Eating disorders (EDs) are serious psychiatric illnesses that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. Due to several factors, EDs typically go unnoticed by parents until it’s too late because the ED can be incredibly deceptive. If you suspect your child is struggling with an ED or they’ve recently been diagnosed, it’s important to take action, as they rarely resolve on their own. It’s important to note that an ED is not merely a result of extreme dieting or a passing phase, and that an ED can have profound physical and psychological consequences for your child. Early intervention is crucial for eating disorder recovery, and you are the best positioned person to support your child in addressing the issue promptly.
Initiate your journey by consulting with your GP. This will require an extended conversation to ensure the GP can explore your concerns with both you and your child. Make sure to inquire about the Eating Disorder treatment and management plan with Medicare. The GP will make some recommendations for professionals to be involved in your child’s care – most likely a psychologist and a dietitian. Ensure that the professionals involved have expertise in dealing with EDs and share a consensus on the treatment model. Once the plan is in motion and you and your child are comfortable with the practitioners, clarify your role in your child’s care.
Knowledge is Power:
You will need to dedicate time to educate yourself about supporting your child. You, as a parent, play a pivotal role in their recovery. Learn from your treatment team, attend carer’s education sessions (we can provide links), and cautiously explore online forums (with some scepticism—we can also offer some direction here). Arm yourself with knowledge to be the strongest support for your child. This is going to take some significant time and energy.
Nutrition and the Hard Truth:
Recovery hinges on adequate nutrition. Your child will likely need to regain weight lost due to the ED, even if your child is not underweight or you believe they were big for their age beforehand. In order to nutritionally restore their bodies, they may need to eat more—more than they have ever eaten, more than you eat, and more than their peers eat. They will likely need to introduce foods that their ED has rules around. This can be overwhelming, and your child will rely on your love and support to navigate this journey.
Guidance on What to Say and Do:
Here are some simple, general ways you can help support your child:
- Do validate emotions rather than focusing on rationale ( ‘I know that you’re finding this so hard right now, but you’re doing great so far, and you really need to do it’ is far more helpful and supportive than talking about goals).
- Do make sure you’re around your child during all meal and snack times
- Do provide distraction before, during, and after meals
- Do remain calm, confident, and consistent.
Some things that tend to be unhelpful
- Don’t talk about bodies: yours or your child’s
- Don’t talk about food unnecessarily
- Don’t diet in front of your child.
It’s important that you understand recovery from an ED is a gradual process, necessitating temporary potential adjustments to your life. This may include taking time off work, temporarily withdrawing your child from school, and adapting to new routines, some of which might not align with your usual parenting for a child of this age. Ensure your child’s siblings’ feelings are also tended to and prioritize self-care throughout this journey. Remember, with time and support, you will witness the person you knew pre-ED resurfacing.
If you believe you or your child would benefit from support, explore our team’s approach to disordered eating.