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Over 35 Years of Eating Disorder Specialty Practice
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Eating Disorder Specialist

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1. Am I overreacting by worrying that my child who is a healthy eater might one day become eating disordered?
It is natural for parents to worry that their children might be susceptible to media and peer pressures that could lead to body image concerns and eating disorders. Two points to keep in mind:
When exposed to these pressures, only those children with inherited temperament, body chemistry and genetic predispositions for developing eating disorders will succumb to disease.
A parent can insure emotional resiliency and eating disorder immunity by modeling healthy eating, keeping in mind what healthy eating is, (it has nothing to do with fat-free or restrictive eating), and sitting down to healthful and nutritious family dinners with the family as frequently as possible. Parents need also to model effective problem solving, as the child who knows how to face adversity and resolve problems will have little use for the likes of an eating disorder.

2. If my eating disordered child knows that what she is doing is harmful, why can’t she simply stop doing it?
Eating disorders are not frivolous bids for attention or behaviors that can be stopped or turned around easily. These diseases are driven by underlying emotional issues and until those driving forces are resolved, the behaviors that they produce can be as tenacious as addictions. Children choose to have an eating disorder initially. . . from then on, the eating disorder chooses them and their destiny belongs to the disorder until they choose recovery.

3. If I say anything to my child about her eating disorder secret, won’t she resent me and find my intrusion unpleasant if not intolerable?
Quite the contrary - Children often feel that their parents’ interest and involvement demonstrates love and caring and they are grateful for it. In actual fact, most children wish that their secret would be discovered as they need help to wage this recovery battle. In many instances, kids don’t even realize that an eating disorder is a disease or that recovery is in order.
Don’t be fooled by the misconception that parental involvement in their child’s life is necessarily intrusive. When your child has an eating disorder, her malnourishment leaves her in no position to take responsibility for herself. She needs you to take charge, if only until such time as she can resume some degree of self control.

4. Do I have any say so in the life and affairs of my eating disordered child once she has grown to become a competent young adult?
Your child will always be your child, no matter how old she is. A person never outgrows the need for nurturance, support and assistance in times of crisis. As the victim of compulsions, distorted cognition and perceptions, anxiety and depression, your eating disordered child is in trouble and needs you now more than ever. The controls that you will provide now will be temporary, until such time as she is able to resume self-control. They should be motivational and healing, will change with her changing needs, and will be consensually determined in most instances.

5. I am told I must never discuss food with my child, so what should I do if I notice her putting on a lot of weight, skipping meals, or eating restrictively?
Your goal as a parent is not to monitor what goes into or out of your child’s mouth, but to insure that she remains healthy and functional. I would start by dialoguing with her about her weight concerns, her goals and attempts to achieve them. Try to understand your child, not to be critical of her. Educate her about the very best ways to stay fit; many destructive eating habits come out of innocent misconceptions. Explain that if weight loss is the goal, dieting is the worst way to achieve it. The best results come from eating plenty of varied and nutritious foods in the form of three meals throughout the day, in moderation, while maintaining an active lifestyle.

6. My child is a quirky eater. Am I wrong to assume that because everyone has issues around food of one sort or another these days, it’s silly to worry?
It is normal for kids to exhibit food preferences at different times. When behaviors become excessive or inflexible, or when they determine how a child feels or functions, it is time to be concerned. If your son eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch every day because he loves peanut butter and jelly, that is fine. If he eats only this because he is afraid to eat anything else, or because he feels something bad might happen to him if he does, the behavior has taken on deeper meaning and deserves attention. Worrying is less effective than speaking up, connecting with your child, and understanding him better.

Read more in:
The Top 10 Eating Disorder Questions

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