Parents and Eating Disorders: What Not To Do

June 23, 2010 Laura Collins

I'm an optimistic person and an activist by nature. I'd rather talk about what we, as parents, CAN do than what NOT to do. But sometimes doing less is not only best, it is lifesaving.stophand

Saying "NO" to the Eating Disorder is Brave, Hard, and Loving

The bravest, hardest, most loving thing we can do is to stop supporting the eating disorder while still supporting our child.

This is brave because it means facing the wrath, disdain, and fear of our child. We're not used to this: parents are built to feel empathy and to provide comfort. But when a loved one is trapped in a destructive and terrifying eating disorder, it is necessary to listen to our loved one's long-term needs and not their immediate fears and anger. We have to say "no" to the eating disorder.

This is hard for so many reasons but, perhaps, mostly because it is so unfamiliar and counter-intuitive. How can making someone unhappy be a good thing? How can provoking such anger be an act of love? How can our dear daughter or son be helped when they don't seem to want help, or accept that we are helping?

This is loving, too, at the most basic parental level: loving to the person inside who can neither see the problem nor guide us to the best path to helping them. We have to "do the loving for the both of us," and the thinking, too.

Doing More For An Eating Disorder Patient By Doing Less

How can we do more to help our eating disordered child by doing less?

  • Stop looking away. Face the problem with calm and information and resolve no matter what "ED" throws at you.
  • Stop financial support for anything but recovery. Cancel charge accounts, car insurance, cell phones, rent, and that weekly $20 bill in an inspirational card if it is in any way enabling your loved one to do anything but recover.
  • Refuse to give shelter. If your home is safe for eating disorder behaviors then your home is unsafe.
  • Don't continue with treatment that is not working. Eating disorder treatment is urgent and ongoing. Progress isn't rapid nor does it happen in a straight line. However, if weight is not being normalized and stabilized and eating disordered behaviors are continuing, then your loved one deserves a Plan B and a family that settles for nothing less.
  • Just say no to blaming. Don't let your child be blamed for his or her illness and don't allow yourself to be blamed, either. Don't play pig-pile on your ex or bullies at school or any other single factor that becomes the focus of blame. The eating disorder is the problem, as are any co-morbid issues. Blame "ED."
  • Don't isolate yourself. Many eating disorder patients want their loved ones to keep secrets and feel angry when their family seeks comfort from others, but that is not healthy for anyone. You need a support system and you need to remain genuine and connected.
  • Don't be normal. This is a terribly serious illness and it deserves your attention and your ACTION.

APA Reference
Collins, L. (2010, June 23). Parents and Eating Disorders: What Not To Do, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Laura Collins

Laura Collins
June, 28 2010 at 12:22 pm

I'm sorry that you feel that way about the illness. I disagree.

June, 28 2010 at 11:14 am

Being one with an eating disorder that started as a child, I would have to agree to a certain extent; however, there is a lot that is missing from this that could help parents to understand WHY their child regardless of age is doing this. Eating disorders is a lot like self-injury, except that it has far more detrimental effects. It is something that a child or adult has control over in their life, when they seem as though they have no control. The content of the article reads more like an addiction intervention plan. Eating disorders is not an addiction. Additionally, more often times than not, IT IS THE FAULT of the parents.

Charlotte Bevan
June, 23 2010 at 6:37 am

Perfect - I am going to send this to a load of people. As always, Laura, perfect.

June, 23 2010 at 6:27 am

You are right, right, right about all of the above. All of us who know this must keep saying it to everyone who needs to hear it, and to keep living it if we have loved-ones with eating disorders.

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