disorder professional. However, if that’s not an option, the campus health center should be able to help. Most colleges provide both physical and mental healthcare services. Encourage your child to seek care as soon as possible.

If your child has not spoken to you about having an eating disorder but you are seeing signs or have suspicions, you need to tread very carefully. Begin by opening conversations about their general mental health. Ask them how they are coping with the stress of college. Avoid directly challenging them about the way they are eating or their weight. Get them talking to you about stress, then see if you can find out how they are feeling about eating. Let them know that stress can disrupt appetite and eating, and ask whether they think they need any help.

How to respond if your college student has an eating disorder

It’s very likely that your first instinct is to travel to your child’s campus to help. Of course it makes sense that if they are having a health crisis, you should be there. But here again you need to be thoughtful about how you can make the greatest impact.

Eating disorders tend to slip and slide away when directly attacked. So if your child sounds as if they really don’t want you physically there, you may need to get creative about how you can help from afar.

Of course you should be responsive if your child has asked for your physical presence. In that case, go! But in many cases college students don’t want that.

Luckily, there are lots of things parents can do. Even if you aren’t physically with your child or able to access their medical data, you can still help your college student recover from an eating disorder.

Learn about eating disorders

It’s important for you to learn as much as you can about eating disorders. Although they are relatively common and on the rise in our culture, there is a lot of misinformation about eating disorders. Most people imagine an eating disorder only impacts women and looks like anorexia. But those cases constitute just 10% of eating disorders.

The most common eating disorders are binge eating disorder, bulimia, orthorexia, and a category called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). With the exception of anorexia, eating disorders are not diagnosed based on body weight. People with eating disorders may be in small, medium, large, or extra-large bodies. And all genders (not just women) get eating disorders.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses. That means the diagnosis criteria is not about weight, but the degree of mental distress.

Eating disorders are maladaptive coping mechanisms that we employ to help us process uncomfortable emotional states. This means they have a reason and a purpose. It may seem like recovery is about learning to eat properly. But in fact recovery from an eating disorder is more about finding out why we need the eating disorder. Once we get to the core issue and treat it, the eating disorder behaviors become unnecessary. This is why eating disorder recovery can be a long, winding path.

Eating disorder treatment options

It’s normal to automatically assume that the treatment for an eating disorder is an inpatient recovery center. And while that might be helpful for some people, many people recover without going to a facility.

If your child is medically unstable and has been hospitalized, then it is likely they will be recommended to inpatient treatment. In many other cases, the treatment path is less concrete. This is especially true for non-anorexia diagnoses.

Begin by asking your college student what the healthcare professionals recommend in terms of treatment. If they’ve been to the health center on campus, did the doctor, nurse, or therapist recommend a certain treatment? It’s important to take those recommendations seriously and let your child tell you how they feel about them.

You can recommend additional diagnosis, but try to allow your child to feel as if they have a part in the decision. Remember that recovery requires their emotional investment, so it can backfire if you try to force your opinions or attempt to control the situation.

Many people recover from eating disorders with a combination of medical monitoring, therapy, and nutritional counseling. It’s ideal to have people who have a speciality in eating disorders. Unfortunately, most health professionals have limited training and experience in eating disorders beyond anorexia. This is why it’s best to find a specialist if at all possible.

At the very least, you should encourage your child to be in therapy.


Build belonging and emotional safety

People who have eating disorders generally suffer from a sense of low self-worth. This means they don’t see themselves as valuable, and often feel “outside” or “other.”

So an important thing for parents to do is build belonging and safety. You want to remind your child that they are valuable to you and build a sense of emotional safety. Even if you are a single parent to a single child, you can build a sense of family and belonging. Families don’t need to be large to be powerful.

Schedule check-ins when you can talk and physically be together as much as possible. Send care packages, letters, and other reminders that you care. Talk about your shared history and look at photos together. But don’t take the lead. Ask your child to reflect their life story to you. Be prepared. They may have a very different vision of how their childhood was. They may have some pain to share with you. This is normal.

A person who has an eating disorder has a story to tell. And it may be painful for you to hear. But sharing their story and being loved even when they feel bad is very healing. Your acceptance of their life story, without trying to change what they believe happened, will go a long way.

Lots of people who have eating disorders have traumatic injuries. In some cases these may be situations in which they were abused, bullied, or harmed. But trauma also occurs when a child goes through a medical emergency, has a family member die, or parents who divorce. Children can even experience trauma when a new sibling is born or other disruptions that are perfectly normal but disrupt the child’s life. There are many situations that are interpreted as traumatic by the human brain. So if your child brings you traumatic memories, accept them and hold them in safety.

Say this not that

It’s hard for a lot of parents to know what to say. And the options are endless. But here are a few things that parents say to kids and a revised version that is more accepting and safe.

Instead of saying: I just don’t get the problem!

Say: Please help me understand your eating disorder. I’d like to know more.

Instead of saying: you need to get over this!

Say: I know this is hard right now. Tell me what’s working – what makes you feel better when you feel bad?

Instead of saying: you need to stop with the binges!

Say: what’s going on for you when you eat? What are you thinking and feeling? I want to understand.

Instead of saying: you’re going to have to figure this out!

Say: I know you are going to figure this out, but it takes time. It’s OK to be patient with yourself.

Instead of saying: it’s going to be fine!

Say: I know how hard this is for you right now. I’m here for you.

