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How to win the war against your child’s eating disorder

When there is a hostage situation, many of us wonder why the police don’t just threaten to shoot, or simply open fire on the terrorists to get what they want. Instead, they engage in often lengthy hostage negotiation techniques designed to find a non-violent way to end the standoff.

The reason for not facing violence with threats of violence and more violence isn’t altruism; it’s because if the police begin with threats and gunfire, hostages and the police are the ones who suffer the most casualties. So, while shooting at terrorists can end the battle quickly, it does not end the battle well.

When our children have an eating disorder, we often feel as if a terrorist has taken over, and our child is a hostage in their own body. We do everything we can think of to shake our child free of the disorder, often resorting to cajoling, reasoning, threatening, and more.

Very few parents facing a child with an eating disorder haven’t resorted to yelling, commanding, and ordering their child to “just eat,” “just stop doing it,” or “just get over it!”

It’s all right. We’re human. We do our best. But this behavior is the equivalent of going in with guns blazing against terrorists. We may win the battle, but we will lose the war. Our child may eat the food we’re forcing them to eat, but they may purge it at the first chance they get. And they will find a way to restrict or binge again as soon as possible.

The sad and frustrating fact is that we cannot force our child to abandon their eating disorder behavior. Instead, we must learn from hostage negotiators to gradually demonstrate to our child that there is another way out.

One reason we can’t succeed at healing our child from an eating disorder by fighting is because the human brain is wired to believe that when there is a fight, there must be a winner and a loser. And no human wants to be the loser.

No matter how valid the fight, and no matter who is really right, and no matter how good our evidence and logic is for getting our way, our children will fight us if we take a war stance against their eating disorder. And even if we win a few battles, we will lose the war in terms of our child’s trust, love and their likelihood of making a full recovery.

Neuroscientists have found that when someone is emotionally agitated and you show them evidence that contradicts what they believe is true, the areas of their brain that recognizes logic actually shuts down. Their ability to listen is gone, and the areas of their brain associated with aggression light up like a firecracker.

When our child is riled up and stressed, no matter how calm and rational we are being, our children are physically unable to engage in reasonable conversation. They are sensing war, and instead of listening to what you are saying, they just want to win.


Here are the three big mistakes parents make when it comes to talking to their children about eating disorders:

1. Don’t make the situation black and white

Beware of comments that suggest eating disorders are black and white – those are fighting words, because it suggests to the person who has an eating disorder that there is a winner and a loser and, for them, winning means keeping their eating disorder. Approach all conversations as just one of many, and avoid all or nothing language. Don’t fantasize about life after the eating disorder. Don’t try to solve the problem. Just get through this one moment, this one meal, this one discussion with the understanding that there is no black and white – and that healing happens in the gray areas of life.

2. Don’t try to solve things immediately

Of course we want our children to get better as quickly as possible. We don’t want to watch them suffer, and we want to feel as if we have succeeded in helping them effectively. But recovery from an eating disorder recognizes no timeline, especially those that are externally enforced. Remember to think long-term. Sometimes healing slowly will result in longer-term recovery. Sometimes it won’t. But the main thing is to let your child heal on their own terms and in their own timeline.

3. Don’t focus on behavior rather than emotions

Our children will fight for their eating disorder. This fight is behavioral, and if we focus on the behavior, we cannot succeed in helping our child. Instead, focus on the emotions that underlie the behavior. If our child is yelling at us, does it mean she doesn’t feel as if we hear what she is saying? If our child is telling us he feels fat, does it mean he feels unloveable? When our children tell us something, it means they feel something. Look deeper to understand what is driving the fight.


Here are three techniques used by hostage negotiators that may help parents in talking to their child about an eating disorder:

1. Listen fully and completely without interrupting or rationalizing

It is natural to interrupt a child who is saying something that you know for a fact is wrong, but if your child is in an emotionally agitated state and is trying to protect an eating disorder, that is not the way to go. Allow your child to fully express even the most disordered feelings. Don’t interrupt or try to provide evidence to refute their “facts.” Let them talk. Listening to someone is the single best way we can show our love, and our children who have eating disorders desperately need our love.

2. Use the mirror technique to validate the child’s feelings

Part of being a good listener is mirroring back what you hear. This is as simple as repeating back the last 3-5 keywords in the sentence they just said. For example, if she says “I know that everyone is just trying to make me fat again, and I don’t want that,” you mirror by saying “so you don’t want that.” It sounds strange, but it actually works very well. There is a good chance, she will say “Yes! Exactly! I don’t like it when people tell me what to do.” This gives your child the opportunity to say “yes” instead of “no,” which is critical to gradually soothing the emotional agitation. It also helps your child believe that you are truly listening, and not just trying to win the conversation.

3. Be patient

It would be great if we could win the war against our child’s eating disorder in one conversation. But listening well and handling one conversation like an expert hostage negotiator won’t heal our children overnight. We need to practice these conversations regularly – even several times a day – while in the crisis mode of recovery, and maintain them – at least once per week – while in the recovery stage. Our children have big feelings that need to be processed in order for them to have a healthy relationship with their bodies and food again, and, with patience and time, many of us can be a part of our child’s long-term recovery.


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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When you have an eating disorder … and your child does, too

With tentacles impacting us on emotional and physical levels, eating disorders are complex and tenacious. You may have struggled with an eating disorder for decades. Perhaps you’ve been in recovery for decades. Or maybe you are just now recognizing your disordered eating patterns. But whatever your stage in eating disorder recovery, having a child who is also struggling makes recovery harder.

But the good news is that eating disorders – both your own and your child’s – can be fully overcome. With the right approach, you can accelerate both of your recoveries. And you can approach recovery as a family effort rather than an individual fight. Here are some tips:

Talk to the pros

You probably have a lot of complex feelings about your own disorder and how it has impacted your child. You may be feeling shame, fear, and guilt. It would be completely normal to worry that you somehow caused your child’s eating disorder. Or maybe you worry your child “caught” it from you. First, remember that eating disorders are complex. They are not caused by any single thing.

Talk openly and often with your therapist about how to parent while you are going through your own recovery. You need to make time for self-care even as you care for your family.

Stabilizing your behaviors may seem like the biggest challenge. But lasting recovery also includes learning emotional tools and practicing them over time, in the face of new stressors. Your child’s disorder will be a major stressor for you. Get help and support in managing this.

Meanwhile, talk to your child’s therapy team about how your own disorder may interact with your child’s eating disorder. This situation is not as unusual or difficult as it may seem to you. Many people with eating disorders have children who develop their own disordered eating.

The professionals who are working with your child will not be shocked or blame you. They will actually be relieved that you are aware and open about your own disorder. Work with them and collaborate as much as possible. They will be compassionate and understanding, and can truly help make the process easier for everyone.

Heal yourself

Healing from an eating disorder is not just about weight or food. It’s about learning to care for yourself assertively even as you provide care to others. It is not unusual when a child develops an eating disorder for parents to become singularly focused on their child. They often sacrifice their own needs in the process. This isn’t healthy for anyone, but it is especially dangerous if you have an eating disorder of your own. This could trigger an exacerbation of your disorder.

