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10 self-care tips if you’re struggling to deal with your kid’s eating disorder today

self-care eating disorder

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, then you are likely seriously overwhelmed, stressed out, and struggling with self-care. The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge that having a child who has an eating disorder is really, really hard. Of course, you’re struggling! Trying to pretend or force yourself to be “fine” when you’re not is an exercise in futility and can make things worse. Don’t try to deny the difficulties or ignore the hardship. Instead, take good care of yourself through the difficulties and hardships.

Here are ten self-care tips to help you deal with the stress and anxiety of having a kid who has an eating disorder.

1. Take some deep breaths

When we are stressed out, we tend to get stuck up in our heads, with racing thoughts and a sense of panic. When we are up in our heads, we tend to breathe shallowly, which only adds to our anxiety. This is why taking a deep breath is so incredibly helpful. It may seem like the last thing you want to do, but stop whatever you are doing and take 5-10 deep breaths. Close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.

Save this animated gif to your phone and use it to help focus and guide your breathing:

Animation courtesy of Buzzfeed – see more here

2. Name your feelings

When we feel overwhelmed and defeated, we often become flooded by our emotions. Guess what happens next? We feel even more overwhelmed and defeated! Naming your feelings helps you gain a sense of understanding and control of the situation. Simply thinking about and writing down your feelings will help diffuse them.

Sit down for a moment and name your feelings. Write down at least ten feelings that you’re having right now. Here is a great “Feelings Wheel” that you can save to your phone and pull up to help you name your feelings:


As you write each feeling down, take a moment to name the feeling and accept yourself out loud. For example, “I feel insecure. I accept you.” This will feel silly at first, but trust me, it will help you get grounded and feel better. Feeling your feelings is an essential part of self-care when your child has an eating disorder. And it will also help you start doing this with your child, which will help them step into recovery.

3. Take a break from social media

Social media may seem like a great way to distract yourself and zone out, but it has increased anxiety for all of us. This is most likely due to the social comparison factor we are all susceptible to. Basically, we see highly-curated and adorable posts from the people we follow, which makes us believe that everyone else is doing well while we alone are struggling. This is never actually true – everyone is struggling to different degrees.

Even as it says it connects us as humans, in almost all cases, social media makes us feel more isolated and alone.

Take a few days, a week, or even longer off of your social media platforms. As you re-enter social media, mindfully and carefully adjust your feeds so that they don’t make you feel bad. Pay attention as you scroll. If some people and posts make you feel bad about yourself, be ruthless about unfollowing, blocking, and hiding those people.

Maybe you can refollow one day, but you don’t need to see other people’s faux-perfect lives right now. Find accounts and hashtags that feel benign and harmless to you. You may enjoy watching silly dog videos, underwater shots, or beautiful landscapes. It doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t trigger any strong feelings for you – just calm and peace. Self-care when your child has an eating disorder is all about noticing what helps and what hurts, and making sure you stop doing things that hurt.

4. Say “no” to one thing you usually say “yes” to

When we have the role of the family caregiver, we can lose sight of our ability to say “no” when something doesn’t work for us for no reason other than we don’t want to do it. We tend to think we can only say “no” when we have a “real” conflict like another firm commitment. But we must train ourselves to say “no” when we just don’t want to do something. Because we have to start seeing ourselves as a commitment.

Try saying “no” to one thing this week to which you typically would have said “yes.” Maybe it’s bringing homemade cookies to the bake sale, running to the drugstore for a last-minute supply for school, or texting with a nervous co-worker after hours. You can even (gasp!) say no to family events that are draining for you. Even when we love people deeply, we sometimes have to say “no” to doing things and being with them because we are depleted and need to rest.

5. Complete one task that will make you feel accomplished

When we’re overwhelmed by emotions and stress, sometimes it helps to feel we have some power in the world. With so many things out of our control, sometimes taking on one small task and completing it can help us remember that we do have agency and power in our lives. The important thing is that you should choose a simple task that will take less than 10 minutes and will make you feel good when it is done.

For some of us, cleaning the whole house is awful, but one small cleaning project feels great. Try organizing the clutter on your bathroom counter, making your bed, folding the clothes you have crumpled in the corner of your closet, or any other small effort that will give you an immediate sense of accomplishment. Or maybe you prefer something body-based. Perhaps washing your hair, a 10-minute walk around the block or a 10-minute stretching session will help.

Keep the task small and specific. Don’t overwhelm yourself by making it big and significant. Set a timer if you tend to overdo things. Most importantly, take a moment to appreciate your accomplishment when it’s done.

6. Call someone who thinks you’re awesome

Parenting can be a lonely, frustrating effort. When we have a child who has an eating disorder, it can be even harder to feel like we’re “doing it right.” Think of someone you know who thinks you’re awesome and give them a call.

Maybe it’s a parent, sibling, or another family member. Maybe it’s your college roommate or best friend from high school. Ideally, find someone who knows you as someone other than a parent who is struggling right now. Call a person who sees you as someone who is infinitely lovable and worthy. Someone who is fun to be around.

Find that person and call them. It’s OK to tell them that you’re feeling down and ask whether they can remind you of who you were/are. Unless they aren’t actually “your person,” they will feel honored to be your cheerleader. When your child has an eating disorder, part of self-care is making sure that you feel loved and appreciated.