Encourage them to be social

Loneliness and social isolation are significant problems for all people. They underlie many mental and physical health complications, including eating disorders. Going to college is a major life transition, and our kids may need help navigating the social systems on campus.

Your child may or may not like their roommates. Your child may have found a few friends, or even many friends. But if your college student has an eating disorder, you want to be aware of their social life. Lots of people who have eating disorders pull in on themselves and become less social.

Try to help them find social activities, even if it’s just meeting one person for coffee or a walk. Or they may join a formal social activity or club. This can help them build deeper interpersonal connections and a stronger sense of belonging and purpose.

Talk to your child about options, which range from on-campus clubs, teams and programs, to off-campus volunteer opportunities. Even a low-stress job can be grounding and provide a sense of social connection and purpose for a child.

Remember: it’s a mental disorder

The hardest thing to keep in mind is that an eating disorder is a mental disorder. So the treatment may seem like just teaching them to eat food like a “normal person.” But true healing comes from belonging and self-worth.

Learning to support your child’s mental health when they are away at college is a significant challenge. But it’s very doable. Your kid doesn’t need to live in your house for you to positively impact their recovery.

It can feel very hard for parents to support a college student with an eating disorder, but you can do it!

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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Mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+

Mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+

In this article, Janette Valenzo shares her eating disorder story and provides mental health resources for BIPOC and LGBTQ+. This article is also available in Spanish.

When I was asked to write this personal story, I was happy to help shed some light on eating disorders and how my Latinidad played a crucial role in the development of my health and recovery. But I quickly realized this would be the first time I am admitting on a public forum that I had an eating disorder. It’s terrifying. But I hope by the end you understand why I am choosing to share my story and these resources with you. My name is Janette Valenzo, I am a first-generation Mexican-American, and I have a history of bulimia, anorexia, and orthorexia.

Recently I put together mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+. Doing this helped ground me in my recovery and keep me focused on my own health. Sometimes when we help others, we help ourselves. Here’s my story.

Growing up Latina

Growing up, I was surrounded by the most gorgeous diverse bodies in South Los Angeles. My own body never came into question until my family moved to the suburbs. There I was surrounded by a majority of skinny white girls.

This was around the time puberty hit and my hips expanded, my stomach gained more rolls, and I became conscious of the space I took up.

My mom in her best attempts to make me feel beautifully special would say things like “It’s just how your body is.” It would sound really nice, but also contradictory when she and mis tías would also call me “gordita.” This is a term of endearment in the Mexican culture but it translates to “fatty.” What kid wants to hear that? What kid could possibly believe her body was beautifully special after being told fat in English did not mean beautiful?

So I stopped eating, hoping I could change my body. 

I stopped eating

Skinny did not come easy. And no matter how many pounds I lost, I would never be like the skinny white girls.

Because as my mamá would say, “no puedes cambiar tus huesos.”

In an attempt to embrace my Latinidad in high school, I began to look for bodies that resembled mine. To my dismay, the typical Latina portrayed in the media was curvy in all the right places. She was hourglass shaped and a sun-kissed tan. I had none of that.

I wasn’t white skinny, but I wasn’t Latina curvy either. Bulimia took a hold of me as I tried to fit in anywhere that would take me.

My parents tried to help

Behind our closed doors, my dad didn’t understand. Mom did her best to help in any way she could. She would talk about her own body and her own journey towards acceptance. But I could see her own insecurities take hold whenever she thought I wasn’t looking.

She tried other ways of helping. She would provide diet pills when I asked, monitoring them. She would suggest drinking smoothies with her and make them for us. But when I ran wild on my own with her suggestions, she ceased cold turkey.

I learned to hide my anorexia and bulimia even more. And let me tell you, I could hide that really well. Because no matter how many pounds I lost, no one ever knew what to call what was happening to me. I didn’t look skinny enough to have a problem.

I looked “average,” and average doesn’t mean “you have a problem.” So with no visible problems, my mom instead tried helping one last way she knew of: feeding me with love.

Food is love

In our culture, food is love. We eat because we love. Someone cooks for you, you eat because you love them. You cook because you want them to love you as much as you loved cooking for them.

So when I turned away from enchiladas, tortillas, and so much more, I was building walls between my parents and myself. Food became an invisible barrier between my parents and me. We already disagreed on so many things. It was hard on them that I was becoming assimilated to mainstream American culture. They couldn’t understand my hope to fit in with white and skinny. 

The turning point

Unfortunately, my father got cancer and lost a lot of weight from the disease. That brought me face to face with my eating disorder. As he struggled to eat, I would watch him look at food in ways that broke my heart. Here was love in a physical form and he could not take it in.

All the smoothies my mother once made me, she made to keep him nourished and loved. I ate enough for the both of us in hopes he could stay.

But when he left, my orthorexia flared because I didn’t want to take up space that could have been his. I also didn’t want to get sick. And the way society tells us to not get sick is by eating healthy and exercising. Well, I took it a bit too far and ended up back in a psychiatric hospital. 

How my mother helped

My mom sat me down outside the hospital and asked me what had led me here. She asked what could keep me from getting back here and urged me to do it. Whatever I needed to do, do it, because she didn’t know how to help me anymore. She had her own struggles, and seeing me fall this hard was hurting her as well. 

And that was it. I saw that what I really needed from her was communication. Having raw conversations about how we are hurting inside, and how we could hurt others, too, without realizing we are.

I had been so focused on my pain inside that I never saw the part I was playing in other people’s journeys.