We must heal ourselves even as we focus on being the best parent we possibly can be. Trust the experts when they assure you that you can heal yourself and it will help your child fully heal. This isn’t because your child’s eating disorder is your fault. It’s because your health will help them be healthy.

If you’ve been putting off your own treatment to support everything else that’s going on in your life, then please stop. You need to prioritize your recovery. There is simply no way around it. So get the help you need. Ask for more help than you think you need. And devote yourself to your recovery process.

Don’t make assumptions about your child’s eating disorder based on your own eating disorder

Even though you have your own eating disorder, it is important to bring openness to your child’s eating disorder treatment. That means you should not make assumptions about what your child is doing or feeling.

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Nobody experiences an eating disorder in exactly the same way. Every person creates their own version of an eating disorder. So even if you and your child have the same eating disorder it does not mean that your child is behaving or feeling the same way you do/did.

Just because you and your child both have an eating disorder does not mean that you are an expert on the eating disorder they are experiencing. Be cautious and check your assumptions before making any major changes to something that your child’s treatment team has suggested.

Remember to keep the communications line wide open, and give yourself time and space to think through your child’s treatment without feeling you need to rush your decisions.

Practice expressing emotions

Many times an eating disorder will communicate something behaviorally that we are unable to communicate with words. Every person in recovery from an eating disorder can build their emotional vocabulary and develop skills in communicating how they feel.

Your whole family should be a part of this skill-building activity, whether they have an eating disorder or not. Work on emotional literacy, expanding both the number of words you use to define emotional states and how frequently you express how you feel.

This is often a challenging new practice. Very few people are used to expressing emotion and thus do it very awkwardly and aggressively in the beginning. Don’t be afraid of this awkward, aggressive stage. Remember that you’re all learning how to talk about these things and that you’re all learning how to express emotion.

Practicing this skill in your family will benefit both your and your child’s recovery. As you all learn to talk about how you feel, emotions don’t need to be ignored (restriction), stuffed down (binging), or eliminated (purging).


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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3 lessons for supporting a child who is in recovery from an eating disorder from therapists who treat high-conflict personalities

children who have eating disorders often have high-conflict personality traits during recovery - what parents can do to handle high conflict personalities

Therapists often encounter people who are labeled “high conflict.” The terms used by their family members and friends to define their personalities are more often “narcissistic,” “selfish,” and “toxic.” The bottom line is that these are people who reinforce conflict rather than reducing conflict or resolving it peacefully.

People who are identified as “high conflict” often exhibit the following traits:

  • All-or-nothing thinking
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Extreme behaviors
  • Blaming others

Anyone who has parented a child through adolescence will agree that these are par for the course during the tween and teen years. In fact, it would be surprising to meet a teenager who does not exhibit these traits on a daily basis. This does not mean that your child is a narcissist or toxic, however. It is often just a sign of the natural development that occurs during maturation.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder during adolescence, you will likely see these traits even more often. You will also likely find yourself gritting your teeth because you know that you need to create a loving environment in which your child can heal even while your child treats you poorly. This conundrum of being driven absolutely crazy and needing to nurture more than ever is frustrating and can easily drive us up the wall.

Here are three lessons from therapists about how to manage a high conflict personality (AKA: difficult teenagers).

1. Let go of the past

When our children undergo challenging periods, it’s natural for us to look backward and wish for the days when they were younger and easier to handle. This is normal, and you have every right to grieve the past. In fact, it’s best if you actively grieve the child you thought you had. Part of the healing process for someone who has an eating disorder is to build self-identity and self-worth, and that can’t happen if a parent is hanging onto a past version of their child. So grieve. Grieve the sweet little child who did nothing but bring you joy. And let that child go. This will allow you to honor the person your child is becoming.

2. Learn your lessons

Parents are never to be blamed for a child’s troubles – our children are their own people, and we are not solely responsible for how they turn out. However, we can honestly assess our parenting skills and dive in deeper into the areas in which we are weak.

Very few of us receive direct instruction on how to manage our children as they grow. We most likely groan with fellow parents when things are difficult, but very few parents seek active instruction on how to handle a difficult tween or teen.

But remember when our children were young, we didn’t hesitate to reach out if our child wasn’t meeting developmental milestones or if we felt we could use some help with getting our child to sleep through the night.

There are actually a lot of resources available to parents of tweens and teens, but we have to seek them out and actively search for help so that we can improve our parenting techniques during this difficult phase of development. We don’t need to learn new things because we suck at parenting; we need to learn new things because we are human beings and this is freaking hard.

3. Care for yourself

Living with a high-conflict personality is very difficult. No matter how well you parent, no matter how much you learn, it will still be hard to live with someone who is exhibiting these traits. Learn how to take active care of your own needs, even as you provide the care your child needs to heal. Here are some key skills you can work on to help yourself through this:

  • Gratitude journal: it may feel a little hokey to you, but try writing down one thing for which you are grateful for each day, and take a little bit of time to reflect on that and ask for more of it.
  • Mindfulness: if you like to meditate, great! Do more! If you don’t, just try to check in a few times each day to notice that you are here, right now. You are a tiny speck on a planet spinning around the sun. Take a deep breath, and remember that worrying about the past or the future will not change either one. Just be here now.
  • Connections: seek deeper connections with people who are not your child. It could be your partner, a friend, or a group of like-minded parents who get together to provide support to each other. Build connections with people who see you as a fully-functioning, wonderful adult person to offset the anger your child is throwing your way right now.
  • Therapy or coaching: seek someone who can guide you in a non-judgemental way. Find a professional who you connect with, and who can help you process your painful feelings while you live in your current situation.

No matter how hard it is to be in your shoes right now, remember that it is almost never the case that our situations stay the same forever. We are constantly changing, as are the people around us. Remind yourself that you’re doing the very best you can, and then let go of everything that does not support you in doing this important work of parenting a child who is having a tremendously difficult time.


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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How to set healthy boundaries when your child has an eating disorder

healthy boundaries eating disorder

“Ever since the eating disorder showed up, I feel like I can’t set healthy boundaries with Vaughn,” says Juliet. “It just seems as if he’s so fragile, and I’m walking on eggshells all the time.”

This is a common challenge. After all, boundaries are essential parenting skills. But when a kid has an eating disorder, it can feel as if imposing our will is fraught with danger. “What if setting a boundary triggers eating disorder behaviors?” asks Juliet. “What if my boundaries make the eating disorder worse? I just can’t deal with the risk.”

These are understandable fears. Setting and holding family boundaries when there’s an eating disorder is often hard for parents. But maintaining healthy boundaries with our children, especially when they are in treatment for an eating disorder, is a critical element of raising strong, healthy humans.

Even though boundaries are a critical parenting skill, very few of us are explicitly taught how to do it or are even told how important boundary-setting is. Establishing boundaries is time-consuming, difficult, and energetically and emotionally taxing on parents. 

What typically happens

Typically what I see parents do is swing between permissiveness and over-correction. This is frustrating for everyone. Rarely do parents who swing back and forth on boundaries feel good about their parenting. And it’s not helpful to kids either. The truth is that our kids desperately need boundaries from us. Healthy boundaries are particularly important when there’s an eating disorder.

