- My child insists that there is nothing wrong.
- My child will not come back to treatment.
- My child keeps telling me that she just can’t eat her meal plan.
- My child has become so sneaky and is actually lying to me… what is going on?
- My child keeps making me feel so guilty that I am not letting her continue her sports and activities.
- My child tells me that she is “all done with her eating disorder” and completely recovered, yet, she still won’t eat with our family or her friends.
Parents collectively are wondering, “What is going on?” While all of these concerns and issues may seem different and unique, there is a common theme that runs through them all: This is not really “your child” or the child that you have known and loved for so many years — this is your eating-disordered child.
The eating disorder is very powerful and when your child is under its “spell,” your child’s comments, declarations and behaviors can not be trusted.
After reading the above list, do you find yourself asking “So… what can I do?” If so, here’s what I recommend:
- Stay strong. It is very important that you, as parents, caregivers and loved ones, do not negotiate or give in to the eating disorder. We all know how painful it is to feel like you are upsetting your child or disappointing them; however, it is imperative to continue to remind yourself that this is the eating disorder and not your child.
- Maintain boundaries. Maintaining very clear and firm boundaries as to what can be tolerated is essential. If there are consequences for not completing a meal plan or missing a therapy appointment, then those consequences must become a reality. An eating disorder loves when parents, caretakers etc. are not a united front. It leaves plenty of room to attempt to get just want it wants. There needs to be clear rules and consistent follow-through. Remember that “we do not negotiate with the ‘eating disorder.’”
- Support your child, not the eating disorder. It can seem like your child is the one doing the negotiating; however, if what they say contradicts professional advice or promotes eating less, exercising more or not actively participating in treatment and health, then it’s the “eating disorder” talking, not your child. We just can’t support the needs of the eating disorder, because the eating disorder is physically and emotionally stealing away your child. I often hear parents say that they don’t want to make their child’s eating disorder worse by not being supportive of the child. It’s important to remember that you would be supporting the eating disorder, not your child, by giving in and believing that this is what your child needs. Unfortunately, the end result could be continued physical and emotional consequences.
Parenting itself is a challenging job, and parenting a child with an eating disorder takes the job requirements to a whole new level. It frequently requires caregivers to parent in a different way than they typically have with their child, resulting in strict boundaries, use of consequences and managing frequent conflict or disagreements.
Changing one’s parenting style is not always an easy one; however, in order to properly treat the eating disorder, which is now in control of your child, it is absolutely essential. To help you get through it, I recommend that you seek support and figure out how to put up blinders, so to speak, to keep you, as a caregiver, focused on the end game, which is raising a healthy, recovered child.
Allison Chase, PhD, CEDS is Executive Director of Eating Recovery Center, Austin, Texas.