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Over 35 Years of Eating Disorder Specialty Practice
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Eating Disorder Specialist

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By Abigail Natenshon


*Parents need to understand what an eating disorder is, and its implications for self and family.   Parents with eating disorders need to take care of themselves by asking for support from their loved ones, finding professional help for themselves, and getting well.  Eating disorders are curable.  What is more, they are preventable in children.


*It is important to actively listen to children and spouses, to recognize and acknowledge the family’s questions, fears, misconceptions, and wishes to become supportive of the healing process.


*There is no greater fear than that of the unknown; parents need to talk with their children about themselves and the eating disorder.  The age of the child will play a big part in determining how a parent should communicate and what he or she might say.  Parents must speak on a child’s level and to the child’s needs, creating a forum for discussion that is comfortable, honest and open.  Similarly, such an open forum needs to be created with spouse and with therapist.


*Parents need to dispel their own and their children’s misconceptions about food and diet, such as . . .eating fat makes a person fat, food is fattening, dieting is the best way to lose weight, etc. The media confuses us with constant and conflicting messages about how to eat, stay thin, and be successful and loved.   It is important to be discerning and savvy in taking in such messages.  This point is poignantly brought home with the growing trend for well-intentioned and conscientious young parents to feed their infants and toddlers skim milk despite their need for dietary fat to grow nerve cells. 


*Having talked the talk, parents must walk the walk.  Parents must not be afraid to remain “parental,” staying emotionally connected with their children and setting appropriate and respectful limits, thereby creating a sense of security and safety that precludes the child’s need for an eating disorder to provide internal regulation.  Parents need to model healthy eating, provide nutritious, balanced and regular meals, and eat them together with the family as often as possible. 


*Parents must find clinicians skilled in working with couples and families since eating disorders are family diseases, interactional and systemic in nature and must be treated as such.  One family member’s changes can be facilitated and sustained through parallel changes made by other members of the family system.  In addition, when one partner in a marriage makes changes independent of spouse or partner, resulting imbalances in the marital system can cause additional problems.


*Recognize that eating disorders are multi-dimensional diseases that are best treated by a team of professionals and loved ones, including medical doctor, psychopharmacologist, and nutritionist, individual and family psychotherapist.


*Parents with eating disorders must forgive themselves, recognizing that though they have no control over the past, they do have control over their present attempts to get well and stay well. 


*Parents with eating disorders must learn how to take time out of each day to recognize what they need and to take care of themselves, to “feed” themselves both literally and figuratively in every way that they can. 


Most importantly, parents with eating disorders must be aware that it is not a foregone conclusion that their children will be adversely affected by their problems. 


*When two parents can be of one mind and present a united front to child, disease, and professional, the strengths of one parent can compensate for the weakness of the other. 


*If parents choose to face an eating disorder and conquer it openly, inclusive of their spouse’s and children’s input and understanding, everyone stands to gain, not only in terms of how they eat, but also in terms of how they face and deal with life, and the long-term quality of family relationships.



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