The secret is to set boundaries, hold them consistently, and allow kids to have a negative reaction. The mistake most parents make is trying to get kids to like the boundaries we set. But that’s simply unrealistic. It’s also unnecessary. Kids don’t have to like our boundaries for them to improve our kids’ safety and security. 

Most parents are afraid that setting boundaries will hurt their relationship with their child. But in fact, setting firm and compassionate boundaries will deepen your connection with your child. 

It often seems much easier to give in and let our children have their way. But despite the difficulty, the long-term effects of having firm boundaries with your children will make life much easier and more fulfilling for your entire family.

What are boundaries?

Having clear boundaries means that you have defined what you are willing to tolerate and have communicated this clearly and consistently. Boundaries mean that you set your expectations for how your child will behave, what you will accept and will not accept, and you stick to those expectations without debate.

Boundaries are not the same as rules. The difference is that boundaries are about the behaviors that we are willing to tolerate as parents. They are even more important than rules, because every year, our children outgrow our ability to control their behavior. The fact is: we can’t control our growing kids, we can only control ourselves.

A violation of your boundaries should never result in a loss of love and admiration for your child. In fact, healthy boundaries are set with the explicit understanding that you love your child no matter what they do, but you do have preferences about their behavior. This may seem like a fine line, but it is critical. Nothing is more important to a child than your unconditional positive regard, no matter what they do. 

This is why healthy boundaries are so helpful when your child has an eating disorder. It’s a way to show your child that you love them enough to set and hold healthy boundaries and tolerate your child’s feelings about them.

Force vs. influence

Rules are about force, but boundaries are about influence. We can’t force our child to do something. We can’t force them to get a certain grade, be home on time, speak respectfully, or be nice to their sister. Boundaries are about telling our kids what we expect and focusing on how we will respond when our boundaries are violated.

The best way to enforce boundaries is to talk about them a lot. Most of us say something once and then expect our kids to follow through. But that’s not how boundaries work. Think of it like a fence between you and your neighbors’ house. Your neighbors are great, but the fence helps keep their Golden Retriever off your lawn. You don’t put it up one day, show your neighbors, and then take it down. That wouldn’t make sense. The fence has to stay up in order to work. 

Similarly, you have to repeat your boundaries in order for them to work. You should regularly mention your boundaries. When your child breaches a boundary, you need to talk about it. Don’t throw your hands up and either ignore it or criticize them. Just remind them of your boundary.

Believe me. This is often enough to keep the boundary in place. We forget that the power of relationships lies in our everyday actions. Very little about relationships is about a one-time event. Influence is something we need to nurture.

What parents can and can’t do

In some cases you may need to go beyond words. For example, you may need to establish physical boundaries like not giving them the keys to your car, giving them a cash clothing budget, or removing their phones at bedtime. Physical boundaries are perfectly acceptable. Just remember to talk about it, don’t debate it, and allow your child to not like your boundary.

Luckily, once boundaries are clearly established, they get easier. We’re afraid people won’t like us when we set boundaries, but in fact people respect us when we set and hold boundaries.

Speaking of respect … we can’t force our child to treat us with respect, but we can clearly define what “being respectful” means to us. We can define how we expect to be treated and explain what we will do when we sense disrespect. For example, if our child talks back to us or speaks rudely, we can remind them that we expect them to speak with kindness to us. And if they won’t do that, we can leave the conversation. Then later we’ll circle back and talk to them about the importance of kindness. 

Doing this requires us to maintain healthy boundaries with ourselves, too. We must commit to never yell back, argue or be rude when we feel our child has been disrespectful. This boundary protects us from acting like children ourselves when our kids start to push our buttons.

Get a life

A key part of establishing boundaries is making sure that we have a defined sense of our own identity. It’s impossible to establish boundaries if we have no sense of who we are as a person, separate from the ones we love.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our childrens’ lives and forget to nurture our own needs. We love them so much and get so much out of them, but it is to our detriment if we also fail to identify what we need for ourselves. We need to have hobbies, passions, and friends who help us develop as individuals outside of parenthood.

We need to have expectations about how we want to be treated. And we need to actively decide how we choose to treat our loved ones.

Many parents, especially mothers, find they stall in their self-development with the birth of their children, but we must make it a priority to continue growing and pursuing our dreams. We cannot be whole people if we always live through others, and, frankly, it’s just too much pressure for kids when they realize that they are the central figure in their parents’ lives. It’s understandable, but unhealthy to be wrapped up in our children at the expense of our selves.

Work out your problems

When setting boundaries, it’s important to determine what is important to you, and to separate the actions you are taking from the healthy, adult, parent part of yourself vs. the unhealthy, more childlike part of your psyche.

Very few adults don’t have some emotional scars that they live with. These scars can be fine if our children grow along typical paths, but if we have a child who has problems, like an eating disorder, then we need to take some time to reflect on how our scars may be impacting our ability to parent.

Parents who have trouble setting healthy boundaries with their children often have scars in their background that require healing. Whether you suffer from insecure attachment with your own parents, experienced trauma as a child, or struggle to manage your anger, it is a good idea to work these issues out with a coach or therapist who can help you process them and move on with more clarity and strength.

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Learn to be assertive

Assertiveness is a critical skill in establishing healthy boundaries. When it is not practiced, we often fall back on instinctual aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior with our children, which is not healthy for anyone involved. Here is what each of these three styles looks like:

Aggressive: I can’t believe you forgot! The whole house stinks now!

Passive-Aggressive: I guess I just can’t count on you to do anything around here. (SIGH!) I guess I’ll just take care of it (SIGH!).

Assertive: When you forget to take out the trash, I feel frustrated, because it seems as if you aren’t participating in the household. Please take it out now.

When you make an assertive statement like the one above, you are communicating your boundary clearly and non-defensively. You are letting your child know how their behavior impacts you, and you are making a direct request. 

Heads Up: The most common response to an assertive statement is that your child will try to engage you in a fight. This would distract you and beat you down, which would let the child off the hook for bad behavior. 

Don’t fall for it!

Just repeat the assertive statement calmly and consistently, no matter what your child says back. It can be very difficult but pays off in magical dividends when your child begins to learn that when you make a request, you expect them to follow through on the action.

Learning to be assertive takes time and patience, but the more assertive you are with your needs, the more respect you will get automatically from others in your family. With assertive boundaries, we can abandon the need to nag, yell, or cajole our children.

Checking back in with Juliet

Juliet recognized herself immediately as someone who swings between being aggressive and passive aggressive. “I feel like a bad parent almost all the time,” she says. “But nobody has ever explained it to me quite like this before.” While it’s hard to set boundaries when your child has an eating disorder, it’s also healthy to have boundaries.

She’s still nervous about triggering the eating disorder, which I understand. I encouraged Juliet to check in with Vaughan’s treatment team and, as I suspected, they wholeheartedly support Juliet in establishing clear and compassionate boundaries. “They were so relieved when I said I was going to work on this,” she says. “After all my worries, it turns out that it’s something they really want me to do for Vaughan’s sake!”