My mother’s admission that she was just as lost had me see her in a new light. Yes, she was my mother, but she was also her own person and she too had been struggling. I began to speak and interact with her as a person first, and my mother second. It has helped us so much when we both are not at our best.

This leads to the second conversation that would bring me one step closer to committing to my recovery.

How my sister helped

My younger sister told me that seeing me struggle was hurting her as well. It shocked me. Not because she was hurt but that she was scared to tell me. It was a cycle repeating itself.

I was terrified of ever telling my parents what they did was hurting me. But here was my sister unable to tell me that I was hurting her. So I told her enough is enough. This ends now. What can I do to help you? She laid it out all for me and I really listened to her.

Everything I wish my parents had known, I now teach my younger sister. The calorie counting, the nitpicking in the mirror, the body comparisons, all of it had to stop with me. It is a slippery slope and I refuse to see her do the same. I have made it explicitly clear to my aunts that weight is not to be mentioned as an indication of how a person is doing, nor who they are. I ask my sister to share what she loves about herself. I show her a diverse range of beautiful dancing bodies because she’s a dancer and I know that comes with pressure to look a certain way. 

Communicating and learning

Whenever I see my worries reflected in my sister, I step back and ask myself if I am harming myself or her.

And it’s true that sometimes the need to be better for her outweighs my want to be better for myself. Sometimes it’s easier for me to commit to her health than my own. And for now it’s working for both of us. I commit myself to recovery hoping she will never have to endure what I did.

And I see the difference communication has done for my family. Where my mother would not say anything when I only ate one small meal a day or went on a run in 100-plus degree weather, now she’s the first to say to stop and offer to take  us out to lunch to talk. I smile knowing how far we have come.  

Safe places for BIPOC

Growing up, I didn’t see a safe space that reflected who I am. I realized that this was the biggest deal breaker in asking for help. Perhaps in a BIPOC community I could have been vocal without feeling judged.

Because I’m both Latina and queer, I really felt stranded at times by straight white American culture. That’s what inspired me to create mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+.

Mental health was not really a thing we spoke about in my Mexican household. In fact, I was told to never mention it. When I started to recover, I started asking why. Why aren’t we talking about this? I think some of it is personal, some cultural, some gender-based. But not talking about mental health is really about stigma, fear and judgement. And I want it to change.

Mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+

I created mental health resources for BIPOC & LGBTQ+ because my orthorexia and anorexia have been flaring up during this pandemic. If me, a queer Latina who has spent a decade gathering resources and learning about mental health, is struggling with her recovery, how are others doing? We need to know that there are spaces for us, especially since we’re feeling increasingly isolated during this time.

I compiled this list by going through Instagram, the social media platform where I find myself comparing myself to other bodies. If I transform Instagram into a resource rather than scrolling for hours wishing I was this and that, then I could take some control back of my own health. Each day I worked on this list, I felt less alone.

But even as I worked on it, I saw that I had to hold myself accountable in my recovery. I would work on the list and “forget” to eat. But after the second day, my mother cut through crap and called me in. My sister said I was running on empty and that would help no one. And I finally opened up to my boyfriend that I really appreciated when he would cook for me, because it reminded me of what food really has always been to me: love.

No food meant no love, and with each bite I remembered the root of food in our culture.

I’ll admit I cried writing the sentence above. It scares me to reveal I am still struggling now even as I share these resources. But this vulnerability is important. I’m not perfect, and I don’t know everything. None of us do.

Advice for BIPOC parents*

*Please take this as you will. I understand everyone has a different experience and I would never want to tell someone how to raise their child. 

My specific suggested advice to BIPOC parents is this: listen and don’t be afraid of not getting it right the first time when trying to help your child. Know that there will be a struggle for your child to accept your own cultural beauty and health ideals because White America has such a powerful influence on our version of ideal beauty and health standards. 

For the parents of first-generation children, understand that there is a learning curve. It makes sense that the societal ideals of the new home country and ideals from the previous home country clash.

Accept that your child is just as lost as you, and they need you to be open to learning with them. Talk about your own journeys with body image and food. Share the pressures you have faced and how you may still face, and listen to how your children need you. Because that’s the thing: we sometimes may know what we need but are too afraid to say anything. Just like I was with my mother, and like my sister was with me. 

To those BIPOC and LGTBQ+ children struggling, you are not alone. There are spaces that reflect you. I hope this helps.

Janette Valenzo

Janette Valenzo is an actor, a teaching artist, and a mental health advocate based in Southern California. She is also a writer and has performed original spoken word in D.C., LA, and the OC; while her acting has taken her to various stages throughout the country. She loves to travel internationally and locally. You can follow her on Instagram @janettevalenzo

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Recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ+

Recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ +

En este artículo, Janette Valenzo comparte su historia de trastornos de la alimentación y proporciona recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ+. Este artículo también está disponible en inglés.

Cuando me pidieron que escribiera esta historia, estuve alegre que podría ayudar a traer un poco de luz a los trastornos alimenticios y cómo mi latinidad juego un papel crucial en el desarrollo de mi salud y en la recuperación. Pero rápidamente me di cuenta de que esta sería la primera vez que admitiría en un foro público que tenía un trastorno alimentario. Tuve miedo. Pero espero que al final entiendan por qué elijo compartir mi historia y estos recursos con ustedes.

 Mi nombre es Janette Valenzo, soy primera generación Mexicana-Americana, y tengo una historia de bulimia, anorexia y ortorexia.

