Home » What parents need to know when supporting their child in recovery
If your child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you’re probably feeling a whole lot of emotions. We see you.
In this article, we want to help you understand what you need to know to give your child the support they need to recover.
It is so heartbreaking to watch your child change before your eyes into someone you don’t recognise. The person you once knew has been taken over by another force that is driving their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
We encourage both our clients and their loved ones to create separation between the person and the eating disorder. This is known in the clinical world as externalisation.
For example, rather than saying something like “You are being extremely difficult right now”, you might say “It seems like your eating disorder is making this extremely difficult for you”.
Research shows that externalisation can be an incredibly helpful strategy in the treatment of eating disorders as it removes some of the judgement and blame from the individual and places it on the illness.1
The purpose of this is not to absolve the person of their responsibility to challenge the eating disorder, but it does help to reduce some of the feelings of guilt and criticism that they are likely experiencing.
It may seem like an eating disorder is simply about food and weight, but that is almost never the case. Instead, eating disorders have a role to play in your child’s life. This is different for every person but might include creating a sense of control, acting as a coping strategy for dealing with stress, or acting as form of punishment or self-harm.2
Imagine you’ve had a difficult day at work. When you arrive home, what might you do to unwind? Maybe you enjoy a glass of wine, a walk outdoors or some trashy TV. Now imagine that this is taken away from you. How might you respond? Common emotions might be anger, distress, anxiety or withdrawal.
This mirrors what your child is experiencing in treatment as we attempt to take away their eating disorder behaviours. This is why recovery is a long and complex process in which the person must learn to replace these behaviours with healthier coping strategies.
We know that you’re probably feeling fearful and anxious about your child’s future right now and we wish we could give you a hug! We also want you to know that recovery from an eating disorder is possible.
Your child may not believe that they can recover. They may not even want to recover. However, it’s important that you can hold that hope for them while they are unable to do it themselves.
Take it one day at a time but also look to the future for motivation. Remind your child about their goals and ambitions and things to look forward to when they are recovered.
We’re sure you’ve heard it before but remember to put on your oxygen mask before you assist others.
You are very much in need of your own support network and self-care strategies right now. This might look like individual therapy, carer support groups (these are often free!) or leaving your child with a trusted family member so you can take a night off every now and then.
Beat UK has some great resources for carers which you can find here.
Last but certainly not least, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that your child doesn’t need you to be perfect – they just need your unconditional love!
Other resources for carers:
If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, you can reach out to us for support in their recovery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD
EHL Team x
Embody Health London champions food freedom, positive body image, mental health and emotional wellbeing through a uniquely blended scientific and holistic approach. The EHL team specialises in treating chronic dieting and eating disorders by coaching clients to build confidence and reduce anxiety around their eating habits and food choices.
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