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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Parents, you’re not to blame for your child’s eating disorder, but here is what you should know about it, by Beth Mayer, LICSW

First, parents should know that no eating disorder is “caused” by any single thing. Eating disorders are complex, and genetics, temperament, and environment all play a role, as do frequently co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression, and OCD. Thus, no parent has the power to single-handedly create or prevent an eating disorder.

There are many parents who are afraid of being vilified and blamed for their child’s eating disorder. Parents are not to blame for their child’s eating disorder, but there is a lot of room for growth and education for everyone involved. When parents approach their child’s eating disorder from that place, rather than from a place of defensiveness, they are much more effective at helping their child heal.

Parents work hard to be good parents – and we have to keep working at it for life

I tell parents that of course, it’s not their fault that their child has an eating disorder, and now, what can you do from here? It’s so helpful when parents are able to bring curiosity rather than defensiveness to the situation.

As parents, we often try to educate our children, but we must remember that we need ongoing education ourselves. I’m almost 60, and I’m still learning and growing and changing. There is no magic time in our lives when we know everything, and we can always learn new things.

All parents feel we have worked hard to be good parents. And we have. All of us. And if your child gets an eating disorder and you can see ways in which you can accept that some of your choices lacked education, and if you have to learn new things and adjust your behavior moving forward, that doesn’t mean you are to blame.

We live in a fatphobic society

We live in a fatphobic society. So, of course, many parents are terrified if their child gains weight. Sometimes parents try to help their kids lose weight to help them live a better life. I get that. I understand.

Societal education tells us that dieting is the solution to being overweight, so it makes sense when parents think their kids should diet. Even though it is a well-known and scientifically accepted fact, very few people know that diets fail 95% of the time and that the most common side effect of dieting is weight gain.

My feeling around eating disorders is that the parental influence is often an accidental side effect of trying to protect their children. It’s just that you didn’t understand everything yet. Your intent to protect your child is to be applauded, but now it’s time for a new approach.

Parents (and kids) can’t expect parental perfection

As parents, we can’t expect perfection from ourselves, and kids can be taught to accept their parents’ imperfections, too. Parents and their kids need to understand that parents are humans – they make mistakes, and they have weaknesses. The fact for everyone is: you got what you got; now what are you going to do about it?

As parents, it’s very hard to know what’s right. We have to be really generous with parents. There is no perfect way to raise your children, especially around food and body.

Talking about hunger and satiety

I’d like people to talk more about hunger and satiety, and to feed themselves accordingly. I think that too often parents think about how to control their kids’ weight instead of accepting hunger and satiety. In our office, because we are so aware of these topics, we all eat at random times. There is no “right time” to eat here, because each of our bodies asks for something different, sometimes every day.

Of course, our kids are in a rigid school system, and they have very little opportunity to feed themselves this way. I think most kids don’t eat enough at school. It’s a very stressful place, and there’s very little time to eat. As a result, many kids come home from school and their bodies need another meal. When the body is hungry, we should feed it. There’s no “right time” to be eating.

Next, you can address issues such as whether a child is using food to self-soothe. If so, what skills can we teach our kids to help with their stress? They spend all day under pressure at school then they come home and feel the pressure to keep up with their homework. There’s very little time to recalibrate and relax, which the human body needs.

As parents, we can help our kids find ways to nourish their bodies and offload their stress in non-food ways. We can ask, what moves you, what excites you? We can’t change the school schedule, but can accommodate hunger and help kids manage their stress.

About recovery from an eating disorder

I warn families that many of them will gain weight. Not just the child in recovery, but the parents and siblings, too. This is a natural response to regulating eating patterns after the disorder. This is hard because the message in society is that if you’re gaining weight, something’s wrong. But learning to respect the body’s hunger and satiety, and recovering from an eating disorder, is a process, not an event. The body and mind both need time to adjust.

I tell my clients there are things they can change, but it’s unreasonable to expect dramatic changes all at once. Just because we express a desire for change doesn’t always mean we’re capable of changing. I believe in being very gentle with the process of change, and being OK with not having a map. Change is slow, it’s hard, and it can be painful.

I have found that most people who recover from an eating disorder end up healthier in body and mind than the average person. But I also tell them that they are recovering into a very disturbed world. That’s the reality. But with education and self-compassion, parents can help our children, and ourselves, navigate our current society with hope for a future where all people can feel good in their bodies.


beth-874x1024-2Beth Mayer, LICSW, has been working in the eating disorders field for 34 years. She has been the Executive Director of MEDA for 15 years. She is nationally recognized for her clinical work with eating disorders and has spoken at conferences around the country. In addition to eating disorders, Beth specializes in treating adolescents and families. Beth has served as an adjunct professor at Simmons College, Boston University, Boston College, Lesley University and Salem State College, supervising MSW and LMHC graduate student interns. She is currently the co-chair of the NEDA network and serves on many local and national committees. Beth holds a B.S. in Clinical Psychology from Quinnipiac University and a Master of Social Work Degree from Boston College.

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My story: life in the fitness industry after an eating disorder, by Kortney Karnok

I feel like I have lived my whole life in the framework of having an eating disorder. It was my identity above all else. It was a label I started to identify with as a 14-year-old, after my first real “diet.” My mom was a chronic dieter, and it seemed like the natural thing to do. We even had a bathroom scale in the kitchen!

My parents did their best to help me. I attended three different inpatient treatment centers and was sent to various therapists and outpatient treatment programs. My parents were desperate to help. They paid for treatment and supported me and just wanted me well.

How I recovered

I don’t think I went a single year without an eating disorder relapse until recently. The biggest thing leading to a full and committed recovery for me finally was a complete reconditioning of my beliefs and values system around appearance and self-worth, specifically body size. But it really took a long time. And is probably still a work in progress. The introduction to feminist theory, Health at Every SizeⓇ, and Intuitive Eating were really the catalysts that solidified my perspective and recovery. Finally.

What I see in the fitness industry

There’s still a lot of dietary dogma floating around in gyms. Everyone needs their diet belief systems to cling to, and I get it, it’s how we’ve all been conditioned. It’s impossible to avoid. But I wish it wasn’t so, and I’m working on changing the conversation. I’m hoping to incorporate some programs for body image/body acceptance, and possibly an introduction to the principles of Intuitive Eating in the future.

What I’d like to see in the fitness industry

I’d like to see more larger bodied people portrayed as successfully engaged in fitness, athletics, movement, dance, whatever activity, etc. Let’s see the larger bodied people enjoying movement! I think it would illustrate to all people in all bodies that fitness and health is accessible to all types, and it’s not about weight. It’s about enhancing the quality of life – whatever that looks like to every individual.

I’d love to smash the lean fitness ideal.

What I’ve noticed about bodies at the gym

Most people are not happy with their bodies, particularly their stomachs. I work with a lot of moms in this situation. So many moms come to the gym and are distraught about their bodies. I recommend a list of people to follow on Instagram so they can see the diversity of healthy body types in the world. I think it takes a lot of time and focus and commitment to undo the social conditioning about weight stigma and fatphobia.