Recientemente compuse recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ +, hacer esto me ayudó a cimentar mi recuperación y a mantenerme enfocado en mi propia salud. A veces, cuando ayudamos a otros, nos ayudamos a nosotros mismos, esta es mi historia.

Creciendo Latina

Creciendo, estuve viviendo con los cuerpos más hermosos y diversos en el sur de Los Ángeles, mi propio cuerpo nunca fue cuestionado hasta que mi familia se mudó a los suburbios, allí estaba rodeado por una mayoría de guerras delgadas.

Fue alrededor de esta época en que llegó la pubertad y mis caderas se expandieron, mi estómago en gordo y me di cuenta del espacio que ocupaba.

Mi madre, en sus mejores intentos por hacerme sentir maravillosamente especial, decía cosas como “Así es como es tu cuerpo”. Se escuchaba muy agradable, pero también contradictorias cuando ella y mis tías también me llamaban “gordita.” Este es un término cariñoso en la cultura mexicana, pero se traduce a “fatty”. ¿Qué niño quiere escuchar eso? ¿Qué niña podría creer que su cuerpo era maravillosamente especial después de que le dijeran que gorda en inglés no significa hermosa?

Así que dejé de comer con la esperanza de poder cambiar mi cuerpo. 

Dejé de comer

Flaca no me salió fácil. Y no importa cuántas libras perdiera, nunca sería como las guerras delgadas.

Porque como decía mi mamá, “no puedes cambiar tus huesos.”

En un intento por abrazar mi latinidad en la escuela secundaria, comencé a buscar cuerpos que se parecieran al mío. Pero la típica latina retratada en los medios tenía curvas en todos los lugares correctos,tenía forma de coca-cola y estaba besada con el sol, yo no tenía nada de eso.

No era una guerra flaca, pero tampoco era latina con curvas. La bulimia me tomo mientras trataba de encajar en cualquier lugar que me llevara.

Mis padres intentaron ayudarme

Detrás de nuestras puertas cerradas, mi papá no entendió, Mamá hizo todo lo posible por ayudar en todo lo que pudo ,  ella hablaría sobre su propio cuerpo y su propia aceptación, pero cuando ella pensaba que no estaba mirando, podía ver que tenía sus propias inseguridades. 

Intentó otras formas de ayudar. Ella me daba pastillas para adelgazar cuando se lo pedía, supervisandolo. Sugeriría beber batidos con ella y me los preparaba,  pero cuando me fui con sus sugerencias sin ella, dejó de hacerlo.

Aprendí a ocultar aún más mi anorexia y bulimia. Y déjame decirte que podría ocultar eso muy bien. Porque no importa cuántos kilos perdí, nadie supo cómo llamar lo que me estaba pasando. No me veía lo suficientemente delgada como para tener un problema.

Me veía “promedia” y promedia no significa que “tenía un problema”. Entonces, sin problemas visibles, mi mamá intentó ayudarme con la última manera que conocía: alimentarme con amor.

La comida es amor

En nuestra cultura, la comida es amor. Comemos porque amamos. Alguien cocina para ti, comes porque los amas. Cocinas porque quieres que te amen tanto como a ti te encantaba cocinar para ellos.

Entonces cuando me alejé de las enchiladas, las tortillas y mucho más, estaba construyendo paredes entre mis padres y yo. La comida se convirtió en una barrera invisible entre mis padres y yo. Ya estuvimos en desacuerdo en muchas cosas. Para ellos fue difícil entender porque me quería asimilar a la cultura estadounidense. No podían entender mi esperanza de ser guerra y flaca. 

El punto que todo cambio 

Desafortunadamente, mi padre contrajo cáncer y perdió mucho peso debido a la enfermedad. Eso me puso cara a cara con mi trastorno alimentario. Mientras luchaba por comer, lo veía mirar la comida de una manera que me rompía el corazón. Aquí estaba el amor en forma física y él no se lo podía comer.

Todos los batidos que mi madre me preparaba una vez, los hacía para mantenerlo nutrido y amado. Comía para los dos con la esperanza de que se pudiera quedar.

Pero cuando se fue, mi ortorexia llegó porque no quería ocupar un espacio que podría haber sido de él. Tampoco quería enfermarme. Y la forma en que la sociedad nos dice que no nos enfermemos es comiendo sano y haciendo ejercicio. Bueno, lo llevé un poco lejos y terminé en un hospital psiquiátrico. 

Cómo me ayudó mi mamá

Mi madre me sentó fuera del hospital y me preguntó qué me había llevado hasta aquí. Me preguntó qué podía impedirme volver aquí y me instó a hacerlo. Cualquier cosa que tuviera que hacer, que lo haga, porque ella ya no sabía cómo ayudarme. Ella tenía sus propias luchas, y verme caer tan fuerte la estaba lastimando también. 

Y eso fue todo. Vi que lo que realmente necesitaba de ella era comunicación. Tener conversaciones honestas sobre cómo estamos lastimamos por dentro y cómo podríamos lastimar a los demás también, sin darnos cuenta de que lo estamos haciendo.

Estaba tan concentrado en mi dolor que nunca vi que estaba jugando un papel en las historia de los demás.

La admisión de mi madre de que estaba igual de perdida me hizo verla bajo una nueva luz. Sí, ella era mi madre, pero también era su propia persona y ella también había estado luchando. Comencé a hablar e interactuar con ella primero como persona y luego con mi madre. Nos ha ayudado mucho cuando no estamos en nuestro mejor momentos.

