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Eating Disorders have a lot to say, and most of what they say has nothing at all to do with looks

Eating disorders are a mental illness, which means they live in the mind. They speak to us in authoritative voices, telling us what is right and wrong, good and bad. If your child has an eating disorder, he or she is mainly hearing voices regarding what to eat, what not to eat, how to eat, when to eat, why to eat, why not to eat, etc. But as a parent, you can hear very different things from the eating disorder that may help you better understand what your child needs from you during the healing process and beyond. Here are a few things eating disorders can communicate to us on behalf of our children:

I’m scared

The world is crazy, and I don’t know how to live in it. I feel overwhelmed all the time, and it seems as if nothing I do is right. I feel so much pressure from all directions, and I just don’t know how to live anymore.

**When your child feels scared, eating food or restricting food may be a soothing mechanism that provides a sense of comfort and security. Work with him/her to build security, belonging and a sense of place.

I have no control

I feel out of control. I don’t know how to live right in the world. No matter what I do, it seems like someone else is always in charge, judging me. Everyone judges me. I don’t get to make my own decisions, and when I do, here comes the judgement again.

**When your child feels out of control in life, eating food or restricting food is a way to exert control over the one thing that is truly his/hers: the body. Work with him/her to build confidence that his/her decisions are valid, and find opportunities to exhibit control over difficult situations. Getting a job, caring for an animal or child, or volunteering can all be healthy ways to gain a sense of confidence and control in life.

I am too much

It’s as if I have no stopping point. I always want more, more more. Everyone tells me this. Whether it’s food or attention or affection or whatever, it’s as if I was built to need more than anyone else, and I can tell that people don’t like that about me. I’m just “too much.”

**When your child feels guilty for having big needs – both physical and emotional hunger – he or she may use eating or not eating as a way to seek fulfillment. Remind your child that his/her hungers are human, natural, and completely healthy. Fill the house with healthy ways to feed hunger, and make mealtimes an opportunity to enjoy the act of feeding yourselves. Anytime your child seeks approval, attention, or love, give it without question and say out loud that you are happy to provide emotional care.

I am different

Nobody understands me. In my family, at school, nowhere do people really understand who I really am. They can’t see the real me. And if they did, they would not like him/her anyway. I have to hide my true self just to get by.

**When your child uses their body (either making it larger or smaller) as a communication tool, it may mean that he/she is hiding a true self, a self that he/she feels cannot be expressed verbally. Work with your child to develop natural talents to build confidence and language around his/her strengths. Strengths make us different in a very positive way, and can be a wonderful way to expand on the idea that being different is not bad, but is actually wonderful.

I am unloveable as I am

I am totally gross. Nobody can stand to even look at me. I can’t stand to look at myself. I have to get better, or I will fail.

**Children, adolescents, and even many adults are unable to separate their physical self from their emotional self. Restricting eating with the goal of shrinking the body is often a way to signal an internal self that is pure, in control, and “good.” In such cases, weight is an attempt to be recognized as a good person who is worthy of love. Talk regularly with your child about his/her loveability. Let him/her know what is good, true and wonderful about him/her as a person. Do not talk about his/her body or other people’s bodies at all. Build a language to better express positive qualities of people that are not based on their external appearance.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Listen to this calming guided meditation to soothe frayed nerves from eating disorder management – from True U founders Annie Shiel & Meredith VanSant

We have partnered with True U to deliver a series of meditations designed to support both parents and children who have eating disorders. Since eating disorders can feel overwhelming, it is so helpful to slow down and connect with the breath and body.

Meditation helps quiet the chatter in our minds. When meditating, we can clear out anxiety, feelings of self-doubt and fear, and the “I’m not good enoughs” that so many of us live with every day.

We are pulled in so many directions, and wear so many hats, often simultaneously. This meditation exercise is great for giving yourself a break and unloading all the hats you wear onto a hat rack, let your mind breathe, and give it some space.

This exercise may, over time, train your brain to give a pause between the actions of others and your reaction to them.

It will help you slow down your thoughts and actions, gain perspective, and get grounded so that you can move from a more balanced, thoughtful place, rather than a rushed, overwhelmed, reactive place.

Getting Started

Find a comfortable position for your body …
Bring one hand to your belly, and one hand to your heart …
Start to tune into your breath …
Feel your body take in the breath, and feel your body releasing it …

Listen


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Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant are the co-founders of True U, an organization working to empower adolescent girls with yoga, mindfulness practices, and honest conversation. Annie is a trauma-informed vinyasa yoga teacher dedicated to using yoga as a tool for healing, self love, social justice, and empowerment. Merideth holds a Masters of Science in Human Development, and uses her professional and personal background to promote resiliency and empower women to build strong and inspired communities. She is a trained power flow and Rocket yoga teacher. To learn more about True U and bring their work to your community, visit www.trueugirls.com.