My gym rule is that you should never speak badly about your body or any body. Do not admire lean, ripped bodies in the gym as if that is superior to other types of bodies. Do not shame people for eating treats or admire others for being so “good” for eating “healthy.” These behaviors are all really common at the gym but are also really unhealthy.

How I talk to people about bodies

When people talk about their bodies, I try to redirect them to thinking positively about their capabilities. Most of the clients I’m working with are able-bodied and in relatively good health. They’ve just been conditioned to dislike aspects of their bodies.

I try to deemphasize body weight and weight loss and diet talk and redirect negative body talk to appreciation if possible. I try to draw the focus to the amazing things women’s bodies have done, like grow babies! I admire moms for their strength and try to encourage them to see that, rather than their “flaws.”

Any time someone expresses a negative body comment, my easy go-to is to get them to acknowledge something awesome they just did. “Yeah, but didn’t you just do 20 pushups like a badass?! Yeah, thought so. That body’s not so bad after all!”

What I tell parents about their kids’ bodies

My clients often talk to me about their kids’ bodies. I try to emphasize focusing on letting kids have fun with moving and learning new skills. I’m pretty direct about how food shaming and policing kids about their food habits (or their bodies) can be a recipe for eating disorders.

I have had several distressed parents confide in me about troubling eating behaviors with their kids. It’s clearly a challenge for parents, especially parents who have children living in larger bodies. I steer parents towards HAESⓇ resources and professionals who may be able to support a body positive approach to the family’s eating behavior rather than keeping the focus on one individual’s body and/or behavior.

What fitness is good for … and what not to do

Fitness can promote positive self-esteem, mental health, accomplishment, and overall wellbeing. However, it should be fun and not forced. And, for the love of God, please do not make it about weight control, weight loss, or building muscles.


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Kortney Karnok is a body positive Crossfit coach and soon-to-be certified Intuitive Eating Counselor living in Beloit, Wisconsin. Her online coaching business “Fueling Strength” helps women find their way out of diet culture, food, body, and exercise obsession. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Writing with your child in recovery for an eating disorder

by True U’s Annie Shiel and Merideth VanSant

At True U, we offer a combination of yoga, meditation and “True Talks” for adolescent girls with the goal of encouraging them to explore their feelings and connect with their true selves. Through our partnership with More Love, we’ve adapted our True Talks for parents to use one-on-one with their children where appropriate. True Talks are both a powerful internal exploration and an opportunity for meaningful connection through journaling, and subsequent sharing and discussion.


Explore True Talks with your child

1. Get some notebooks or journals to use for True Talks. You and your child should each have your own.

2. Discuss how you will use True Talks for both self-expression and to build your relationship. You might schedule regular True Talks, or use True Talks during particularly stressful times. We suggest using a combination of both approaches.

3. To begin, sit down with your child to choose a theme and accompanying journal prompt. Make sure you choose something you’d both like to explore and that is developmentally appropriate. Establish “guidelines of engagement” if necessary to ensure a safe space for both of you. Guidelines can include active listening, privacy of the written word (perhaps no peaking in the journal!), all to create an authentic and safe space.

4. Take about 5-10 minutes to write individually, in silence. Any form of self-expression works well. While many people write, others may enjoy drawing or creating a cartoon.

5. Share. Come back together to share your responses. As the adult, we recommend you share first – it goes a long way to take the first step and show some vulnerability. Then ask your child to share. They may find it easier to read their answer as written, or they may choose to discuss the theme. Practice active listening, and try to reflect back what you’ve heard to them so they know they’re heard and understood. If you feel the same way, tell them. Let them know they’re not alone, and you’ve been there too. Sometimes your child may choose not to share, and that’s OK, too! Perhaps instead talk about what it feels like to do an exercise like this, or why they feel that it is/isn’t important.

6. Reflect on the exercise together. How did the exercise itself go? Was it difficult to write down, or did it flow naturally? How did it feel to share? Was the exercise valuable? What might you change or do differently? Would you like to do it again? If so, set an intention to repeat this exercise. Pick a theme and day together for the next True Talk.

True Talk Prompts

Figure out how you will work together on a theme or concept. Here are three ideas for getting started.

1. Ask a question that is meaningful to both of you. Here is one of our favorites:

What are you afraid of?  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

When you finish, talk about your fears and opportunities. Consider what it would mean if you could support each other in overcoming your fears and pursuing your passions. If appropriate, make a commitment to each other to work on this together.

2. Write a letter to yourself from someone who loves you. This could be a parent or guardian, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, or even a pet. Write the letter from their perspective.

Once you finish, talk about the letters you wrote. Notice: does this person seem to care if you’re perfect? Did they mention anything about how you look? Talk about the difference between how the people who love us talk to us compared to how we talk to ourselves. Many of us are much more judgmental and even mean to ourselves than anyone else would ever be. How can you support each other in building loving voices for yourselves?

3. Write letters to each other. Sometimes it is difficult to say things out loud, and writing can help us to get our feelings across. If something particularly difficult is going on between you, then take some time to write honestly about the situation from your perspective. Lay some ground rules – namely, use “I feel” statements instead of “you always” or “you should.”

This method may be the trickiest to handle because it can stir up big emotions. But it can also be a helpful way to get down to what your child is really feeling. Only take this on if you feel you can maintain a sense of calm, confident distance from accusations and mean-spirited statements that may pour forth. Or ask your child’s therapist for some guidelines in advance. Remember that your child is seeking a safe way to express feelings, and feelings don’t always tell the truth. With time, we can learn to hear our children’s feelings without taking them personally.


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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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How to Model Healthy Attitudes About Exercise at Home, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT

Jennifer Kreatsoulas talks about exercise and eating disorder recovery

Every Spring, I get an itch to run again. I daydream about the joyful feeling of running on a clear, sunny, 60-degree day–just me and the pavement and that keen sense of boundless freedom. Or sometimes I drive past my gym and remember the empowering satisfaction that bubbles up inside after a solid workout.

The truth, though, is that it only takes a few short minutes of running or stepping or rowing before those positive feelings of freedom and satisfaction are abruptly hijacked by the desire to push and force until I drop dead–figuratively and literally.

From years and years of overexercising or even using “appropriate” exercise to burn up calories, beat up my body, and undo (perceived) weight gain, intense cardio automatically turns on my merciless eating disorder mindset. Despite the best of intentions to workout for the right reasons and in a healthy, mindful way, I still find it hard to resist the pull of my eating disorder. I’ve learned to respect my limits and find activities, like yoga, that empowers versus inhibits me.

For many of us in eating disorder recovery, exercise is a hot-button topic. Whether you are like me and have a history of overdoing it, or if you are at the other end of the extreme and just plain hate exercising, or are somewhere in between, it’s challenging to untangle the benefits of exercise from the beliefs of the eating disorder. Yet, it’s crucial that we do not let our own complicated relationship with exercise influence our children.

This means finding creative ways to model healthy and appropriate attitudes toward exercise, our kids’ bodies, and your own body as well. Yes, this is hard work—even triggering at times—but the benefits to our children and the potential healing for ourselves will pay off tenfold.

