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10 Things to Stop Doing if Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder

Things to Avoid as You Support Recovery


Updated April 25, 2012

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10 Things to Stop Doing if Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder

Being supportive of someone who has an eating disorder can be really difficult, and can take its toll on you. You've probably been told many things that you should be doing to help your adolescent recover, but what about the things you should stop doing? This is that list. These are things to stop doing to help support your adolescent and take care of yourself.

  1. Stop being overly critical of him/her. If your adolescent has an eating disorder, it is likely that they are extremely critical of themselves. Adding to that criticism only serves to increase the amount of self-criticism and shame that they experience. Work to find ways to bring up difficult topics in a supportive manner, rather than a critical one.

  2. Stop blaming yourself. Early writings and research about eating disorders often stated that parents caused eating disorders. However, the most recent research points to complex causes with many factors, including social and genetic causes. It is important to remember to take concerns seriously if your adolescent or their treatment team brings up specific actions or attitudes, on your part, that may be contributing to the maintenance of the disorder.

  3. Stop asking "Why?" I like to explain the causes of eating disorders to sufferers and families as a "perfect storm" in which social/media influences, stressors, genetic factors and personality traits all came together to create the eating disorder. Unfortunately, there is no easy or simple answer to the question "why?" It is important to focus your energy on recovery and not get stuck.

  4. Stop dieting. Your adolescent needs to be surrounded by examples of people who have healthy relationships with their own bodies and with food. Dieting while your adolescent is attempting to recover from an eating disorder sends mixed messages and can actually encourage the maintenance of the disorder. If you have your own problems with food, consider setting a positive example by seeking out professional support.

  5. Stop losing hope. Eating disorders are serious and sometimes fatal illnesses. However, many people are able to make a full and complete recovery even after experiencing slips and relapses. Work to maintain a positive and hopeful outlook.

  6. Stop keeping it a secret. Secrecy and shame are two concepts that permeate eating disorders. Many parents don't want to share with friends or extended family what is going on. It may seem as though you are protecting your family's privacy in this way. However, by not talking to people you trust, you may not be receiving the support that you need.

  7. Stop not getting help for yourself. Eating disorders are stressful and affect everyone in the family. Be honest with yourself about how this is affecting you. Seeking out therapy for yourself will give you a space to vent, support and professional advice on how to be most supportive of your adolescent.

  8. Stop criticizing your own appearance. The thoughts that your adolescent is working to fight include criticisms of their appearance. Hearing you say the same or similar things about yourself only encourages the maintenance of these thoughts. Work to set an example of someone who loves their body. If you struggle with your own body image issues, consider talking with a therapist about it.

  9. Stop getting into unhelpful conversations with your adolescent. Often, people with eating disorders will ask for reassurance that they aren't fat or that they didn't eat too much. It may seem like reassuring them is the right choice. However, this often results in an unhelpful conversation in which they don't believe you are telling the truth. Stop getting into these conflicts. If you don't know how to answer a question honestly without being triggering, simply state, "I don't think it would be helpful to talk about that right now." Discuss specific situations with your adolescent's treatment team and get feedback from them on how to handle it.

  10. Stop letting impatience get the best of you. Recovery can take longer than expected. Relapses happen. However, becoming impatient with the process isn't helpful and can contribute to an already-high stress level. Talk with your adolescent's treatment team if progress isn't happening as quickly as you had expected.
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