How to Support Your Child in Eating Disorder Treatment

No matter what an individual’s age or stage of life, having support as he or she goes through treatment for an eating disorder is imperative. Your child needs your help as he or she begins to stop using eating disordered behaviors to cope with life, whether they are a child, teenager or adult.

Keep mealtime conversation light

One way to support your child is to talk about other subjects (not just the eating disorder) while eating meals together.  Ask about his or her day or share a story that would interest your child. Drawing attention to the food while eating or making such comments as “Are you going to finish that? Remember what your dietician said,” can elicit conflict during meal time.  These things can be discussed, but it’s better to do so during a non-meal interaction. 

Plan a wide variety of activities

Aim to do things as a family that do not involve food as well.  Between meals, take a trip to the mall or go to the park.  Find something everyone will enjoy doing and make it free of eating disorder talk. Another way to support your loved one is to remind them how much you love them and that if they need you, you are there.  Sometimes the best thing a parent can do is ask, “What do you need from me?” or simply listen.  Parents can be quick to offer solutions or advice at times when their child just wants to be heard.

Stay up to date on eating disorder facts

In addition, it is important for parents to be educated about their child’s eating disorder and in many cases to be involved in the decision-making process as it relates to treatment. You may find that having support from other parents enables you to care for yourself while being there for your child. Self-care is very important because if you are not feeling strong and healthy yourself, it will be difficult for you to support your child.

View eating disorder facts here.

Many parents ask what to say and what not to say to someone in eating disorder recovery. Below are examples of each.

10 things not to say to a child with an eating disorder

  1. “Just eat!”
  2. “You’re so selfish.”
  3. “Why can’t you just eat like a normal person?”
  4. “Can’t you see how much you are hurting me/us?”
  5. “This is all your fault.”
  6. “What are you eating?” or “Why are you eating that?”
  7. “You’re such a handful. We can’t do this anymore.”
  8. “None of your friends act this way.”
  9. “I’m so disappointed in you.”
  10. “You’re being ridiculous.”

10 things to say to a child with an eating disorder

  1. “I may not understand what’s going on, but I’m here for you.”
  2. “I love you, care about you and it’s difficult for me to watch you struggle.”
  3. “How can I best help you?”
  4. “What do you need from me?”
  5. “How are you feeling today?”
  6. “I’m proud of you for…”
  7. “I would like to be involved in your treatment so I can learn more about what you’re dealing with.”
  8. “Would you like to do something enjoyable that doesn’t involve food? (Of course, not at meal time).
  9. “Tell me more about what you’re dealing with.”
  10. “If you’d like, I’ll sit with you while you eat.”

Find more family support resources here.

Meredith Thomas offers support and advice to parents of child, adolescent and adult children with eating disorders.

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