How do I know? Well, I have two small girls of my own who are balls of energy and at complete and total ease in their bodies. They dance, jump, run, roll, and climb like no one is watching. Luckily, they are still young enough to not be concerned about whose watching. Nor do they have a clue about calories, weight gain, fat, thigh gaps, muffin tops, and on and on. They simply move. Carefree and curious. It’s a beautiful sight.

To help guide positive conversations with our girls about movement and model healthy attitudes around exercise, my husband and I follow these three rules:

1. Don’t comment on body parts or shape

Most children begin with a carefree feeling about their bodies; they move without worry. They don’t see separate body parts or feel limited by the shape of their bodies. Instead, they live to the fullest in the moment. We serve our children best by praising them for all things they do and try, no matter how big or small. For instance, praising them for being brave and trying something new versus having the longest and fastest legs reinforces that our values and virtues are our truest source of strength. If we build up their inner resilience in this way, they are more likely to withstand the pressures they will face about their bodies as they grow up.

2. Don’t define what counts as exercise

Whether my girls dance for 3 minutes or ride their bikes for 20, both are equally valuable forms of movement. It would be so easy for me, the once overexerciser, to label the longer activity as “real” exercise and the impromptu dancing as “not real.” Once I bring that kind of language into my conversations with my daughters, however, I risk robbing their fun of innocent playfulness and setting off self-consciousness, comparison, competition, and a need to please others through their bodies and the activities they choose to do or not do. When I watch my children play, I look for joy in their eyes. My job is to preserve that sense of joy for movement for as long as I possibly can. By not defining or ranking exercise, I allow the girls to discover what they enjoy on their own.

3. Don’t make it about you

This may be the hardest rule to follow. Like rule #2, it’s very important to not insert your preferences for, beliefs about, or relationship with exercise. Refrain from commenting in front of your children about needing to burn off lunch, the cookie you ate yesterday, or calories in general. Don’t comment on your own body parts or refer to exercise as punishment or penance. Let go of language like “I’m being good” or “I am bad” in relationship to exercise. These messages run the risk of warping the carefree joy of movement for our children. I think about all the years I lived by and with these torturous beliefs and thoughts. No matter how hard of a day I am having, I cannot speak this way in front of my children. On those days, it’s best to turn to my husband and other supports in my life.

For us parents who are in recovery as well as parents of children with eating disorders, we have an opportunity and obligation to teach our children about the importance of movement. No matter what our personal relationship with exercise may be, it’s imperative that we step up to the plate and expose our children to physical activity such as play, exercise, sports, or simple fun. In addition to the natural cardiovascular and energetic benefits of exercise, research has also shown that physical activity improves learning in children. Get our kids moving, and their bodies and brains will benefit.

Let’s face it, we live in a new social order defined by devices, social media, and virtual everything. Ultimately, this is a sedentary way of life, and although there are many, many advantages to living with technology, the downsides can set off a ripple effect of poor health. If we get our children moving now, they will be more likely to continue to embrace activity in healthy forms and amouts as they grow.


jennifer kreatsoulas

Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, CYT, is the founder of Chime Yoga Therapy and specializes in eating disorders and body image. In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia, is cofounder of the Body Kindness Project, and a partner with both the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. She is the creator of the home video series Yoga to Strengthen Body Image and Support Eating Disorder RecoveryHer writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as a variety of publications, including YogaLiving MagazineRecovery WarriorsWomen For One, The MightyThe National Eating Disorder Association blog, and several other influential online publications. Jennifer has been featured in the Huffington PostWomen You Should KnowMedill Reports ChicagoPhilly.com, and the DailyDot. Connect with Jennifer: www.ChimeYogaTherapy.com.

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Dos and Don’ts for helping a friend who has a child with an eating disorder

If your friend has a child with an eating disorder, it can help for you to know the dos and dont’s of helping them cope. We are writing this article in hopes that it will be discovered by and shared with the many extended family members and close family friends who want to support their friend who has a child that has been diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Here are the things you can do and not do for a friend who is struggling:

Don’t blame me

Eating disorders are complex, and combine genetic, social, environmental and many other factors. Please don’t immediately assume that there is something wrong with the way I’ve parented. It’s natural for you – especially if you are also a parent – to seek the reason behind my child’s eating disorder in order to feel as if you can avoid the same fate, but eating disorders are much larger than parents.

Do understand I’m freaking out

There’s a lot of stigma associated with having a child who has a mental illness. I am walking around constantly worried about not only having a sick kid but wondering whom I can trust with this information. Who will understand? Who won’t judge me? Who will help? And even though I just told you that it’s not my fault, I’m a parent, and I’m pretty much feeling guilty every single minute. What could I have done? What should I have done? What did I do wrong?

Do see my exhaustion

I have a sick kid. I need to shuttle my sick kid back and forth from all sorts of appointments. Eating disorders aren’t the parents’ fault, but parents are key to recovery, so I have made changes to our home and our family behaviors. I’m doing absolutely everything I can to help my sick kid right now. And I still have all my other responsibilities. I’m totally overwhelmed and exhausted right now.

Do learn about eating disorders before talking about them with me

I’m not just talking about a vague memory of knowing someone who had an eating disorder who you knew. And I really don’t want to hear about your college roommate who was hospitalized and ultimately died young. I’d love it if you learned about the latest research on eating disorders. I’d be thrilled if you knew about some of the treatments we’re working through, how we’re approaching food and body image, and how we’re working on this as a family.

Don’t make assumptions

A very, very small portion of people who have eating disorders “look” sick. Most people who have eating disorders are in the normal weight range. Please don’t assume that my child has anorexia, needs to be hospitalized, needs to be underweight, or needs to go to a treatment center. When you make well-meaning assumptions like that, I may feel self-conscious or defensive when I tell you that my child has a different eating disorder, or is in a larger body, or is working with a therapist just once a week. Eating disorders don’t all look the same, and they are all a hard to handle regardless of how they look on the outside.

Do talk to me about this

It’s very difficult for me to find people who are willing to listen without prejudice or fear when I talk about what I’m going through. It’s hard, because I’m taking responsibility for the healing process, and trying to change a lot of things about how we live, and that may make you think that it means I’m guilty. It’s impossible for me to feel safe talking to someone who thinks I’m guilty of my child’s illness. But I would love to talk to you if you would listen and just recognize that I’m a parent going through a hard time, doing my best, fighting for my child’s future.

Do let me cry

I may cry at inappropriate times. I’m very vulnerable. I don’t want you to feel like you’re walking on eggshells with me, and it would mean so much if it was OK with you if I know it’s OK if I break down in tears sometimes. I really need a shoulder to cry on right now. The emotions circulating our house right now are HUGE, and most of them seem to be falling on my shoulders. I don’t want to be a downer, and I know it can be really uncomfortable, but it would mean so much if I could open up about my sadness when I’m with you.

Do be kind to my children

My child who has an eating disorder is very fragile right now. Eating disorder treatment is about so much more than eating and weight. It’s a process of learning to internalize a sense of self-worth and tolerate and communicate feelings. Please avoid any discussions about food and weight when you are around my child. But also pay attention to my child’s emotional state, and give him or her care, support, and love. Meanwhile, my other children may be feeling annoyed, left out, and even jealous. If you can, please involve them in conversation so they feel seen and heard, too.

