Being the parent of a teenager with an eating disorder is tough. It hurts you to watch your teen make unhealthy eating choices, and sometimes you can feel helpless to do anything about it. However, there are things you can do as a parent, and the more you can be proactive, the more your child will benefit from the investment that you make into their life.
In our last blog, our eating disorder recovery center went over some preliminary tips for parents of young people with eating disorders. In this article, we’ll cover some more practical advice for you.
Part 2. Practical Tips
1. Catch the eating disorder early.
The earlier that you can realize that your teen is struggling with an eating disorder, the more likely you will be to take appropriate and effective action to help them. This is because the eating disorder mindset is less entrenched the earlier you catch it, not to mention the fact that the potential damage to your young person’s health is much less if the eating disorder gets resolved early.
- Know the signs. Eating disorders can often go undetected for long periods of time, partly because the person with the eating disorder feels an inherent shame and hides it, and partly because parents don’t recognize the signs. Read about the signs and symptoms of Anorexia, Bulimia, and other eating disorders on our website.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the eating disorder will probably go away on its own. As soon as you know that your son or daughter is struggling with unhealthy eating habits, please take action.
2. Listen—a LOT.
If you freak out or blow up at your teenager when you find out about their eating disorder, you can instantly damage their trust and cut off vital lines of communication. The best way to listen is to ask open-ended questions (not yes/no questions). Create a safe space for your child to talk about what they’re going through. Here are some example open-ended questions you can ask.
- How long have you wanted to be thinner? (for anorexia/bulimia)
- When did you first discover that you could comfort yourself with food when you were sad? (for binge eating disorder)
- Do you have a goal in mind for how thin you want to become? What do you think that will achieve for you? How do you think people will perceive you if you hit that goal?
- Do you know what a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) is? Do you know what your BMI is right now? Are you familiar with the medical complications of being underweight?
- What are the biggest pressures you’re under right now? What are the main triggers that cause you to feel fat?
- How are your social interactions at school/work? What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in social interactions and relationships?
3. Find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.
Getting help during the early stages of an eating disorder is critical. If you suspect your child is struggling with food or body image issues, find a therapist who specializes in eating disorders to do an assessment. If your teenager needs help, the sooner the better. Once an eating disorder is established, it can take seven years of treatment for someone to recover. The quicker you seek help, the better the results.
We have even more practical tips for you, so stay tuned for our next blog! In the meantime, check out the other resources that Canopy Cove offers for eating disorder recovery. Our residential eating disorder treatment has been successful for many teens and adults, so consider giving that a try! Contact us to get started.