Watching your child struggle with an eating disorder is frustrating and can make you feel helpless. Remember that you’re not. People with eating disorders need ongoing love and support, even when they aren’t in a place where they can readily accept it. Let your child know that you will never give up on them and then take the following steps to assist them on their journey in meaningful ways.
Watch Your Language
When talking with or in front of a child with an eating disorder, choose your words carefully. Compliment your child and others on their intelligence, kindness and other traits that don’t have anything to do with their appearance or weight. Treat yourself with as much grace and compassion. Don’t criticize your appearance or suggest that you should go on a diet yourself. People often make these types of comments without thinking or taking them overly seriously. They are triggers, however, for those with eating disorders, so make an effort to avoid them.
Take Control of Food
If your child still lives at home with you, take charge of cooking healthy meals and snacks. You can’t force your child to eat, but you can make them join the family at meal times. Make meals fun. Share anecdotes about your day, tell jokes and talk about upcoming family events. Mealtime should be about sharing, bonding and laughing. Even if your child refuses to eat, they can still participate in these positive feelings with food on the table. If your child no longer lives with you, consider taking the opposite approach. Schedule family events and get-togethers that don’t involve food. This way your child can participate without any worry that they will have to deal with food pressures.
Eating disorders are solve-able problems, but they’re also serious ones. Don’t try to tackle your child’s disorder on your own. Get help from your family doctor, psychologists and any other medical professional who may be able to help. Some people do best at inpatient treatment centers while others prefer to tackle eating disorders at home via outpatient therapies. Keep looking for the right solutions and doctors for your child until you find them.
People with eating disorders frequently deny the problem and refuse attempts at help, so keep trying, even if your child shoots you down. Try to listen to your child without judging and offer help and support as many times as you must until the advice is accepted. Try providing several different treatment choices and ideas in the hope that maybe one will seem acceptable even when the others feel overwhelming. Although you should try not to force the issue, make sure you don’t avoid it. Choose quiet, calm times to talk to your child and listen as much as you talk. Keep a close eye on your child’s health, however, and be prepared to do what you must if you feel your child’s health is declining too far. An attorney can help you force your child into treatment if they are over 18 and it becomes medically necessary.
You can help your child overcome an eating disorder, and there is life after recovery. The process of healing can be a long and tiring one, however, so remember to use your support system and take care of yourself along with your child. Together, you and your child can find a path to a healthy relationship with food and a positive body image.
About the Author: Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake. For help with your child’s eating disorder, Hannah recommends Reasons Eating Disorder Center.