Don’t be offended if …

I may act oddly sometimes. For example, if you show up for a visit with a giant box of chocolates, I may feel awkward. My child is undergoing treatment for an eating disorder, so food is a hot button right now. If you invite my family to a big meal at your home, I may have to say no. This is not because we don’t want to be with you, but my child may not be able to handle a food-based event right now. If you make a comment in front of me about anybody’s weight, I may walk away from you. Weight is a serious topic of discussion for us right now, and I know it’s part of normal society to comment both positively and negatively about other people’s weight, but I may not be able to handle it. There are so many social situations that I may flub until I figure out how to navigate the world given what we’re going through.

Do trust my judgment

I’m not sure that I’m making the right choices right now, but I am consulting therapists and experts, and doing what I think is best for my child and my family. I’m sure that you have some excellent ideas about how treatment should go, or what we should be doing, but please keep them to yourself unless I ask you specifically for your opinion. I know that it’s hard to listen and feel like you could make things better with your treatment ideas, but truly, the way you can make things better for me is to trust that the professionals we have hired are giving me what I need right now.

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But really – what can I actually DO to help?

These are all wonderful ways of responding to your friend emotionally. But sometimes friends pull back or withdraw during a crisis. And sometimes we just want to do something tangible and physical. Usually, it’s best to keep it simple, anticipate needs rather than ask what you can do, and be specific about what you’re offering. And most of all, these should be gifts with no expectation of a long chat or catch-up in return. Pay attention to your friend’s responses and if you think they are feeling guilty or in debt to you for your help rather than grateful in an uncomplicated way, do less. Here are some ideas:

1. Do Bring Meals or Order Delivery

Don’t ask them in advance: don’t add pressure by asking what they want or when they want it. Just do your best and guess. Pick something that can be frozen or refrigerated for another night.

Don’t knock on the door: just leave the food on the doorstep and text your friend when you’ve left. This is a no-obligation gift that requires no emotional energy on the part of the recipient. You can say “Hey! I was thinking of you and left some dinner on your doorstep xoxo”

2. Do Bring Flowers or Have them Delivered

Don’t knock on the door: just leave them on the doorstep and text your friend when you’ve left. This is a no-obligation gift that requires no emotional energy on the part of the recipient. You can say “Hey! I was thinking of you and left some flowers on your doorstep to brighten your day xoxo”

3. Do Offer Cleaning/Gardening Service

This can be a bit tricky, but if you think it would be appreciated by your friend, say something like: “I know you have a lot going on, and I’d like to help. Would it be OK if I sent Kyle over with the lawnmower on Saturday morning for you?” or “I know it’s always a treat when Merry Maids comes to my house – would you accept a gift from me of a cleaning service one day next week?”

4. Do Offer to Run Errands

You can say something like: “Hey, I’m running to the grocery store this afternoon. Would you like to send me your list and I’ll pick up what you need and drop it off for you?”

Don’t require them to invite you in when you bring the groceries. Either leave the groceries on the doorstep or help get the groceries inside, but don’t linger unless you sense they have the emotional capacity and interest in talking.

5. Do Offer to Drive to Appointments in a Pinch

Be specific about the times you are available to help.

You can say something like: “Hey, I know you have a lot of appointments and are driving around a lot right now. I wanted to let you know that I’m available on Tuesday and Thursday 12-6 if you ever need to use me as a taxi service. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need it! xoxo


It can be hard to support a friend whose child has an eating disorder. Thank you for learning and trying!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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Two dangerous assumptions that parents make about eating disorders

There are two dangerous assumptions that parents (and everyone) make about eating disorders. These assumptions prevent early detection of disordered eating patterns and can lead to inadvertent behavior that may increase eating disorders in children.

Dangerous Assumption 1: eating disorders = anorexia

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Most people assume that the most common signs of an eating disorder are those we associate with anorexia. Noticing that your child is rapidly losing weight and/or is not eating is a critical sign that your child has anorexia. However, anorexia makes up just 10% of eating disorders.

Less discussed is bulimia, which constitutes about 40% of eating disorders. Bulimia is characterized by a combination of binging and purging. Binging is defined as eating large quantities of food in a single setting, and someone who has bulimia will follow a binge with purging, which may be self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, intense exercising, or some combination of the above.

What many don’t realize is that most people who are bulimic are also actively dieting. It is the restriction of food that can lead to the binge itself, and the fear of gaining weight that can drive the purge. Bulimia is also highly correlated with deception – someone who has bulimia is typically deeply ashamed of their behavior, and goes to great lengths to hide it. This makes it extremely difficult to recognize.

But the most common eating disorder of all is EDNOS, which is an eating disorder that doesn’t fit into any single box. Most people who develop eating disorders will, in fact, combine many aspects of disordered eating to develop their own special mix. There may be elements of anorexia, or severe restriction, plus the binge-purge cycle of bulimia.

Many people who have EDNOS are recognized as dieters, and may utilize forms of orthorexia, which is an unhealthy obsession with “healthy living.” They may incorporate forms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), which may include becoming a vegan, going gluten-free, or otherwise eliminating entire categories of foods from their diets. They may also suffer from binge eating disorder, in which they consume large quantities of food in an attempt to self-soothe. Binge eating disorder often exists without the purging behavior of bulimia.

Given the complexity of eating disorders, parents must look beyond the most commonly-discussed symptoms of anorexia and seek to better understand the range of disordered eating.

2. Dangerous assumption 2: people who have eating disorders are skinny
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Directly linked to the point above is the important fact that parents cannot rely on their child’s weight as an indicator of an eating disorder. People who have eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Even someone who is on the anorexic spectrum may not be clinically underweight, despite deeply disordered eating behavior. The majority of people who have eating disorders fall into the “normal” to slightly overweight spectrum.

These two incorrect assumptions mean that parents need to recognize what eating disorders actually are. They are maladaptive coping behaviors that our children use as a way to process deeply uncomfortable emotions. The form of the eating disorder and the size of the child suffering is less important than the fact that our children need assistance with emotional metabolism.

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While we can use our children’s body size and eating behavior as a clue to the potential of an eating disorder, what we really need to understand is that eating disorders are emotional disorders. They are disorders that prevent our children from accepting feelings as normal, natural and OK. Without emotional metabolism, our children are trying to ignore and override their feelings, and they are abusing their bodies in an attempt to achieve this.

While it can be very helpful to keep an eye on our children’s eating habits and weight, let’s not forget to pay attention to whether they appear able to process their feelings in a healthy manner. Are they able to talk about their feelings? Can they name different feelings and process them in non-harmful ways?

Let’s work on supporting their emotional hygiene so that they can learn to process feelings without turning to dangerous coping mechanisms.


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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Parents won’t get an answer to whether their child will be cured of an eating disorder, but they can ask: “What can I do?” and “What can I choose?”