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

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

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

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

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

The River Story

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.


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

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Love is a Verb. Take intentional action on the love you give, and demand intentional action from those who love you.

Love is not a feeling. Love is action.

Inherent love, love that lasts forever no matter what is a nice idea. But it is not enough for us or the people we love. Real love is active. It doesn’t rest, but it produces peace nonetheless. It requires intentional thought. Without action, love is empty.

Every single day, love is given and received.

Millions and millions of actions add up to love. Millions and millions of gifts of love are offered and accepted to build meaningful feelings of love. The deep, deep sense of being loved is built and maintained over time.

Love is not a moment or a person.

You can love a moment, and you can love a person in a moment, but love is what happens in the moment, and love is what a person does to make you feel loved. Love is caring enough to show up even when it’s hard … being there in the hard times and still showing love. 

Take action on your love every day.

Show everyone who you love that you love them. Connect with them. Let them know what it means to get love from you. Listen to them. Hear how they want you to love them.

Ask the people who love you to take action on how they love you.

Don’t accept that someone loves you just because they once showed you love. It is not enough. You deserve more. Ask them to keep showing your love. Ask them to show up. Tell them how they can help you feel loved.

We can ask for the love we need.

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Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Giving your child emotional first aid

Giving your child emotional first aid

Most parents think about caring for their kids’ physical bodies. But few of us know about how to teach our kids emotional hygiene and emotional first aid.

Emotional hygiene

We all know to teach our kids to brush their teeth twice per day. But most of us don’t know to teach our kids to feel their feelings when they arise (rather than repress them).

Emotional first aid

We all know to give our child a band aid when they are bleeding. But most of us don’t know how to give emotional first aid when they’re crying, angry, or upset.

If you have a child who is struggling with body hate, disordered eating, or eating disorders (or any mental health condition), they need help with emotional hygiene and emotional first aid. Parents are in an excellent position to provide this support.

Here are some key points to consider as you teach your child emotional hygiene and emotional first aid:

How to practice emotional hygiene

These are the regular practices you should do to help your child learn emotional hygiene.

1. Feel feelings

Take time every day to tune into your child’s feelings. Ask them how they are feeling, especially when they appear agitated and upset.

It’s important to learn to feel feelings without resistance or repression. Most of us were raised in families that encouraged emotional repression, but repression causes chronic stress, which has serious health consequences.

Instead, parents should learn to help their kids feel feelings naturally and without resistance. This includes the difficult feelings like anger, shame, sadness, and envy.

The most important thing parents can do is recognize that there is nothing wrong with having these feelings. They are perfectly normal and adaptive. The problems come when we repress them, which can create a cascading effect of mental health and physical health consequences.

Common Feelings

2. Build connections

Build an emotional connection with your child every day. Make sure that you connect with them in a meaningful, loving way at least once.

Feeling as if we belong is a fundamental element of emotional and physical health. Chronic loneliness is as dangerous for your child’s health as cigarettes.

Help your child feel connected to you, your family, and his or her friends. Be intentional about building a sense of individual connection and community connection. Take this quiz: is my child lonely?

3. Ask for feedback

Ask your child for feedback every once in a while. Encourage them to talk to you about how you make them feel. Ask them to let you know what they need from you.

A lot of parents feel trapped by parenthood. Most of us feel as if everyone else knows what to do, but we don’t. The isolation that parents feel is real, and it’s also toxic. We just can’t be great parents when we feel as if we’re doing everything wrong. Luckily, there is an authority on parenting that we may not have thought about: our kids.

Part of being mentally healthy is knowing you have the power to change things that aren’t working for you. When we allow our kids to give us feedback, we empower them to pursue mental health.

It can be hard to hear feedback from our kids. All of us want desperately to be good parents. Remind yourself that you and your child need to practice the feedback loop. So far, it’s probably been mostly one-way. You tell your child what to do, they say they don’t want to, and you tell them to do it anyway.

When you open things up and start to listen to them, it may be overly-harsh. Help them understand that you’re trying your best. Try to listen to feedback without interrupting or correcting. Then try to act on some of their feedback.

How to give emotional first aid

Parents can help their kids by practicing emotional first aid. This means responding to a child’s emotional emergencies in a loving, compassionate manner. Some symptoms of an emotional emergency include:

  • Crying
  • Yelling
  • Throwing a tantrum
  • Stonewalling (ignoring you)
  • Whining
  • Being mean to a sibling, parent, or friend
  • Eating disorder behaviors
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Self-harm behaviors

When your child “acts up” or is upset, pull out your emotional first aid kid and get to work!

