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7 Ways My Parents Can Support Me in Anorexia Recovery

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It may have crawled up from underneath the table and taken a seat right next to your child while no one was watching. It may have been hidden for a long time. But now it may have taken a place in your life as well — the eating disorder. You might be wondering: what do you do? What do you say? How do you react?

It’s not easy to understand someone struggling with anorexia, and to be quite honest, many people struggling may not understand it themselves. So nobody expects you to know how to handle this new situation, but I am going to try and help. Many people might say: “well your child has had an eating disorder for longer than you may know, and you were able to live with it back then.” But that’s not true. Back then, they were in the midst of their struggle, now they are recovering and need support.

I, myself, am a daughter, student, book lover and recovering from anorexia. Here are some tips from someone with personal experience on how to deal with the current situation:

1. This may seem obvious, but please get your daughter or son help as soon as possible.

You may think your child is strong and your family can offer a good support network, but professional help is essential in the recovery process. Your child might think they are “not sick enough” and might try to convince you that they’ll recover by themselves, but in most cases, that is actually the illness speaking trying to remain in control.

2. Food, meal plans, servings and snacks are big parts of the physical recovery, but can be some of the hardest parts to continuously keep up with.

Especially for someone struggling. I know I often feel guilty or greedy when I make my own snack without being reminded of it. On several occasions, my anorexic mind has made me test how far I can go without my parents noticing I’ve missed snacks or kept up with food. Give prompts such as: “Is it time for your snack yet?” This shows that you are involved and expect your child to eat. This can be relieving, as someone struggling may not want to eat, feeling guilt if they do. But do not exert too much control. Taking absolute control (if not professionally advised) can harm the parent-child relationship and make your child feel pressured and uncomfortable in food situations, which can become counterproductive. Additionally, your child should try to learn how to handle food in a more normalized way by themselves. Therefore, exerting full control can often elongate the recovery process. It’s a fine balance.

3. Remember that we have a problem, but we are not the problem.

Your child is still your child. They should not feel like this mental illness is their fault or be punished for it.  That could lead to further restriction.

4. Make sure the eating disorder and the recovery is only a part of your family life and not the entire thing.

Continue to do things you did pre eating disorder; like family trips, going out or cinema trips. Strive for a sense of normality so that a life without the eating disorder is imaginable. Otherwise it will be even harder for your child to let go of it because they might wonder how things would even be if their life doesn’t fully revolve around their eating disorder.

5. Do not comment on any physical changes.

Eating disorders can twist and turn words to trigger a relapse. “You look so much better” often equates to “you are fat.” “I am glad you look healthy again” often equates to “you are fat and don’t need to gain weight.” “You are so skinny I am worried” often equates to “losing weight is what will get people to care for me.” As long as your child is still vulnerable, try to avoid any remarks on physical appearance, even if they are supposed to be positive.

6. The same goes for food.

Do not comment on how “unhealthy” their snack might be or the amount they are eating. I think this goes without saying, but you can never be too sure. However, if you think they’re still not eating enough, speak out. They might think the same and just not want to point it out themselves.

7. Try to show that you care for them outside of their eating disorder.

If your child only realizes that you show concern when they’ve lost weight or because they haven’t eaten, then they might think that this is the only way they can get attention. Ask about school, friends or hobbies; and don’t forget to show appreciation toward non-recovery related achievements. This way, your child will learn that they are more than their eating disorder and they can be recovered and still cared for.

As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder, the things on this list would have made life easier for me. Remember to stay the parent — not the therapist or the nutritionist — and offer support in a loving and understanding way. It can help more than you might think.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Unsplash photo via Jez Timms

Originally published: September 19, 2017
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