For Parents and Carers: The first step to understanding your child’s eating disorder
For most people, eating is joyful, instinctive, and pleasurable. Eating is practical, flexible, and social. For your loved one battling an eating disorder, likely, eating is not this.
Living with a constant fear of food and eating, whether it is the type and/or amount of food is challenging and consuming. Fear of weight gain leads to dangerous behaviors that your child/adolescent or loved one (partner, sibling, friend) believes they need to engage in to ‘be in control’.
At times, behaviors may not be driven by them wanting to change their shape or weight, more so the behaviors are used to relieve an emotion or a feeling, temporarily. We work with you to establish a better understanding of the driving factors.
Supporting someone through an eating disorder can be confusing.
From our experience, parents, carers, and family will go to great lengths to do whatever they can to get their loved ones to eat and get well, such as allowing them to eat away from the family, being selective with food, encouraging ‘healthy’ behaviors like exercising, complimenting their body, for example, reminding them they are not ‘fat’ when they insist, they are. Unknowingly and unintentionally, these acts of love enable the eating disorder, not reduce it.
As the eating disorder becomes stronger, you may notice changes in your child/loved one, such as, what was ok to serve as a meal one week, suddenly is met with tension, anxiety, and refusal.
This can become exhausting. You may be thinking ‘What have I done wrong?’ or ‘Why, suddenly, does my child or loved one refuse to eat this meal?’ or ‘why are they frustrated for a spontaneous takeaway order?’
Let us share imagery with you, to allow you to begin to understand what is going on.
Picture two circles side by side.
One circle, you can view as their healthy self, before the eating disorder. Here, they were able to enjoy all foods and did not criticize their body or need to engage in harmful behaviors to tolerate emotion. They looked forward to spontaneous dinners and did not display negative emotions if they could not exercise.
The other circle, you can view as the eating disorder. This side of their mind may ask them to skip meals, exercise when they are tired or in pain, omit previously loved foods and/or foods that are higher in calories, lower their mood, and cause them to become irritable and more anxious. It may isolate them. It may encourage engagement in behaviors like cutting up food into tiny pieces or cooking for others yet not eating the food themselves. It (misleadingly) promises things like self-worth and confidence.
Picture these two circles beginning to overlap.
As the eating disorder becomes stronger, it shadows their healthy self, meaning they are less able to make decisions that are not disordered. The stronger this shadow becomes, the stronger the symptoms appear. The psychological symptoms (low mood, irritability, lack of concentration, loss of memory, etc.), the behavioral symptoms (skipping meals, body checking, choosing low-calorie options, etc), and the physical symptoms (cold hands and feet, dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, slowed gut function, etc).
Developing the understanding that their behaviors and thoughts are not a choice, nor a consequence of your actions, is the first step to supporting your child or loved one in recovery. With an understanding, you can provide care that enables recovery. Working with our team can help to increase your knowledge, understanding and confidence to help your child reduce the extent of the eating disorders shadow and see success in reclaiming your child’s healthy self.