1. Accept the feelings

Unfortunately, when a child need emotional first aid, it’s often very uncomfortable for us. When they have an emotional emergency, our instinct is to shut them down, tell them to quiet down, or ignore them.

But these actions tell our child that we don’t accept their feelings. And when parents don’t accept kids’ feelings, the child interprets that to mean that we don’t accept them as people. You might not like this idea, but it’s true.

When your child has an emotional emergency, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that their behavior is a signal that they need first aid. Try to open your heart and respond calmly and confidently.

Let the feelings happen without impediments. Tell your child that you accept their feelings and are here to listen to them. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the faster you can fully accept your child when they are throwing a tantrum, the faster the tantrum will recede.

2. Validate the feelings

Your child needs to know that you accept the feelings no matter what they are. So make sure you have covered the first step in this process, first.

Next, you can help your child define their feelings. This means helping them describe how they feel and validating their feelings to help them process how they are feeling.

Here’s an example of the process:

Parent: Can you tell me how you’re feeling right now?

Child: Angry!

Parent: OK. I hear you. You feel angry. Do you want to tell me more?

Child: I hate that Mary ignored me today!

Parent: I know it’s so hard to feel ignored.

Child: Yes, and she’s stupid!

Parent: When people reject us, it’s normal to feel angry and ignored. I understand.

Keep talking with your child, and validate each of their feeling statements with a comment that lets them know you heard what they said. Don’t try to edit them or change their mind. Just give them validation for their feelings.

emotional regulation

3. Help them move on

If you have followed the process above, then your child is probably calming down a little bit. Don’t be alarmed if this comes in waves. They may go from yelling to crying to nodding in agreement with you. It’s all part of emotional first aid.

Once your child seems calmer, you can add some ideas for moving on. For example, you might say: is there anything I can do to help you right now? Or: Is there anything you want to do about this?

Neither of these questions tells your child what to do or how to feel, but it helps signal that once the feelings are felt, we can consider whether we want to take any further action.

Help your child brainstorm what might make them feel better after an emotional emergency. Some ideas include:

  • Take a nap
  • Take a walk
  • Zone out watching TV
  • Take a shower or bath
  • Call a friend
  • Have some tea

All of these are acceptable responses to an emotional emergency. They are adaptive methods of moving on from having feelings.

Dr. Guy Winch TED Talk

Dr. Guy Winch presented an excellent TED Talk based on the idea that if we learn, and if we teach our children emotional hygiene and emotional first aid, we will be more successful, happier, live with fewer illnesses and enjoy a longer life expectancy.

In his TED Talk he said:

“We all know how to practice physical health … but what do we know about how to maintain our psychological health? Nothing. What do we do to teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing.”

“How is it we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds?”

“Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?”

“It is time we close the gap between our physical and our psychological health.”


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Building self-worth can help your child recover from an eating disorder, by Brett McDonald, M.S.

Every person with an eating disorder I have ever met had low self-worth, and recovery from an eating disorder does not happen unless self-worth is restored. We place a lot of emphasis on changing attitudes about food, gaining nutrition information, challenging the thin ideal, “saying NO to ED” but I am convinced that all these good recovery habits don’t take root until the person can grant herself permission to take care of herself.

When someone has high self-worth, that person feels worthy of self-care, and both are essential to recovery from an eating disorder. It is typically a gradual process. We believe everything we do, so every time that we accept or solicit nurturing from others, every time we spend an hour on our own well-being or allow someone to understand and respond to our pain, we are building self-worth, which then builds self-care.

Low self-worth is expressed in a myriad of ways, including:

  • The tendency to protect other people at the expense of protecting the self (she said something really rude to me but I just laughed it off because I didn’t want to embarrass her).
  • Putting the preferences of others above the needs of the self (Dad mentions the need to conserve water so now the son only showers once per week).
  • Not asking for help when help is needed (when a husband asks his wife what is wrong and she says “nothing” because she doesn’t want to burden him with her problems).
  • Not being willing to change the CD in her car or wear her favorite clothes because she feels self-indulgent when she does.

A person with self-worth problems often resents her or himself for having needs at all, and sees the denial of these needs as a sign of strength, as a protection of other values, or as a necessary assurance that the needs of others will be met. Unfortunately, the better a person becomes at neglecting the needs of the self, the lower self-worth becomes, the lower self-care becomes and the worse symptoms get.

