Eating disorders are about much more than food, and yet food and eating are at the center of our eating disorders. Food and eating – how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and more, is at the heart of our disorder.
It may surprise you to know that the best thing parents can do about food during eating disorder treatment is to reduce their focus on food. Except in specific cases (typically anorexia nervosa, the least-common but most-deadly eating disorder), often the parents should focus on building connection and belonging with their children and let eating-disorder-trained nutritionists and therapists focus on the food part of the disorder.
At the same time, parents need to be aware that there are some troubling diets cloaked in a shroud of “healthy living” and morality that can be hijacked by a person who has an eating disorder and used to restrict entire categories of food. These include “clean eating,” vegetarianism, sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free and other highly-restrictive diets. Parents should work with their child’s treatment team to help a child who has an eating disorder process the driving factors behind these diets.