7. Recognize the potential for positive change

Eating disorders can feel like a life sentence, but for the vast majority of people, they are not. Many people recover from eating disorders. Some people even “spontaneously” recover in a way that seems sudden and “out of the blue.” In no way should parents dismiss an eating disorder or ignore it, but do try to approach it with the calm confidence that it will most likely resolve.

Have you ever tried the “Chinese Finger Trap?” Most people immediately pull their fingers apart and keep pulling in a fruitless attempt to escape, but the secret to getting out of the trap is to relax and let your fingers get closer together.


Have faith that positive change is possible. Remember that it usually comes from coming closer together rather than tensing and pulling apart.

8. Seek healthy distraction

It’s totally OK to seek ways to distract yourself when things get hard. Find healthy ways to take your mind off your child’s eating disorder. Ideally, you’ll find some activities that are both soothing and engaging. Distractions, like walking the dog, coloring pages, reading short stories, and listening to an inspirational podcast, are all excellent ways to calm your nervous system, which is likely on full alert.

Having a child who has an eating disorder is the very definition of stress. Allow your body and mind to relax with healthy distractions that will take your mind off your troubles and reconnect you with your sense of peace.

9. Watch caffeine and alcohol

You’re under tremendous stress, and in our culture, we have two well-known liquids that “help” us manage stress: caffeine and alcohol. One or two servings per day may be a normal way for you to gear up or wind down. Still, if you exceed a previously-determined “healthy” quantity of caffeine and alcohol, it may be a sign that you are reaching for unhealthy distractions and coping mechanisms.

It may start with an extra cup of coffee once per week or an extra glass of wine on the weekends, but if you notice that your “extra” serving becomes part of what you do every day, then it may be time to slow down and seek healthier ways to cope with the stress you are under.

10. Make an appointment with a therapist or coach

You may think your child is the only one who needs therapy, but there’s a good chance you would greatly benefit from some therapy or coaching as they go through eating disorder treatment. Parents who look closely at themselves and can be vulnerable and open about their struggles can help a child who is in recovery from an eating disorder.

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

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

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Afraid, angry, and tired. Parents are at risk of traumatic stress when a child has an eating disorder

Eating disorders are terrifying for parents for many reasons. Not only are they physically and emotionally harmful for the child, but they also carry tremendous stigma and misunderstanding for parents.

Parents who have children who have eating disorders may feel angry, stressed, tired, and obsessed with their child’s recovery. These are signs of traumatic stress that can lead to significant behavioral and emotional impacts. The tension you carry as the parent of a child who has an eating disorder is serious, and it must be addressed.

Numerous studies have shown that parents who have seriously ill children often suffer significant distress, and many experience clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms. These symptoms can impact a parent’s long-term mental health, family functioning and the child’s recovery. (NIH, 2015)

Signs of traumatic stress

Some signs that you may be developing trauma in response to your child’s eating disorder include:

1. You feel personally attacked and vulnerable when you see care providers and feel that they are judging and blaming you for your child’s condition.

2. You hide your child’s condition from certain close friends and family members because you can’t talk about it without becoming emotional.

3. You find yourself obsessing about your child’s prognosis are constantly trying to guide and control your child’s behavior to drive recovery.

4. You consider yourself responsible for your child’s recovery from an eating disorder.

5. If someone makes a comment or asks a question that implies to you that you are responsible for your child’s eating disorder, you fly into a defensive rage or abruptly stonewall them.

6. You find yourself worn out and unable to function as you used to. For example you may make more mistakes at work, be late to and forget about important meetings, and forget to pay bills.

7. You may not attend to personal hygiene and personal care as you used to.

8. You may turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms such as drinking, eating too much or too little, taking sleeping pills, and compulsive shopping.

9. You find yourself withdrawing from people with whom you used to be close.

10. You experience mood swings from extreme “doing” and action, to extreme withdrawal and depression.

11. You are sleeping more or sleeping less than you used to.

12. You sometimes feel rage and anger while participating in your child’s eating disorder recovery, for example, while driving them to and from appointments, participating in family therapy, monitoring their behavior, etc. You may feel ashamed of this anger and judge yourself for feeling it.

Parents need oxygen, too

These are signs that you may be suffering trauma in response to your child’s eating disorder diagnosis. Parents can and should be involved in their child’s recovery from an eating disorder, however, if the recovery process is bringing out these symptoms for you, then you should immediately seek counseling and support for your own feelings and experience.

Just like on the airplane, we must put on our own oxygen masks before we attend to other people. This is because we can help more people more effectively if we help ourselves first. If a parent is experiencing trauma during their child’s eating disorder treatment, they are in personal danger and are also not as effective as they could be. Seeking help for yourself is critical.

Get help

The first step in helping yourself during your child’s recovery from an eating disorder is to accept that your situation sucks and get help for yourself. This is not to take away your child’s experience or your involvement in their treatment – this is merely to make sure that you are being treated for your own trauma.

Most parents who have children who have eating disorders cycle through the five stages of grief: Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance. These stages are natural and normal for parents who have a child who has any critical illness, including an eating disorder. It is perfectly healthy for you to go through these stages. Get support so that you can recognize which stage you are in and accept yourself at every stage.

With support, you will hopefully achieve acceptance of your child’s eating disorder. This does not mean approval or resignation. It simply means you are able to accept the fact that you have feelings about your child’s eating disorder. When we process feelings with acceptance, they pass with less pain and suffering and are less likely to lead to trauma symptoms.