Help your child build self-worth in the following ways:

  • Support your child in attuning to and nurturing his or her needs. This is harder than it sounds since once an eating disorder sets in, the symptoms become the voice that drowns out all others, but work together to find enjoyable things to do.
  • Avoid comments that generate guilt, because guilt can create a feeling of not being worthy to meet one’s needs.
  • Encourage the use of internal boundaries to prevent overwhelming and impossible social role obligations.
  • Encourage the person with an eating disorder to “take space” in the world, which means allowing others to see her needs, being vulnerable to asking for accommodation from others, extending self-forgiveness for perceived transgressions and remembering to value the experiential needs in life as much as we value the achievement needs in life.

Remembering to value the needs of the self as much as we value the needs of others is essential. One thing I frequently say to my clients when I implore them to take space is from Desiderata: “…be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” We recover when we meaningfully embrace that truth within ourselves.


screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-01-24-amBrett McDonald has a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. After several years in private practice, in 2011 she jointly founded The Dragonfly Retreat with Sifu Simonet. This 8-day inpatient program merged the skill sets and philosophies of her and her partner, creating extraordinary and unprecedented outcomes for retreat participants. Brett is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership.

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Some early signs of a possible eating disorder that don’t include food or weight

As a parent, you are most likely going to recognize the most obvious signs of a full-blown eating disorder. If you child gets to an advanced stage of the illness, or if he or she has a genetic composition that quickly reflects eating disorder behavior, then you are likely to notice very obvious changes in weight and a clear change in your child’s relationship with food.

But it is far more common for your child to carry eating disorder behaviors completely under wraps for months, even years, without being detected. Did you know that while most people think of eating disorders as the most severe cases of anorexia, indicated by extreme thinness, the vast majority of eating disorders do not show such obvious physical traits?

So we thought we would point out some non food, non body size warning signs to help you monitor your child’s mental health. Mental health is comprised of numerous elements, and it may not be possible to completely prevent a mental illness like eating disorders, but one thing we know is that downward spirals and/or unhelpful feedback loops can take a person from healthy to ill quite quickly if we don’t address them as soon as possible.

Isolation

If your child has recently undergone a change in friends, such as a breakup from an important friend or group of friends, it may be a sign that something is wrong. There are two things to pay attention to: recovery from the breakup and active isolation.

First, if the breakup is causing a great deal of distress for your child, and they seem unable to recover after a short period of mourning, it is worth asking questions and seeking to support your child through this time period. Losses of friendship are very serious in the life of a teenager and can lead to downward spirals, especially in sensitive children.

Second, if your child appears to be actively withdrawing from activities with friends, isn’t talking to them regularly, and is not seeking opportunities to be with peers, it may be a signal that something is interfering with his or her ability to maintain healthy relationships. Many times depression, anxiety and eating disorders lead a child to actively isolate from friends.

If you see either of these as a possibility, then talk to your child to see whether you can help. Don’t be afraid to seek a qualified professional who can evaluate whether your child needs help with managing relationships during this phase of life.

Stress

If your child is becoming increasingly stressed, you should pay attention to the sources of the stress and how your child manages the stress itself. “Feeling stressed” is often code for feelings of anxiety and depression. What you are looking for is an increase in stress levels compared to what is normal for your child. Sometimes increased stress levels make perfect sense – tests, pressure to perform, and sports can all provide natural levels of stress. The issue is not whether you child experiences stress, but how she or he responds to stress.

If the stress is disrupting your child’s ability to sleep and function on a daily basis, it is a warning sign. That means that they are not able to process the stress in a healthy way, and would benefit from support in learning how to do that.

Anxiety, depression and eating disorders are all frequently accompanied by a constant sense of looming doom, or overwhelm. This sense is persistent and feels hopeless. As a parent, you can help by providing tools for managing stress, but if the condition appears serious, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional who can help your child more directly.

Obsession with Appearance

You may notice that your child is spending more time on their appearance. While this may be normal, it can also move into an obsessive and/or compulsive behavior if the child is predisposed to such problems. An obsession and/or compulsion with one’s appearance is frequently associated with an eating disorder.

As with all of these elements, some level of attention to appearance is completely normal and healthy. Such behavior becomes a warning sign when it tips over into a situation that interferes with everyday life. For example, if your child refuses to leave the house because of a bad hair day, that is a sign that they are becoming over-focused on external appearance. If your child is having a meltdown every day about some aspect of his or her appearance, it is a good idea to work with him or her to try and address where those feelings are coming from.

An unhealthy focus on body image and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are frequently observed in conjunction with eating disorders, so if you believe your child’s focus on their appearance is becoming unhealthy, seek professional support from someone who can diagnose and treat the condition appropriately.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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Depression frequently co-occurs with eating disorders

Like most mental illnesses, depression occurs on a spectrum, and the “lighter” signs of depression can be harder to detect. It is important to note that while clinical depression is different from just feeling down, the sooner you can address any early signs, the better.