Esto me lleva a la segunda conversación que me acercaría un paso más a comprometerme con mi recuperación.

Cómo me ayudó mi hermana

Mi hermana menor me dijo que verme doler también la estaba lastimando. Me sorprendió. No porque  estaba lastimada, sino porque tenía miedo de decírmelo. Fue un ciclo que se estaba repitiendo.

Creciendo estaba aterrorizada de decirles a mis padres que lo que hicieron me estaba lastimando. Pero aquí estaba mi hermana incapaz de decirme que la estaba lastimando. Así que le dije que ya es suficiente. Esto termina ahora. ¿Qué puedo hacer para ayudarte? Ella me lo explicó todo y yo la escuché.

Todo lo que desearía que mis padres hubieran sabido, ahora se lo enseño a mi hermana menor. El conteo de calorías, las minucias en el espejo, las comparaciones, todo eso tenía que terminar conmigo. Es una pendiente resbaladiza y me niego a verla hacer lo mismo. Les he dejado explícitamente claro a mis tías que el peso no debe mencionarse como una indicación de cómo está una persona ni de quiénes son. Le pido a mi hermana que comparta lo que ama de sí misma. Le muestro diferentes  hermosos cuerpos de baile porque ella es bailarina y sé que eso viene con la presión de verse de cierta manera. 

Comunicarse y aprender

Siempre que veo que mis preocupaciones se reflejan en mi hermana, doy un paso atrás y me pregunto si me estoy haciendo daño a mí misma oa ella.

Y es cierto que a veces la necesidad de ser mejor para ella supera mi deseo de ser mejor para mí. A veces es más fácil para mí comprometerme con su salud que con la mía. Y por ahora está funcionando para los dos. Me comprometo con la recuperación con la esperanza de que ella nunca pase lo que yo pase.

Y veo la diferencia que la comunicación ha hecho por mi familia. Donde mi madre no decía nada cuando solo comía una comida pequeña al día o salía a correr en un clima de más de 100 grados, ahora ella es la primera en decir que pare y ofrece llevarnos a almorzar para hablar. Sonrío sabiendo lo lejos que hemos llegado.  

Lugares seguros para BIPOC

Al crecer, no veía un espacio seguro que reflejo quién soy. Me di cuenta de que este era el mayor factor decisivo al pedir ayuda. Quizás en una comunidad BIPOC podría haber hablado sin sentirme juzgado.

Porque soy latina y quuer, a veces me sentia perdida en la cultura americana guerra y heterosexual. Eso es lo que me inspiró a crear recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ+.

La salud mental no era realmente algo de lo que hablamos en mi hogar mexicano. De hecho, me dijeron que nunca lo mencionara. Cuando comencé a recuperarme, comencé a preguntarme por qué. ¿Por qué no estamos hablando de esto? Creo que las razones son personales, algo con la cultura, algo de género. Pero no hablar de salud mental se trata realmente de estigma, miedo y juicio. Y quiero que cambie.

Recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ +

Creer los recursos de salud mental para BIPOC y LGBTQ + porque mi ortorexia y anorexia han regresado durante esta pandemia. Si yo, una latina queer que ha pasado una década reuniendo recursos y aprendiendo sobre salud mental, está luchando otra vez con su recuperación, ¿cómo les va a los demás? Necesitamos saber que hay espacios para nosotros, especialmente porque nos sentimos cada vez más aislados durante este tiempo.

Compilé esta lista revisando Instagram, la plataforma de redes sociales donde me comparo con otros cuerpos. Si transformo Instagram en un recurso en lugar de desplazarme horas deseando ser esto o aquello, entonces podría recuperar algo de control sobre mi propia salud. Cada día que trabajaba en esta lista, me sentía menos sola.

Pero incluso mientras trabajaba en ello, vi que tenía que responsabilizarme por mi recuperación. Trabajaría en la lista y me “olvidaría” de comer. Pero después del segundo día, mi madre me llamó a esto. Mi hermana dijo que me estaba quedando vacía y que eso no ayudaría a nadie. Y finalmente le dije a mi novio que realmente apreciaba cuando cocinaba para mí, porque me recordaba lo que la comida realmente siempre ha sido para mí: el amor.

Sin comida no tenía amor, y con cada mordida me recordaba la razón detrás de la comida en nuestra cultura.

Admito que lloré escribiendo la oración de arriba. Me asusta revelar que todavía estoy luchando, incluso cuando comparto estos recursos. Pero esta vulnerabilidad es importante. No soy perfecto y no lo sé todo. Ninguno de nosotros sabe.

Consejos para los padres de BIPOC*

*Por favor tome esto como quiera. Entiendo que todos tienen experiencias diferentes y nunca le quiero decir a alguien como criar sus hijos. 

Mi consejo específico y sugerido para los padres de BIPOC es este:   escuchen y no tengan miedo de no hacerlo bien la primera vez cuando intenten ayudar a su hijo. Sepa que su hijo tendrá que luchar para aceptar sus propios ideales culturales de belleza y salud porque lo guerrero de los Estados Unidos tiene una influencia tan poderosa en nuestra versión de los estándares ideales de belleza y salud. 

Para los padres de niños de primera generación, entiendan que existe una curva de aprendizaje. Tiene sentido que los ideales sociales del nuevo país y los ideales del país de origen anterior choquen.

