Advice for parents to help their child overcome an eating disorder

The number of children diagnosed with eating disorders is on the rise. When a child is diagnosed with an eating disorder, parents often feel hopeless and helpless. They feel that they are to blame, and they are scared that their child won’t get better. The good news is that parents can be their child’s best resource and support for recovery. Knowing what to do and how to intervene when a child has an eating disorder is a key part of starting on the road to healing.


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  • separate your child from his/her eating disorder
  • remember that you can help your child recover
  • get professional help
  • take care of yourself
  • have hope

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  • blame yourself
  • blame your child
  • think your child has to want to recover to get help
  • only focus on food and weight
  • diet or criticize your body

Rachel Millner, Psy.D.‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do separate your child from his/her eating disorder

When a child has an eating disorder it is very easy to confuse the child with the eating disorder. Try to remember to separate your child from the eating disorder itself. Think of the eating disorder as an illness or disease outside of your child. Don’t engage the eating disorder in dialogue, debate, or discussion. Remember that the eating disorder is not rational and may not make sense so trying to engage the eating disorder in conversation is going to be frustrating. Instead, talk to your child and offer love and support, letting him or her know that you are stronger than the eating disorder and will help him or her beat the eating disorder.

Do remember that you can help your child recover

Parents often feel that they are powerless to help their child recover from an eating disorder. This is not the case. As a parent or caregiver, you are your child’s top advocate and support, and there is a lot you can do to help your child recover. Things you can do to help include being there to help with meal support, giving your child love and nurturing, educate and inform people around you about eating disorders, get outside help for you and your child, and remind yourself and your child that things will get better and it won’t be this hard forever.

Do get professional help

While there is a lot that parents can do to help their child recover from an eating disorder, parents don’t have to do it alone. There is a lot of help and support available to children with eating disorders and their families. The types of help range from inpatient or hospital programs to residential facilities, to individual therapists and nutritionists, to family based treatment programs. Take the time to research the help that is available to find the right type of help and support for you and your child. One type of treatment and one particular provider doesn’t work for every child, so if one intervention doesn’t work try something different until you find the right fit for you and your child.

Do take care of yourself

Your child needs you. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to be there for your child. Helping a child recover from an eating disorder is hard work, and it can be exhausting, frustrating, and isolating at times. Make sure that you are making time for yourself. Practice relaxation techniques. Get out of the house. Ask family and friends for help. Try to get enough rest. Do what you need to do to take care of you so that you can also take care of your child.

Do have hope

The beginning stages of an eating disorder can feel hopeless. Seeing your child struggle and suffer, trying to find the right kind of treatment, wondering how this happened can all feel discouraging and endless. Try to remind yourself that things will get better. Children recover from eating disorders and can go on to live full, healthy lives. Do your best to look ahead, and have hope of what is to come. Remind yourself that it will get easier and recovery is possible.

Rachel Millner, Psy.D.‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not blame yourself

It’s not your fault. Blaming yourself doesn’t help your child, and leads to your feeling guilty and stuck. You didn’t cause your child’s eating disorder, but you can have a big impact on helping them to get better. Focus on what you can do to help rather than blaming yourself for something that is not your fault.

Do not blame your child

It’s not your child’s fault either. As hard as it is to accept, eating disorders aren’t anybody’s fault. Nobody intentionally gets an eating disorder and your child didn’t do anything to cause their eating disorder. It can be difficult not to blame your child or get angry when they are refusing to eat or you catch them purging. Remember that they have an illness. You wouldn’t blame your child for having diabetes or cancer. Don’t blame them for having an eating disorder.

Do not think your child has to want to recover to get help

Most people with eating disorders say they don’t want to get better, especially at the start of treatment. Don’t wait for your child to recognize that they have a problem or say that they want to get better to get them help. You can help your child, and you can get your child outside help even if they don’t want to get better. Even if they say they like their eating disorder and want to stay sick, and even if they won’t acknowledge that they have an eating disorder at all. As soon as you realize or suspect that your child has a problem begin the process of helping them and getting them help. The path to recovery is typically quicker and smoother the sooner an eating disorder is diagnosed and treated.

Do not only focus on food and weight

Eating disorders are scary. It is easy to only focus on the food or the number on the scale as a gage for how your child is doing. Remember that your child is more than just their eating disorder. While recovery does need to include weight restoration if your child is below their typical growth curve, it also needs to include recovery to their typical emotional state. Look at your child as a whole person. Talk to them about things outside of their eating disorder. If your child is cleared medically, do things with them that they enjoy away from eating.

Do not diet or criticize your body

Your child is bombarded with messages about dieting, thinness, and weight loss from the media, at school, and from their peers. Don’t perpetuate these messages at home. For a child who has an eating disorder or is susceptible to developing one, dieting can be the trigger that sets the eating disorder in motion. Don’t diet at home, don’t talk about dieting, and don’t allow your child to diet. Model saying positive things about your own body. Tell your child that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Educate your child about genetics and that people have different body types. Talk about ways that you enjoy your body that have nothing to do with its size.


Eating disorders are challenging and scary. Parents don’t cause their child’s eating disorder, and they aren’t to blame. It is equally important not to blame the child for his or her eating disorder. Separating the eating disorder from the child is a helpful way to not blame or get angry at the child. There is a great deal that parents can do to help their child recover from an eating disorder. Parents can also seek out professional help for additional support and guidance in helping their child recover. The beginning stages of treatment can be difficult and frustrating, but parents should try to remember that it does get easier, and that children can, and do, recover from eating disorders.

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