Signs of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Irritability, restlessness or anger
  • Sleep problems
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions and remembering details
  • Decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide

If your child has an eating disorder, it is a good idea to consistently monitor for signs of depression. Your child’s treatment team is also watching closely, but since you are with your child every day, you may be able to report early signs and help with treatment.

Depression and eating disorders are both conditions that appear simple on the outside. Many people say things like “just snap out of it!” “just eat!” or “cheer up!” These comments, while well meaning, reveal a failure to understand the severity of clinical depression and eating disorders. A disordered mind is not capable of snapping out of things. It is in a terrible cycle from which the person suffering does not see a way out. Professional support is critical in managing both conditions.

Don’t worry about untangling which symptoms are ED and which are depression, just help your child get treatment as soon as possible. Both conditions tend to become stickier with time, so early action may make a world of difference.

Remember that you are doing your best, and you also deserve love and attention. Consider that you might suffer from depression as your child undergoes treatment. Please, take care of yourself, too!


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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

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

whole-brain2-2

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

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

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

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

Here are some key tips from the book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parents can improve themselves and their parenting outcomes

whole-brain

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

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

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

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


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s What To Say

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

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

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

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

Next, take things a bit deeper. For example:

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

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

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

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


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.


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

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Using concepts from Emotional Intelligence to help your teen with an eating disorder

Many of us were raised with the idea, whether expressed or implied, that emotions are a sign of weakness. We were taught to hide “ugly” emotions and regulate out of control happy emotions, which could get unruly and hard to manage for our parents, teachers and caregivers.

But research into Emotional Intelligence and its impact on life suggests that to feel emotions and use them to promote certain behaviors and inform decisions is actually a sign of strength.

Jennifer Rollin, psychotherapist and eating disorder specialist, says that disordered eating behaviors are a way that an individual is trying to meet his or her emotional needs. “Often people use eating disorder behaviors to cope with unpleasant emotions or difficult life circumstances,” she says. “These behaviors may cause people to feel temporarily better in the short-term, but typically lead to greater pain and suffering in the long-term.”

And it’s for this reason that modeling and teaching your child Emotional Intelligence skills can be so valuable. One of the key elements of building Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotional state.

You can model this behavior for your child by talking about your own mood states throughout the day.

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This is how you can model self awareness for your child:

  1. Start statements with “I feel …”
  2. Label the feeling (happy, sad, angry, frustrated, calm, excited)
  3. Provide the reason why you are experiencing the feeling
  4. Add the words “right now” to show that you know that mood states and feeling always pass
  5. If your feeling is based on a mistake that you have made, explicitly remind yourself that mistakes are normal and OK

Here are some examples:

  1. I’m so happy right now because it seems like you are a little bit more relaxed about the upcoming Chemistry test. Is there anything else I can do to support you?
  2. I feel really anxious right now because I have a big project due tonight, and I feel like I should have it already done. I guess I just have to remember that it’s going to take what it’s going to take to finish it up, and then I will feel better.
  3. I feel so frustrated with myself right now because I forgot to pick up bread at the store, but it’s OK – we all make mistakes. What can we use instead?

When your child has an eating disorder like binge eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia, she is most struggling process her emotions in a healthy way. Instead of feeling her feelings, she numbs herself with food or the absence of food. Help her process feelings naturally and without judgement by using the principles of Emotional Intelligence.


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.


Emotional Intelligence Eating Disorders

Please check out the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

Also check out Daniel Goleman’s Website

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Rat Park – could solving for loneliness heal our kids of addictions and eating disorders?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses. They are not the same as addiction, however, there are similarities. In both situations, people suffering from the disorders are seeking an emotionally stable state by chasing their disordered behavior.

The story of Rat Park is one in which we learn that rats who are put alone in a cage and offered drugs will take the drugs until they die. But since rats are social creatures, when the rats are put in a social environment and given the choice of drugs, they don’t become addicts.

The idea is that addictive behaviors can be impacted by the environment. If your child has an underlying brain condition that predisposes them to an eating disorder like bulimia, binge eating disorder or anorexia, they are at risk. That risk is amplified or may be decreased by the environment in which they live.

It’s an interesting concept to consider as you set up treatment for your child with an eating disorder. Help them find healthy ways to seek the connection and love they crave, help them avoid loneliness, and they may thrive.


This article and video were inspired by an article written by Johann Hari in the Huffington Post. You can see his article here: The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think


Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.