Make some personal goals

This may surprise you, especially if you have put all of your own goals on hold until your child is recovered. However, you must maintain your sense of self and personal freedom even as you help your child. The martyr approach to parenting is just like trying to put on everyone’s oxygen masks before you put on your own. You are less effective and lose your own ability to function and help them. We must help ourselves in order to help others.

First, notice whether your goals include “make sure that my child recovers from their eating disorder,” and take that off the list. You are not responsible for your child’s recovery. Of course, you are a critical part of recovery, but no parent can force a child’s recovery – it must come from within. You can show up and facilitate the recovery process, but you cannot make yourself responsible for recovery itself. That must remain in your child’s control.

Avoid tunnel vision

To avoid the tunnel vision that can happen to a parent facing a child in crisis, make some short and long-term goals for yourself. Short term goals may include your self-care and hygiene activities. This should include rest and relaxation, and time spent doing things that make you feel energized and happy. You do not need to remain in a prison of unhappiness as long as your child is in recovery. You are allowed to have fun and enjoy your life.

Longer-term goals may include planning for a vacation, learning a new skill, or working with a therapist on your own childhood trauma, addictions, depression, anxiety, or other emotional conditions. You may feel guilty about doing these things, but rest assured that it is absolutely necessary for you to invest in yourself at the same time as you invest in your child’s recovery.

If you like podcasts, listen to the ED Parenting podcast episode 25: Mom’s burned out

Give it time

When our child faces a health crisis, it’s natural to go into fight or flight mode – in other words, we panic. This is completely normal, but since eating disorders can take time to resolve, we cannot remain in a state of panic throughout recovery. It’s simply not sustainable.

You should know that most people can and do recover from their eating disorders. Many even recover “spontaneously” without direct treatment. Yes, eating disorders are very serious, and we must take recovery seriously, but also keep things in perspective as much as possible.

If possible, enroll your child in an appropriate care program. And do everything you can to learn about eating disorders and to create an environment of healing for your child. But you also need to have some patience with the process and give your child the time and space to heal. Eating disorders are complex and layered disorders, which means it usually takes time to unpack and treat the underlying conditions. Recovery is usually a marathon (with a lot of detours), not a race. Prepare accordingly.

Practice mindfulness

This is an excellent time to learn and practice mindfulness. A mindfulness practice can help parents gain perspective even during very difficult times. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment only. This means that our thoughts are not flying behind us, analyzing what we have done right or wrong, and our thoughts are not flying ahead of us, anticipating what might go right or wrong. Instead, we are simply in the moment.

We almost never need to panic in the present moment. Unless we are actively in a life-or-death health crisis, our panic is typically caused by past and future rumination and is thus unhelpful in the present. Mindfulness can help us calm our nervous system and reduce our reactions to past and future obsessions.

If you have a child who has an eating disorder and you are experiencing high levels of stress and suspect you may be experiencing trauma, please seek counseling from a professional therapist, coach, clergy member, or other trusted (and, ideally, trained) person who can help you get the help you need.

Your pain is valid and serious. I’m sending you so much love and support as you do this important work.

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

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

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Moms: do you fantasize about being hospitalized? Is life one endless hamster wheel of suckiness?

“Sometimes I just wish I could be hospitalized,” says a 40-something mom. “Not with anything deadly, but something that would give me an excuse to drop out of life for a little while so that I can catch up.”

Most of us have had this thought at some point. Or, worse, some of us even go further, and fantasize about getting cancer, being hit by a bus or getting in a terrible accident. This is not a joke. We don’t really want to die, but we desperately need a break, and we feel so stuck in our lives that we see the only way to take a break is to have something catastrophic happen to us.

Sound familiar?

If you’re one of more than half of 40-something moms who are stressed out, it’s very possible you are clinically depressed. If you had the time and energy to take yourself to a therapy session, you would probably talk about being “stressed out,” and worry that you’re complaining about “first world problems,” but your therapist would respond with a prognosis of depression.

How did this happen?

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, it is very likely that you are extremely stressed out and even depressed. This is not just because of the eating disorder diagnosis. The eating disorder may just be the final straw that pushes you over the edge because we live in a society that puts moms in a perpetual state of stuckness that sucks the very life out of us.

We are the most educated moms in history, and we are increasingly the primary breadwinners in our households. We pursue our careers with gusto, yet we are still expected to do the majority of household labor. Our work is endless. It’s not just about the time spent at the grocery store. We also spend time thinking about what we need in the house (to serve 3 meals and 2+ snacks every day), making a grocery list and configuring our schedules to accommodate the actual act of shopping.

This pre-work requires a tremendous amount of energy but is seldom recognized as part of what we do to keep our households running. Our partners may take out the trash, but we’re the ones who buy the trash can and make sure there are trash bags in the pantry. Our partners may cook a meal, but we’re the ones who buy the frying pans, wooden spoons, cutting boards and ingredients.

We are a highly-educated and capable generation of women. We have made huge strides in our careers, and yet many of us feel stuck and uninspired at work. The constant demands of work and at home reduce our performance and chances of promotion.

Our expectations as mothers have ballooned. While our own mothers rarely played with us or supervised homework, we feel compelled to fill our children’s hours with fulfilling enrichment and feel personally responsible when our children get C’s.

While our mothers slapped together bologna and American cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread, we feel we must provide a variety of healthful options. We feel that sandwiches should be on sprouted grain bread and made with organic, locally-sourced ingredients, all of which we must purchase, of course.

