Top Ten Eating Disorder Questions
1. Why are eating disorders so dangerous?
Eating disorders are a misuse of food to resolve
emotional problems. Behind every eating problem there is
an emotional issue yet to be discovered; behind every
“fat” thought, there is another thought, needing to be
discovered. The most lethal of all the mental health
disorders, eating disorders kill 13 to 20 percent of
their victims, 90 percent of whom are kids under the age
Eating disorders are pervasive, crossing all cultural
and socio-economic lines, and afflicting an increasing
number of men and boys and younger children. They are
insidious, hardly appearing to look like pathology, but
instead resembling self-discipline and self-control.
When parents are knowledgeable about eating disorders,
their child’s needs, and their role as parents, when
they are not afraid to become involved with their child
in a proactive way, eating disorders are preventable.
The best news is that eating disorders are curable in 80
percent of cases where parents can detect disease in
their child early and engage in the most effective
treatment for both child and family.
2. Why are body image concerns so dangerous?
Body image concerns can lead to disordered eating, and
otherwise “benign experimentation” with dysfunctional
eating behaviors such as occasional purging or dieting,
etc. These behaviors put a child at high risk for
developing an eating disorder. If a parent sees such
behaviors in their child, it may indicate that their
child is on a slippery slope. Body image concerns are a
natural part of growing up today, particularly with
youngsters reaching puberty at an early age.
3. What makes eating disorders so difficult to identify?
Though eating disorders are diseases, and lethal ones at
that, many of the behaviors that distinguish them fall
into the realm of normalcy. Everybody is on a diet of
one sort or another these days…and typically, people
feel appreciated and validated for dieting behaviors
that seem to be indicators of self-discipline and
4. Why do some kids get eating disorders and others do not?
There is evidence that the causal roots of eating
disorders lie in genetics and temperament. But not all
kids with genetic predispositions will become eating
disordered, either. For an eating disorder to develop,
genetic tendencies must be combined with or triggered by
environmental factors as well. Parents do a great deal
to shape a child’s attitudes towards food.
5. Are parents the cause of their child’s eating disorder?
That parents shape a child’s food attitudes does NOT mean
that parents are responsible for causing their child’s
eating disorder. Though they are not the cause of their
child’s disease, there is a great deal they can do to
PREVENT or to HEAL these diseases in their child.
Parents who do not understand eating disorders or their
implications for their child may inadvertently trigger an
eating disorder in a genetically susceptible child, despite
their intentions otherwise. Their task is to learn how to
become involved in the process appropriately and
constructively. Eating dysfunction is a warning light
flashing; it is for parents to help the child recognize and
define the problem, so it can be resolved.
6. Why do parents need to step in when they see a problem?
A child’s malnourished brain is incapable of accurate
perceptions, and renders the child incapable of making sound
judgments and assuming responsibility for self-care. The
eating disordered child virtually gives herself over to the
disease. As much as 80 percent of a child’s thought can be
taken up by food obsessions and calculations, leaving the
mind unavailable for learning. In a recent study, eating
disordered children said that they feared becoming fat more
than they feared losing their parents, getting cancer, or
experiencing a nuclear holocaust.
7. What should parents do?
Parents should intervene, not with the intention of taking
control of the child or her food, but of taking charge of
the situation only until such time as the child becomes
capable of resuming some degree of self-control. Teens need
appropriate and knowledgeable input from their parents as
much as infants do. And if parents are not forthcoming, the
child becomes more susceptible to the negative influences of
peers and the media. Nature abhors a vacuum.
The role that the parent plays will vary based on the
parent’s emotional facility, the child’s age and
developmental life stage, the nature of the parent/child
connection, and the particular stage of treatment and
recovery progress. Their role will change during the course
of the child’s recovery; the parent must learn to modify the
nature of his or her support according to the changing needs
of the child. When the entire family can support child’s
recovery or be involved in the child’s changes, the child is
liable to make the timeliest, most effective, and lasting
8. What kind of intervention is appropriate intervention?
Parents need to find a way to bring themselves closer to the
child so that the child is brought closer to cure. Parents
need to communicate their concern for the child; the
parent’s intention is to support, not to control food or the
child. Parents need to learn to listen between the lines to
the feeling and emotions that underlie words and behaviors.
Communications go two ways. Where the child’s communication
is not forthcoming, (resisting acknowledgement of disease or
need for help), parents need to initiate the dialogue.
Remaining true to oneself and one’s child, it is important
to be fully honest and self-disclosing, allowing reality to
dictate the direction and course of conversation.
9. Is it okay for parents to talk about food with their child?
Okay? It is necessary! Parents must talk about the healthy
use of food, healthy eating, what it entails and means for
the body. Kids need to know the purpose and intention of
eating healthfully; they need to put healthy and regular
meals and good nutrition within a meaningful context. Kids
are not born spontaneously competent. They need information.
Parents must also be aware of the unintentional inadvertent
messages they communicate. For instance, parents who
encourage their kids to read nutritional labels may
ultimately inspire food phobias, or the idea that food is
fattening, and “ the enemy.” Parents, too, may not fully
understand what healthy eating is, for themselves or their
10. What can we learn from the proliferation of Pro-Anorexic
Kids with eating disorders, feeling confused, frightened and
alone, seek connection to others from their vantage point of
Many don’t know they are sick, that they need help, or what
kind of help they need. Some believe that anorexia knows no
Their need to segregate themselves from non-eating
disordered folks is significant in that they assume and fear
that no one will understand, that they cannot be helped, or
that others might try to get them to recover; many eating
disordered kids fear that they will not have the emotional
wherewithal to go on living without their disorder.
Children with eating disorders wish to survive in whatever
ways they can. These sites provide the only way they know at
the time. It is up to parents and professionals to show them
Even the most pernicious outside influences have a better
chance of falling on deaf ears when good values are planted
firmly in place through home life.
Summary points for empowered parents:
Parents must learn to address food issues before they become
problems, to intervene in problems before they become serious,
ingrained, or habitual, to address body image concerns before
they become body image distortions and preoccupations. Parents
must arrive at their goals with their child related to food and
eating by addressing the whole child.
Be parental. Take charge.
Don’t be afraid; of the child, the eating disorder, of
taking a stand, of conflict, or arousing child’s anger or
displeasure. Anticipate it, be prepared, handle it.
Eat meals together. Stay connected emotionally, as well as
Look at own attitudes around food.
Educate your child. Teach and model a healthy eating and
healthy exercise lifestyle.
Don’t skip breakfast, have a donut and coffee at 10:30 and
confess you are about to sin before ordering a dessert!