Acepte que su hijo está tan perdido como usted y necesita que usted esté abierto a aprender con él. Habla de tus propios problemas con imagen y comida. Comparta las presiones que ha enfrentado y cómo puede que todavía se enfrente, y escuche cómo sus hijos lo necesitan. Porque esa es la cosa: a veces podemos saber lo que necesitamos, pero tenemos demasiado miedo de decir algo. Como estaba con mi madre y como mi hermana estaba conmigo. 

Para aquellos niños BIPOC y LGTBQ + que luchan, no están solos. Hay espacios que te reflejan. Espero que esto ayude.

Janette Valenzo es una actriz, poeta, y defensora de la salud mental en el sur de California. También es escritora y ha actuado sus poemas en D.C., LA y OC; también su actuación de teatro la ha llevado a diferentes lugares en el país. Le encanta viajar internacional y localmente. Puede seguirla en Instagram @janettevalenzo 

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Eating disorders, orthorexia, and recovery, by Mimi Cole

Eating disorders, orthorexia, and recovery, by Mimi Cole

In this article, Mimi Cole tells us about eating disorders, orthorexia, and recovery. Mimi has lived experience with all three and is pursuing her Masters in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling so she can help others recover from eating disorders.

Mostly when we talk about eating disorders, we’re talking about underweight anorexia. This misses the vast majority of eating disorders, and I think it’s time that everyone understands the other signs and symptoms. For example, here are some common signs and symptoms of an eating disorder that have nothing to do with weight: 

  • A new interest in clean eating or diets
  • Changes in eating patterns that result in cutting out a food group or switching to “healthier” ingredients. 
  • Trying to get everyone around them on the same eating bandwagon, such as “eating clean” or gluten-free
  • Focusing on a lot of niche or specialty items that narrow and specify dietary behavior
  • Asking permission to eat certain foods, i.e. “Are you sure it’s OK if I eat this?”
  • Reading labels, worrying about grams of fat, carbohydrates
  • Emotional distress after eating food that they believe is bad. 
  • Sharing exercise plans after eating
  • Fear of eating certain foods
  • Becoming hyper-focused on unattainable sports goals
  • They suddenly start doing something intensely every day like a new sport or exercise
  • Noticing a change in relationship with exercise (i.e. hates exercise and suddenly really into it)

It’s important to recognize orthorexia when we think about eating disorders and recovery.

Parenting for positive food and body

When to seek support

If your child is showing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a dietitian who understands eating disorders. It may feel extreme to you, but it’s really better to be safe than sorry. Orthorexia is a serious eating disorder that is focused on eating a certain way and exercising. It may or may not result in drastic weight loss, but the condition is still very serious.

A lot of parents think it’s a good sign when a child suddenly becomes interested in “healthy” eating and exercise, but a sudden and intense change in a person’s relationship with food and their body is often a warning sign. It’s important for parents to seek support so they can understand how to parent through food and body issues. 

If you’re seeing these signs in your child, then they may need some nutritional counseling. A lot of parents forget that they can begin with a dietitian. Many kids may be more willing to speak with a dietitian than they are a therapist, and as long as the dietitian is trained in eating disorders, they will know whether to recommend psychotherapy who can play a vital role in recovery from eating disorders. 

Just be sure you work with a dietitian who is qualified to identify eating disorders – most dietitians do not have this training. While these professionals mean well, they can miss symptoms and accidentally cause more harm.

Eating disorders, including orthorexia, often require varied treatment to bring about recovery.

Understanding diet culture

I wish that more parents understood diet culture and its dangers. There are so many misconceptions about the efficacy and importance of weight loss. Our culture perpetuates these through powerful authority figures, including doctors, teachers, and celebrities. Doctors’ recommendations to lose weight are based on racist and fatphobic roots, and it has a very negative impact on our health. I get really sad thinking about how many people think weight loss is a good recommendation, but it’s actually very harmful. 

A common phenomenon throughout my lifetime is that parents become afraid when their kids gain weight. What they don’t know is that it is very normal for kids’ bodies to change, and we need to normalize adolescents gaining weight. It shouldn’t be something that is shamed. Intentional weight loss during adolescence has long-term consequences such as the development of disordered eating and eating disorders, a compensatory and restrictive minded relationship with food, and a fixation on the body. 

Parents should do their own body work and recognize the effects of diet culture on their own beliefs and behaviors. Negative comments about parents’ own bodies are easily and often picked up by kids. It’s important to be very conscious of how parents’ own beliefs affect their kids’ thoughts about food and their own bodies. 

Healthy doesn’t mean weight loss

Unfortunately, diet culture has co-opted the word “healthy,” and it no longer means what you think or want it to mean. Healthy has become an idea that you need to exercise and eat a restricted food diet: more fruits and vegetables, and less sugar. But health is not achieved by restricting your food groups. You can have a healthy diet that includes carbs, sugar, and fats. In fact, the more that you restrict those foods, the more you crave them. 

A classic example is telling your kids they can’t have sugar because it’s “not healthy.” This only reinforces the idea that sugar is “off limits” and kids tend to want it even more. The foods we restrict gain power that they don’t deserve. They become much more attractive because we restrict them. 

An “all foods fit” mentality works really well. Focus on building: an add, not subtract mentality. Add more fruits and vegetables, add more fiber, but don’t take things away. We have this image in our minds that if we allow our kids access to sugary foods, they will only eat that food forever, but that’s just not true. 

I eat dessert almost every day. It’s okay to have dessert every day. I also eat vegetables every day. I incorporate a lot of different foods in my diet, and that’s actually healthy.