We are doing this all. And we are angry. We are furious. We are overwhelmed. We are stressed out. We are filled with rage. We fantasize about catastrophe because it seems like the only way out. We are depressed.

And then our child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, which means that for all of the efforts we put into those enrichment activities and sprouted grain sandwiches, we still fucked up. We still have more to learn as mothers. Our attempt to be great has resulted in a shocking realization that our child still needs more from us.

So, because we are moms, we devote ourselves to our child’s eating disorder recovery. We take time off work to help our child. It is usually the mom who takes time off, and it’s often because we feel deeply compelled to fix all of our family’s problems. Statistics have shown that when a woman takes time off work in service of a sick family member, she stands to lose an average of $324,000 in lost wages and Social Security benefits.

Oh, fuck.

And now the real kicker comes in. We were raised with the belief that we could do anything, which has pushed us to attempt to do everything and do it perfectly. So we start to question our whole purpose in life. The thoughts go something like this: “I’m miserable in my career, my daughter is sick, I feel fat and unattractive, and my sex life sucks. Why did I make such bad choices in life?”

You see, even when society has failed us. Even when numerous individuals have set us up for our situation, we still blame ourselves. It’s insane, but it’s true.

And then we feel even more depressed. And our feelings of hopelessness and loneliness and stuckness snowball and trigger changes in our brain, and we become clinically depressed. That means we don’t just feel sad. We feel empty and hopeless.

Knowing that we can’t possibly afford to be depressed, we desperately seek ways to fix ourselves. Social media shouts at us all day about the benefits of meditation, yoga, exercise, whole foods, sex, and sleep. So, since we are good girls, we try to do all those things. But we still feel empty. And then we feel like we are failures. We can’t even care for ourselves. We are total losers. We grab for quick fixes like chocolate and alcohol to feel better, but we don’t.

We have fantasies about running away. We consider whether we could drop out of society and live off the grid. Maybe we can live off the land and never have to commute an hour each way to work, then pick up our kids, squeeze in attentive homework help, plan a healthful meal, take our child who has an eating disorder to therapy while madly running around to the grocery store, pharmacy and pet store to finish all our chores. Then we come home, cook the healthful meal, connect meaningfully with our children and … what … have sex?

Sex starts to feel like just another task on our to-do list. Even if we really like our partner and enjoy having an orgasm, the energy it takes to get in the mood, and the sense of giving one more thing to one more person is a total turn-off. So we may “call it in” and agree to half-hearted sex once in a while, but we begin to resent our partner for having sexual needs when we can barely meet the needs of everyone else on our backs.

As our fantasies of dropping out increase, we find small ways to rebel. We emotionally break down in our cars mid-commute. We sob and rage in between meetings. We drink too much. We smoke furtively when nobody is watching. We flirt with strangers or reconnect with old flames. We have affairs. We binge-watch television. We stop having sex with our husbands. We develop online shopping habits or online gambling habits. We are miserable. We are depressed.

We feel as if we will never, ever catch up. We are on a perpetual hamster wheel.

This article is about acknowledging the depression our generation of mothers is living with. Perhaps if we begin acknowledging what is going on for all of us, we can build self-compassion for ourselves individually and as a cohort of women.

Perhaps if we acknowledge that we are depressed, we will seek treatment and support. This will require changes in our lives, as well as those of everyone for whom we care. This will be hard. This is not easy. But we cannot sustain this hamster wheel forever. Something has to change.

Sending you love, today and always.

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Taking care of yourself when your child has an eating disorder

No parent wants to see their child suffer. When our children have eating disorders, we can feel helpless, frustrated and even angry. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that require multi-faceted treatment. This treatment can be expensive, lengthy and, at times, appear not to be working. And many times parents feel they must just sit by, watching and waiting, paying and paying, while hoping their child will get better.

Get help and support

Some parents have found that a child’s eating disorder illuminates their own struggles with dieting, body image, perfectionism, depression, and anxiety. All of these are elements of disordered eating, and almost every person in our society today struggles with at least one of these challenges.

If you’re interested in therapy, find yourself a therapist who can help you process the emotions that come up during your child’s treatment. There are two primary types of therapy: psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Psychodynamic therapy is what we typically think of with therapy – it involves going back in time to look at underlying components of disordered thought patterns.

CBT, on the other hand, tends to focus more on managing the symptoms of disordered thought patterns by learning mindfulness-based tools.

Another option is to hire a life coach who can be your partner as you work on the day-to-day challenges of living with a child who has an eating disorder.

Whichever route you choose, getting professional support for your own emotions during your child’s treatment can make a significant impact on your ability to effectively help your child heal from an eating disorder.

Go easy on yourself

While your child is undergoing treatment for an eating disorder, you will be experiencing significant personal stress. Physically, you will likely be working hard to get your child to treatment sessions, as well as finding ways to be more physically present with your child while at home.

Emotionally, your child will be processing a lot of disordered thoughts. Parents are on the front line for receiving these disordered thoughts, and there is no doubt that they can be deeply upsetting. Some children will use blame and attack against a parent as a coping mechanism for their own disordered thoughts.

Financially, you are likely putting out significant money in order to pay for eating disorder treatment, which is chronically under-reimbursed in the medical insurance setting. While insurance may cover the most extreme cases of illness in which a child needs to be hospitalized and medically stabilized, they rarely cover the ongoing costs required to actually heal the mental side of the disorder.

The bottom line is that you are under a tremendous amount of stress right now. Go easy on yourself whenever you can. Find a friend who is a good listener, and share coffee or a walk when you need some support.