As parents, we naturally want answers when things go wrong with our children. We want to know why something bad happened, and how we can fix it. We are willing to quit our jobs, move across the country, lose friendships, and sacrifice every ounce of our energy to help our children get better when they are ill.

Because of this natural desire, there is a never-ending quest in the eating disorder parent community to find out how we can cure our children of this terrible affliction. And, when we meet with experts in the field, what we really want to know is: will my child get better?

But these are not questions that will help us in the long term, mainly because every single eating disorder is an anomaly. There is no single eating disorder. Each of our children who has an eating disorder is experiencing their very own version of an eating disorder.

Dr. Kevin B. Jones is a surgeon specializing in a rare group of cancers called sarcomas, which, like eating disorders, have no proven cure. He says that when it comes to sarcomas, “doctors, no matter how many questions they ask, definitely don’t have all the answers.”

As with eating disorders, parents approach cancer surgeons with hope, seeking predictions about the likelihood of recovery. But Dr. Jones recognizes that he does not have the answers to cure every patient, and that curiosity and humility are required for every single case.

“Every one of my patients is an outlier – is an exception,” he says during a TED Talk.

Dr. Jones has a very important message for his patients: “look, I don’t have a black and white answer for you, because it doesn’t exist. Anybody who gives you a black and white answer is either bluffing or is making up some part of it.”

Instead of looking for the right answer, Dr. Jones suggests we ask the correct questions. “We cannot really say, with science, what is going to happen,” he says. “I really think that the key is asking the right questions. What can I do, what can I choose?”

And this may be the best thing we can do for our children who have eating disorders. Instead of seeking answers for why this happened or when it will be over, maybe we can instead focus in on what we can reasonably do and the choices we can actually make while our child is working through his or her own unique eating disorder.

Just like sarcomas, for now, there is no single cure for eating disorders. And yet, many eating disorders are cured.


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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Every day, parents who have kids with eating disorders are scared, angry, terrified and pissed off. This is really freaking hard. You are warriors!

Fear is a very real part of parenting. In the beginning, we track every single milestone, from rolling over to crawling and walking. There is certainly some fear during that stage, but once we know that our child has met all physical milestones, a whole new, and much more confusing stage sets in.

Will my child grow up to be a good person? Will my child always yell at other people when she gets angry? Will my child do all right in school? Will my child get a good job? Am I a good parent? Am I failing her?

The fear we live with every single day, especially during puberty, can range from mild discomfort to outright terror.

And when a child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, it gets even harder. The simple fact is that it can be really, really annoying to live with someone you love who has an eating disorder. It can easily drive you up the freaking wall.

Please eat this. Are you hungry? I know you aren’t hungry, but you need to eat anyway because we’re trying to help you heal. Remember – we’re a team!

These are the types of statements that we know we need to say in a calm, loving manner. Day in and day out. And we try. We really do.

But meanwhile, our child struggles to live with a voice inside of his or her head that tells him or her not to eat. Or to eat too much. Or to binge and purge. We still have to calmly and consistently be the healing parent, doing our best to remain above our anger and frustration. Because why won’t you just eat for god’s sake?!?!?!

And then there are the lies. When our children have eating disorders, their disorder convinces them to lie to keep the disorder alive.

I already ate. I’m just not hungry. I’ll eat later.

And we just never know – is this the truth, or is it the truth as told by the eating disorder?

It’s very disconcerting. Actually, it’s really freaking irritating!

But we still need to show up and give our children our best selves every day. Day in and day out. With a nasty eating disorder that forces us to our knees, praying for the day that we don’t have to beg our children to behave differently than the eating disorder tells them to.

This post isn’t about advice. It’s just about normalizing the fact that parenting really sucks sometimes. It is terrifying to raise any child in today’s world, and having an eating disorder just raises the stakes.

Will my child ever get better? Will she die from this? Why is she doing this? Is it my fault? Why isn’t she getting better? What else can I do?

Parents are on the front line of care for eating disorders, but often we just want to curl up in a bunker and wait until it’s all over.

It’s really, really freaking hard.

It’s also totally possible.

Hang in there, warrior!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Should you go?

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

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

Make a phone call

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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The digger

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

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

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

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

The defender

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

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

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

Prepare your child

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

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

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

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

emotional regulation

Mindless comments

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Post-party review

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

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


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

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Are parents who have eating disorders destined to have children who have eating disorders?

Many people who have active eating disorders or who are in recovery from an eating disorder worry about raising a child who is eating-disorder-free. It is well known that eating disorders appear to have a genetic basis, and it is common to see them run in families.

While no parent can control whether or not their child develops an eating disorder, some recent research on the genetics of anxiety may provide some ideas about how we can possibly reduce the chances and/or severity of an eating disorder in our children.

Last week psychiatrist Golda Ginsburg published research in The American Journal of Psychiatry to determine whether parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder can reduce the chances of their children developing an anxiety disorder.

Since many people who develop eating disorders have co-occurring anxiety disorders, we think this research is relevant and applicable as food for thought.

According to Psychiatric News, “Previous studies showed that the children of anxious parents are at a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder, and parenting practices, such as overcontrol and overprotection, contributed to elevated anxiety.”

In the study, Ginsburg identified 136 families in which at least one of the parents was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The families had children who had not yet been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Ginsburg split the families into two groups and provided one group a 30-page document outlining the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, with no recommendations for reducing anxiety. The other group received eight weekly family therapy sessions, during which the therapist worked with the parents specifically and then the whole family on strategies for reducing anxiety.

In the family therapy group, the authors said that “parents learned about how to reduce modeling of anxiety, overprotection, and overall distress. The children were counseled to reduce risk factors like anxiety symptoms, social avoidance or withdrawal, or maladaptive thoughts. Families were shown how to identify signs of anxiety and strategies to cope with and reduce anxiety.”

The results after one year showed that the families who had received the document only had a 31% chance of having a child diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, the families that had undergone family therapy and learned strategies for reducing anxiety had just a 5% chance of having a child diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The authors said: “This finding clarifies potential mechanisms of the intervention’s impact and suggests that targeting specific parenting behaviors (such as reducing anxious modeling) and lowering parents’ overall distress levels (not anxiety specifically) were critical in reducing child anxiety symptoms.”

The research is ongoing, and longer-term and larger study sizes and diversity are warranted.

Like eating disorders, “there is no single cause for anxiety disorders,” says Ginsburg to NPR. “They’re the product of an interaction of genetic and environmental factors. But the disorders do run in families, she says, and there are certain parenting behaviors that can promote anxiety — like modeling anxiety in front of your kids. Modeling might be direct, like jumping up on the kitchen table when you see a mouse, or indirect, like overcautioning your kids to be careful when there’s no danger.”

Based on Ginsburg’s research, we can extrapolate a few ideas:

  1. While eating disorders do tend to run in families, there may be actions that parents can take to prevent and/or reduce the severity of eating disorder development in their children.
  2. Adjusting parental behavior, including learning healthy modeling and lowering distress levels may have an impact on their children’s mental health and the development of mental health disorders.
  3. Structured family therapy sessions with a trained therapist may help parents and families learn coping strategies that could lead to long-term mental wellness.

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.