Forget the BMI

The BMI is an outdated, narrow tool that doesn’t adequately measure for health. I really think it does a lot of harm for kids to be told they are “overweight” for a number of reasons, including that the standards changed in 1998, so people who were “normal” went to “overweight” overnight. The BMI is not backed up by research. We know that health indicators and biomarkers like blood sugar levels are not determined by weight, but by health promoting behaviors. 

People in larger bodies can be healthier than people in smaller bodies. What changes the relationship between weight and health is usually weight stigma and discrimination, and this weight based treatment can lead to suboptimal health behaviors independent of weight. 

Also, we know that intentional weight loss stimulates your body’s stress response leading to chronic inflammation: that’s definitely not healthy. And since almost nobody maintains intentional weight loss, it’s an unnecessary stressor. 

Recommendations for parents

I created a free eBook: A Beginner’s Guide to Intuitive Eating, HAES®, and Diet Culture. Take a look for more information about these topics. Here are a few more things I suggest parents consider: 

1. It is never appropriate to comment on the amount of calories in food (on or off the table). When you say something like “I wonder how many calories are in this” it immediately causes others to think about their own food. A healthy relationship with food should never include calorie counting but joy, relationship, and satiation.

2. Eating disorders are frequently missed in marginalized bodies. Fat people, Black and Hispanic people, and transgender people get eating disorders, too. 

3. Recovery from eating disorders, including orthorexia, is possible. Yes, it really happens.

4. Recovery takes time, sometimes a long time of doing the right recovery things (e.g. sticking to a meal plan, eating fear foods, etc), to unlearn sometimes years of a chaotic relationship with food. It takes time to put space between anxiety and compulsions. Celebrate progress and the smaller moments throughout the recovery process.

5. Recovery typically includes gentle nutrition, intuitive movement, and body trust and intuition. Gentle nutrition means meeting nutrient needs for vegetables and fruit and fiber, while not getting stuck in a dieting / restrictive mentality. Intuitive movement means engaging in movement that makes you feel good and isn’t forceful. Body trust and intuition mean knowing that our bodies are wise, and can be listened to and trusted. 

About Mimi Cole

Mimi Cole is a graduate student studying Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at UNC Chapel Hill. She plans to specialize in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating. You can follow her on Instagram @the.lovelybecoming

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Weight stigma in entertainment and society

Weight stigma in entertainment and society

It’s rare to encounter entertainment in our society that doesn’t include weight stigma. Most books, blogs, articles, social media, TV shows, and movies are filled with weight stigma.

Weight stigma: bias or discriminatory behaviors targeted at individuals because of their weight.

Weight stigma is weaponized in the media through language and images. Firstly, weight stigma assumes that fat is deadly and a drain on society. It promotes weight loss at any cost, including negative physical and mental health outcomes. Moreover, weight stigma suggests that low weight is possible for every body. The result is public fatphobia and weight shaming.

Weight stigma is discriminatory and unjust. There are many reasons some people weigh more than others. And intentional weight loss has negative health outcomes most of the time. It is misguided and ignorant to use shame in an attempt to improve health.

And weight stigma is a cultural phenomenon perpetuated everywhere in the media and society. Weight stigma in entertainment hurts everyone.

Weight stigma in entertainment

These are some really obvious examples of weight stigma in entertainment. But they are so ubiquitous that we often don’t even notice. For example:


Most protagonists are either already thin or pursue the thin ideal. Characters make passive-aggressive comments about fat people, bemoan being fat, and strive for weight loss.


These often center “weight loss journeys” that glorify restrictive, disordered eating and over-exercise. The author begins with the premise that their weight is in their control. They are usually ashamed that it has gotten so high. The memoir may say that the message is one of self-love. But the true message is that weight loss is necessary, possible, and beneficial.


This category includes weight-loss books, which are obvious perpetrators of weight stigma. But recipe, wellness, mindfulness, and all sorts of other books feature weight stigmatizing examples and stories. Most wellness books repeatedly use high weight as a symptom of poor self-love or low self-control. The concept is that if you improve your self-love and self-control, you will lose weight. This is rarely true.


Magazines, blogs, and news publications mostly use images of thin people to promote health and happiness. They run stories about weight loss and the dangers of fat, perpetuating dangerous myths. These publications also glorify restrictive eating patterns and promote alarming diet trends.

Social Media

It’s impossible to guess how many millions of “before and after” posts have been “liked” on social media. Before and after photos are inherently weight stigmatizing. This is true even when the stated goal is emotional and physical health. Social media is also a major promoter of disordered diet trends and unproven “health hacks.”

Television & Movies

Thin people are positioned as healthier, more successful, more likable, and more likely to find love. Fat people rarely appear, and when they do it is often for comic relief or as a cautionary tale. Or fat people are used for motivation – as in the movie Brittany Runs a Marathon. In these examples, a fat person loses weight and become a thin, successful, happier person.

Here are two examples of entertainment brands perpetuating weight stigma.

How I Met Your Mother (TV show)

This sitcom ran from 2005-2014 and is still going strong on streaming services. It features weight stigmatizing comments at least once per episode, and there are 208 episodes altogether. Therefore, it is a clear example of weight stigma in entertainment.

I enjoy this show. But I insist upon calling out weight stigma whenever I see it, and this show is particularly bad. My daughter holds the remote when we watch this show. She automatically pauses it in troublesome spots so we can discuss weight stigma when it (frequently) comes up.