You may find that you need more sleep than usual. Go to bed earlier and wake up later if you can. Even consider naps when needed. If you feel tired and there is any way that you can sleep, do it. Your brain needs to recharge even more than usual during stressful periods.

Be sure that you are nourishing your own mind and body even as you try to help your child learn to nourish themselves. Don’t forget to eat regularly, and drop your own attempts to control your weight or body shape. Move your body if it feels good, but don’t push yourself right now.

Don’t be afraid to be involved in treatment

Many parents have told stories about therapists who explicitly tell them to “stay out of it” and others who subtly suggest that the parents have “already done enough damage,” and have nothing positive to add to treatment.

This attitude is deeply damaging to parents who are desperate to have healthy children, and it does not support full recovery from an eating disorder. Parents are often crucial to the healing process, even if their child is an adult living outside the home.

Talk to your child and your child’s treatment team to determine the best way for you to stay involved and support the healing process.

Don’t feel guilty

Many people who have eating disorders can link certain triggers to the parenting they received. While this can feel overwhelming to a parent, it is important to know that a qualified therapist can work with you and your child to pursue healing – not blame – in response to any mistakes parents made during their child’s development.

We all make mistakes. No parent is perfect, and parents cannot be held solely responsible for any child’s eating disorder. Feeling guilty will not help you support your child’s healing process.

Work with your child’s therapist to determine the best way to handle the process of forgiveness on both sides.

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

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

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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.

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 issues, body shame and eating disorders.

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

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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.

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 issues, body shame and eating disorders.

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

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As our kids go through eating disorder recovery, we need to pay attention to our own needs as mothers, women, and daughters

When our children develop eating disorders, we tend to jump into action and place all the work on our own shoulders. Helping a child heal from an eating disorder can easily become all-encompassing, especially for high-achieving, perfectionist mothers.

Many of us feel the need to scale back on our career goals and feel we have to sacrifice time with our husbands and other children in order to support our child with an eating disorder. It goes without saying that we sacrifice meaningful time with our friends and other “optional” relationships to focus on our sick child.

But we must realize that this is neither healthy or necessary. Additionally, we can actually impede the healing process if we sacrifice our own mental health for the sake of our child’s.

If we only focus on our children’s eating disorders and lose sight of our own needs, our children will not heal. Even during the process of eating disorder recovery, we need to pay attention to our own needs as mothers, women, and daughters. We need to avoid isolation more than ever and gain the support we need. Isolation works against us – it leads to mental illness, addiction, and physical illness.

Our children know that if we are suffering emotionally, they will suffer emotionally. If we are unable to get our emotional needs met, they will be unable to get their emotional needs met.

Our children can sense when our career plans stall. They can sense when our marriages become unhappy. They can sense when we feel as if we are failing at parenting our other children. And our children who have eating disorders feel that they are responsible for these breakdowns in our lives.

They feel it, and it puts them in the uncomfortable position of trying to simultaneously get their needs met while trying not to add to our burdens. It means that even as we put our hearts and souls into helping them heal, they are not able to do so fully as long as they are crippling us in the process.

This is why we need to remember that taking care of ourselves as mothers, women, and daughters ourselves, is critical. We are simply unable to meet our children’s needs if we are not healthy ourselves.

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

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

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Mothers are starving for affection, attention, support and love – let’s start getting what we need

Mothers are under immense pressure and perform under conditions of extreme isolation.

It is no wonder that we struggle to mother our daughters. It is no wonder that we are often unable to provide the nourishment they need to thrive because we ourselves are starving for affection, attention, support, and love.

We are exhausted and trying so hard to be perfect and strong. But in trying to achieve perfection, we have become brittle, and are sometimes unable to nurture our daughters through their own trials.

We can become better mothers for our daughters. We can guide them through their anxiety and depression and help them recover from eating disorders, but it will require us to face our own needs as mothers, women, and daughters.

We can not, and should not, expect to carry the burden by ourselves. We must not isolate ourselves and try to fix our daughters by ourselves. We must not use perfection as our main parenting tool.

We must seek partners, family members, friends, and professionals who can work with our daughters. We must also seek trusted people who can help us learn to love ourselves as mothers, women, and daughters. We must learn to ask for help and to accept the love and attention that we desperately seek and deserve for ourselves. As we learn to reach out for our own needs as mothers, we will be able to nourish our daughters through eating disorder recovery.

We do not have to go it alone. We do not have to make our daughters go it alone. We can pull together and help each other rise up as a community of women, mothers, and daughters.

We can stop the descent we are all headed towards of overwhelm, depression, anxiety and disordered eating.

We can stop the dangerous obsession with our bodies, and focus instead on the beauty of our hearts and minds.

We can, and we will.

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

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

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A self-care guide for moms who have absolutely no time for self-care and that go way beyond “take a bubble bath and light a candle”

If you are a mom who has a child with an eating disorder, then chances are good that you laugh maniacally when people suggest you care for yourself. How can you possibly care for yourself when there is so much to do?!?!?

But the fact is that if you don’t care for yourself, you will burn out. It may be in small ways, it may be in spectacular ways, but make no doubt about it, you will burn out if all you do is give, give, give.

As important as it is for you to give love to your child who is struggling with an eating disorder, it is equally important for you to learn to accept love to refill your reserves. Love is infinite – but only if you replenish it. Energy, on the other hand, is absolutely not infinite. So you must learn to take in more love so you can give more love, but you must also learn to prioritize the things you need to do so that you can manage your energy.

I know you can’t possibly imagine having any time for any of this, but please consider some of the following self-care activities for yourself:

parent coach

Ask for emotional care

You may not even realize that you have become spectacularly bad at getting your own emotional needs met. But you need to get better, and it all begins with actively telling your family how they can take care of you. We said this article was about self-care, but a big part of self-care is learning to ask for care from others.

After a long day, ask your partner for a hug. A long, good hug. Not a quick, sort-of hug. Before you take her to her friend’s house, ask your daughter to sit next to you on the couch and tell you one thing about her day, then tell her one thing about your day. Call your mom, best friend, or biggest fan, and tell her that you are in desperate need of hearing what’s good about you. It’s a shameless request for adoration, and you freaking need it!

Ask for your own connection and attention needs clearly, directly, and with no apologies and no excuses. Don’t whine. Don’t nag. Just ask for what you need when you need it. Aside from being good for your soul, it’s great for your family to see what it means to ask for emotional caretaking.

Pay attention to the good stuff

It’s too easy in life to notice only the bad stuff. Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to the negatives, glossing over the positives. It is critical in learning to care for yourself to actively and consciously pay attention to the good things that are done for you throughout the day.

For example, maybe your partner makes you coffee every morning. Sure – you might do 500 other things, but that one thing – that coffee – is important. Don’t forget that it was a nice thing, and other people do nice things for you. Pay attention!

Maybe your daughter was at the mall and bought you a silly little lip gloss that you will never use, and you can’t figure out why she bought it. Doesn’t she know you have 25 lip glosses already? Plus, you had to drive her both ways, and didn’t she use your money to buy it? Still. At some point in her day, your daughter thought of you. Other people think about you. Pay attention!

Whenever someone thinks of you – no matter how small (or lame) the thought – grab onto it and pay attention. Ignore the nasty voice in your head that wants to tell you how much you do vs. the other person. That voice will not help you feel better. That voice is a bitch. Don’t listen. Instead, pay attention to every little thing that anyone in the world does for you.

The little things will start to get sticky in your mind. You will feel better. Plus, you will start providing pure (not bitter) positive feedback when you receive good things, and the other people in your life will start to do more good things because positive (not bitter) feedback feels really good and motivates them to seek more of it. It’s like magic. Except it’s not. It’s totally something in your power.

Take a timeout

You don’t have to always be on the clock. It’s OK for you to check out sometimes. Just do it intentionally. Don’t slump down on the couch with your phone and mindlessly scroll through Instagram. It’s almost guaranteed that at that very minute someone will come in and ask you to do something for them. Then you’ll be even grumpier than before.

parent coach

Instead, actively put yourself in a timeout, preferably away from your family in a quiet place where they can’t interrupt you. If you want to mindlessly scroll through Instagram, announce that you are going to your room for 15 minutes to rest. Savor every single minute of mindlessness. Your partner might do this regularly in the bathroom. Don’t be afraid to try this very effective technique!

Or take yourself for a walk. This is a great solution because if you go for a 15-minute walk, there is no reason for you to take your phone with you. That means nobody can text you, call you, knock on the door, or otherwise hunt you down to ask you where the peanut butter is or whether they can go to a friend’s house. Don’t take your phone, just announce that you are going for a device-free walk, and leave the house.

Find ways big and small to actively remove yourself from the center of the household. Take baby steps at first if you must, but be persistent in taking up your own space in your family’s life. You don’t have to go away for a girl’s weekend or get your nails done to take “me time” – those things happen only once in a while. But you can take several mini-breaks every single day, and viola – you’ll be a self-care queen in no time!

Most important of all, don’t stress out about self-care. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Most of the time it’s just about noticing, paying attention, speaking up, and taking up your own space. You can do it! Your family will benefit – they may not always like it, but they will definitely benefit!

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

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

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Are you heading towards an energetic crisis as you parent a child with an eating disorder?

Many parents live in a state of constant anxiety:

  • Am I doing the right thing for my child?
  • Am I doing the right thing for my marriage?
  • Am I doing the right thing for my career?
  • What will happen if …
  • How will I handle …
  • Will I ever …

The voices in our heads are unrelenting and demanding of our time and energy. It feels as if we can never do enough to be the perfect parent.

If you have a child with an eating disorder like binge eating disorder, bulimia or anorexia, these feelings just get an extra kick in the pants. Not only do you have the “regular” struggles of parenting, you may also have the sense that you have to save your child from herself. And, no matter how many times the experts tell you it’s not your fault, you probably still worry that it is.

  • If only I had …
  • I should have …
  • It wouldn’t have happened if I …

If you are nodding your because this is how you feel, please relax and take a deep breath right now. Your desire to be a perfect parent is perfectly understandable, but it is also perfectly unreasonable. It is likely that you are in the early stages of an energetic crisis, and that will not help anyone in your family.

An “Energetic Crisis” is when your body develops symptoms due to emotional stress. It’s like a white flag from your body, trying to tell your mind to chill out! Common symptoms are repeated colds/flus, IBS, joint pain, back pain, depression, etc. 


Here are some signs that you’re on your way to an energetic crisis:

  • You rush around, often bumping into things and dropping things as you go.
  • You increasingly make calendar errors like forgetting appointments and double-booking yourself.
  • Your memory seems impaired and it feels like you can’t actually hear things as people are speaking to you.
  • You have a constant low-level sense of panic.