Example 1:

Marshall: He’s rich? Please tell me he wrote you a big, fat check. A check so fat, it doesn’t take its shirt off when it goes swimming.

Barney: That is a big, fat check. A check so fat, after you have sex with it, you don’t tell your buddies about it.

Robin: A check so fat, when it sits next to you on an airplane, you ask yourself if it should have bought two seats.

Example 2:

Barney: […] why can’t there be a day for those who are single and like it that way?

Marshall: Now you just sound like a fat girl at Valentine’s Day.

Example 3:

Barney: Let’s say the young lady you’re bringing home is dressed for winter. Under those layers, an unwelcome surprise could await you. The scale with body fat calculator I’ve hidden under the welcome mat makes sure you never have banger’s remorse.

Jillian Michaels (celebrity)

Michaels was a trainer on the competition reality TV show The Biggest Loser. The show is one of the biggest perpetrators of weight stigma. Known for her brutal “tough love” training methods, she often brought people to tears with her abuse. She directed her verbal abuse at their bodies, their values, and their characters. It was unacceptable. Former contestants have reported that they experienced physical and emotional trauma during the show.

The National Institutes of Health found that all but one of 14 contestants had regained most of the weight they lost. But worse, their metabolic rates had slowed drastically, possibly for life. Health improvement is the main justification for weight loss. But a slower metabolism is not a health improvement by any measure. This study is a cornerstone in the research showing that intentional weight loss is worse for health than weight itself.

Michaels launched a business empire based on her dubious reputation on The Biggest Loser. She is the definition of weight stigma being used for entertainment and profit. Her products include a fitness app, 20 DVDs, nine books, and a podcast. She has countless opportunities to spread her message of body hatred. Recently she has been criticized for blatant weight stigmatizing comments, including:

Example 1:

“Why are we celebrating her (Lizzo’s) body? Why does it matter? Why aren’t we celebrating her music? Cause it isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes.” – Jillian Michaels on BuzzFeed News

Example 2:

“I think we’re politically correct to the point of endangering people … But obesity in itself is not something that should be glamourized. But we’ve become so politically correct that no one wants to say it.” – Jillian Michaels in Women’s Health U.K. 

Example 3:

“There was so much fat-shaming for such a long time that now the pendulum has swung to a place where it’s like, ‘You are 250 pounds and you’re owning it! Go!’ And I’m like, wait wait wait, no no no… When you start to celebrate that… it’s not about shaming, it’s not about excluding anyone, but we also don’t want to co-sign cancer, heart disease, diabetes.” – Jillian Michaels on The Wendy Williams Show

The facts of weight & weight loss

It’s possible that you read Jillian Michaels’ comments and agree with her … at least a little bit. But that’s a symptom of living in our society. Those beliefs are not based on scientific facts. Here are the facts about weight and weight loss:

1. Weight is mostly genetic and environmental. In fact, very little of our weight is under our individual control.

2. Intentional weight loss efforts result in weight loss just 5% of the time. And 65% of the time intentional weight loss increases body weight. Imagine any other medical intervention with those stats!

3. Intentional weight loss damages physical and mental health. It reduces metabolism, increases cortisol, causes weight gain, and more. Additionally, it leads to increased anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and more.

4. Weight stigma and intentional weight loss are the real health problems. They foster eating disorders and create most of the health conditions associated with higher weights. Medical professionals have high rates of weight stigma. This increases the likelihood that people in larger bodies will receive suboptimal care.

Body weight is not as simple as how much people eat and exercise. It’s a complex combination of genetics and environment. Furthermore, it’s virtually impossible to reduce body weight. Intentional weight loss fails 95% of the time and results in weight gain 65% of the time. Therefore, the premises underlying weight stigma are false.

The scientific truth about body weight

These facts go against everything we think we know about food and weight. And yet they are scientifically true. Our scientific library contains the data behind these facts. You can also read about them in these excellent pro-health, anti-diet books:


Concern trolling

Jillian Michaels is correct that it’s no longer socially acceptable to openly deride or criticize people for their weight. Instead, people engage in “concern trolling.”

People think they can conceal hatred, disgust, anger, and shame by focusing on “health.” For example:

  • But I’m worried about your health
  • You’ll die if you don’t lose weight
  • I’m just interested in saving your life

These statements are just a politically correct way to say that being fat is unacceptable. The implication is that the person chooses to be fat and can prevent being fat. And, of course, these statements are based on the false assumption that fat is deadly. It’s not. In fact, there is evidence that people who weigh more are actually healthier.

Some people ardently believe that it’s fine to accept your body … unless it’s fat. They say that in those cases, people should lose weight. This is scientifically ignorant and cruel. As a result, any “concern” they share is just shame. They wrap shame up in a package that doesn’t make them feel like total jerks. But they are, in fact, jerks.

The shame of weight stigma

Some people have lost weight in the short term and want to tell anyone who will listen how they did it. One of their strategies for maintaining their weight loss is believing that weight is within their power. But only 5% of people maintain intentional weight loss. And 65% end up weighing more.

Weight stigma’s main tool is shame. And shame is cruel, discriminatory, and unacceptable. There is no time in which shame is an effective path to health. Shame is absolutely and unequivocally anti-health.

Weight stigma uses shame in an attempt to control individual’s bodies. Our society weaves weight stigma into entertainment. It’s so common that we often don’t recognize weight stigma for what it is. It takes time, education, and practice to overcome weight stigma. But it is possible.

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.