These signs may seem like something that you just have to live with, but they are actually a really big deal. These physical signs are an indication that your ability to “captain” your family’s ship is in danger.

Here are some things to consider if you are feeling the overwhelm described above:

  • Find a therapist or a coach who can work with you on your expectations and perfectionism tendencies.
  • Find a way to connect with your body every day using meditation, yoga or gentle exercise like walking.
  • Talk to your partner about how you can balance your stress in the family.
  • Build a community of helpers who can help you steer the family ship.

Remember, taking steps to balance your own energy is not selfish. It is critical to the health and wellness of everyone in your family, especially your child who has an eating disorder. Your balance, calm and ability to soothe her are critical to her healing, but you absolutely can’t show up for her if you are in your own crisis.

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

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

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Mama, You Need Some Love!

Hey there, Mama!

Have you been burning the candle at both ends? Trying to be superwoman? Trying to make everything perfect for your family?

You may have heard, but in case you need a reminder, you need to STOP THE MADNESS!

You cannot possibly accomplish everything you’re trying to accomplish without taking better care of yourself. Check out this video we created about why you need to take time for yourself.

All Mamas need to learn this lesson, but if you’re a mother parenting a child who has an eating disorder like anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, you need this message even more! You’re going to need to give everything you can to your family as your child heals from an eating disorder, but you can’t pour from an empty cup! You need to find ways to take care of yourself:

  1. Accept love from others.
  2. Get help when you need it.
  3. Take time to replenish your body, mind and soul.

Sending you all the love you deserve today!

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

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

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Why You Should Talk to Someone About How You Feel

a woman feeling overwhelmed by eating disorder

I have yet to meet a parent who doesn’t get overwhelmed when thinking about all of the things necessary to steer the family ship.

There is complex tactical coordination, like getting everyone out the door in the morning to figuring out sports, music and school activities. And, of course, it’s not just about the kids’ schedules – parents have their own schedules to manage, too.

Then there are the emotional needs of your family. Each family member has his or her own unique communication style, emotional needs and developmental stage. And, of course, every one of them has good days, bad days, bored days, angry days, etc.

The combination of tactical and emotional coordination means that parents juggle a lot of balls every single day. And there are days when we drop balls everywhere.

The stress of caring for an ill child can send parents over the edge.

If you have a child with an eating disorder like anorexia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder or bulimia, your family is encountering massive stress. To add to the stress, many parents find it difficult to talk about eating disorders. If your daughter had cancer or diabetes, you would be more likely to discuss how her illness is impacting your life as a family, but eating disorders are not at the same level of social discussion.

We are social creatures, driven to connect with each other. But the stigma of mental illnesses can make it harder to find the support and connection you need and deserve when your child has an eating disorder.

Your child’s eating disorder is probably causing you intense pain, and you aren’t going to be able to be there for her unless you find ways to process your pain in the healthiest way possible.

Talk to someone. Find someone who will give you unconditional love and listen to your concerns, fears and even anger sometimes about the situation. It may be a therapist, coach, friend or family member, but it should be someone who can listen without judgement.

You deserve love during this time. The more love you give yourself, the more you will have available for her.

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

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

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Compassion fatigue when your kid has an eating disorder

compassion fatigue eating disorder

Lori looked down at her shaking hands. The tears slipped down her cheeks. “I feel so guilty about this,” she whispered. “But I’m just too tired to handle my daughter’s eating disorder anymore.”

My heart opened up to Lori. She clearly felt guilty – maybe even ashamed of herself. But of course she was tired! In fact, I would expect her to be tired, irritated, and exhausted. Having a child in a mental health crisis is incredibly difficult, and almost all parents find themselves overwhelmed and burnt out at some point. This is due to something called compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring. It is sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress. 


Lori’s fatigue makes sense. Her daughter has been hospitalized twice, and the whole family has been on high alert for over two years now. The constant strain and stress over the eating disorder have created the perfect conditions for compassion fatigue.

“I mean, I haven’t even been able to let her go to the bathroom by herself,” said Lori. “I’ve taken a leave of absence from work and have to monitor every meal and snack. I get almost no breaks.”

One of the things Lori is going to try to help her daughter get into recovery is to work on emotional regulation and validation of her daughter. But it will be very hard for Lori to succeed in either of these endeavors when she has active compassion fatigue. So our work needs to begin by addressing how hard this is for Lori and try to build up some strength before she takes on the emotional labor of supporting her daughter. That’s right: for Lori to help her daughter with her eating disorder, she must work on her compassion fatigue.

Parents with compassion fatigue + an eating disorder

Compassion fatigue is the bone-deep exhaustion that comes with caring for another person, especially if they have a mental or physical health condition. It’s commonly found in healthcare workers, care providers, and, of course, parents.

Compassion fatigue is something that most parents probably have a little bit of every single day. Our consistent care for the people in our families combined with paid work, volunteer work, and housework is typically already at the maximum level even without extenuating circumstances.

Parents managing a family member with a condition like anxiety, depression, and/or an eating disorder can find themselves overwhelmed with their loved ones’ needs. In these cases, if parents don’t take intentional action to care for their needs, they may experience compassion fatigue.

And make no mistake: having compassion fatigue when your child has an eating disorder will make things harder. There is no benefit to having compassion fatigue. And recovering from compassion fatigue will help you be more effective in helping your child with an eating disorder.

Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue can cause symptoms that can significantly impact our ability to enjoy life and make it harder to care for our loved ones. Symptoms include:

  • Blaming of other people both in and outside of your family
  • A deep sense of being isolated and overwhelmed
  • Increased behavioral addictions like drinking, overspending, and disordered eating
  • Not caring for your hygiene and nutrition (e.g. showering, brushing hair, brushing teeth, eating regularly)
  • Chronic physical ailments like back pain, recurrent colds, and gastrointestinal problems
  • Recurring nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and a sense that you can never get enough sleep
  • Mentally and physically tired and apathetic
  • Activities that you once enjoyed are no longer interesting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of anxiety, depression, and associated conditions

Care for yourself, too

It may seem impossible to imagine not giving all of ourselves to the people we love. But the fact is that if we fail to take care of ourselves as well, many of us will show symptoms of compassion fatigue. Since many of us don’t want to set boundaries and say “no” when things become too much for us, Compassion Fatigue is a way that our bodies step in and say “no” on our behalf.

Because as much as we want to do everything for everyone we love, we can’t pour from an empty cup. We simply must find a way to fill ourselves and meet our own needs to provide the care our loved ones need from us.

I know – your attention is already overwhelmed by managing a child who needs extra care on top of the everyday management of your family, and imagining having any additional attention to give to yourself seems ridiculous.

Here is a printable I created to help you spot the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue:

compassion fatigue for eating disorders

How to fit it all in

If you’re like most parents who have compassion fatigue, you probably feel you have no option. It probably seems like you have to keep doing everything you’re doing or everything will fall apart. I know this seems essential, but think of what we’re taught on the airplane. You cannot save anyone else if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first. Putting everyone’s needs before your own is a sure recipe for compassion fatigue. And the fact is that you will not be as effective at supporting your child’s needs if you have compassion fatigue.

For Lori, there are several things, including emotional co-regulation and validation, that will help her daughter recover from an eating disorder. But Lori can’t do these things until she has recovered from her compassion fatigue.

Your self-care must be at least as important as your child’s care. If you can’t imagine how this can be possible, then please get some support from a therapist or coach. Here are a few things they will likely have you get started with:

  • Separate what you can reasonably do from what you cannot do
  • Attend to your own essential needs (sleep, food, connection, etc.) before caring for others
  • Delegate tasks to others where possible
  • Relieve yourself of taking all the responsibility

If this sounds impossible, I understand! Please find a therapist or coach to help you determine the best way to juggle everything on your plate without sacrificing yourself.

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

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

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Parents: your feelings of guilt and shame will not help your child heal from an eating disorder

One of the biggest challenges parents face in supporting their children with eating disorders like binge eating disorder, bulimia, orthorexia and anorexia, is the blame, guilt and shame they feel about how their child’s illness reflects upon them as parents.

As parents, we carry natural burdens when it comes to our children’s success and happiness in life. Our sense of burden can overtake us and negatively impact our ability to be the parents our children need. Of course, we want our children to succeed and be happy, but to place all of the responsibility of their future life in our hands is to ignore the fact that our children are their own people, and we are not their only influence in their lives.

To shoulder the blame for your child’s eating disorder is to assume that you alone control your child’s path in life. You don’t. You never have, and you never will. Your child is her/his own person. You cannot be blamed for anything s/he does or does not do. Seriously. None of us can control another human being.

Eating disorders are complex mental disorders with multiple interlinked causes. While it’s easy to assign blame to the child, the family, and our diet-obsessed culture, there is no single answer for why any person develops an eating disorder.

If you are carrying around blame associated with your child’s eating disorder, then you need to be gentle with yourself and work at unraveling your guilt and shame so that you can move forward as the parent they need right now.

I feel guilty about my child’s eating disorder

If you are thinking things like “I talked to her about achieving a healthy weight, and now she’s anorexic!” or “I always took her out for ice cream when she was sad, and now she is bulimic.” Sure, you can accept your guilty thoughts. You have made mistakes (all parents do!), but none of your mistakes could possibly single-handedly cause an eating disorder.

We all make mistakes. Look carefully at every guilty thought you have around your child’s eating disorder, acknowledge it, and then release it. We all do the very best we can, and what matters is what you do now that you know you have an eating disorder in the house.

I am ashamed of myself

Shame takes guilt to a deeper level. When you feel shame, you have a sense that you are deeply and inherently flawed as a parent. This means that those normal guilty thoughts turn ugly and against you as a person. When we feel shame, we believe that we are bad at our core. We believe that we are worthless and unlovable. Worst of all, shame also gives us the belief that there is nothing we can do to change our toxic selves.

And this is the problem with shame when we are parenting. Someone in deep shame cannot see any way to repair the mistakes they have made or improve the lives of those around them by learning new skills and behaviors. Shame is so debilitating and painful, that parents living in shame develop coping mechanisms such as avoiding deep contact with their children or even turning the blame upon their children to avoid the sense of failure they feel within themselves.

Shame is the worst possible feeling to live with, except, perhaps, the experience of living with a parent who feels ashamed. That’s right. As a parent who loves a child, you must find a way out of shame in order to help your child heal from an eating disorder. This is not simple or easy, but it is critical.

If you are feeling guilt and/or shame about your child’s eating disorder, then please find a trusted friend or, ideally, a licensed therapist, who can work through these issues with you and lessen the burden you are carrying. Even a few sessions with a therapist can make a huge impact on your ability to free yourself from guilt and shame, and move forward more powerfully as your child undergoes treatment for an eating disorder.

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

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