Why you are the key to your child’s recovery from anorexia and not the cause?

You are not to blame

So often I have desperate parents on the phone telling me their child is in the throes of anorexia, that they feel helpless and that now they have read extensively on the topic, they fear it might all be their faults. They did tell them to stop eating biscuits when they were younger, they did encourage them to go for walks on lockdown instead of watching Netflix and now they think of it, their great aunt had an eating disorder so they probably passed it down through their genes!

At that point, I usually need to remind parents to breathe.

Take a step back and look at the overall picture

The truth is all of this may have played a part but the likelihood is that it didn’t CAUSE the eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex and multifactorial. They come from a combination of personal, familial, physical, genetic and environmental factors. There could be a genetic link for some but can you really help your genes? I’m afraid not.

You may have told them to stop eating biscuits at some point but that was based on the knowledge you had then and also on the circumstances of the time. As a parent, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to teach your children to have a varied diet and not just one revolving around Oreos. Also do bear in mind that it’s not because you say something that they are actually listening. There are plenty of other things that you have said many times to your teenager, such as tidy your room, which they have paid no attention to. There are lots of things you have repeatedly told them such as, I love you, which they have heard even though they look like they haven’t and that’s the kind of things that tend to balance out the throwaway comments.

A few throwaway comments won’t be enough. They may remember them but it wouldn’t be enough to cause the eating disorder. If you think it was more than a few throwaway comments, then know nothing of that nature can’t be undone and also see it as experience, from now on you know such comments are unhelpful and this will help you not repeat the same mistakes.

I’m hoping you feel a bit lighter already.

Eating disorders don’t discriminate and can happen to anyone

From experience I’d say it’s when a child is repeatedly exposed to factors that dent their self-esteem that we are in danger of an eating disorder. There could be silly comments at home, but also scrutiny in the school changing rooms, dissections of packed lunches: “you’re having a sandwich?!” ,“you’re going to eat all that?!”; physical changes at puberty especially if it’s earlier than their peers etc. Essentially teenagers are chameleons and no one wants to be a bright purple chameleon when all the others are khaki.

Adverse childhood experience can clearly also play a role but it’s not a determining factor and neither is bullying. Plenty of people go through horrible things and never develop an eating disorder.

You’re Batman, I’m only Robin

Now for the interesting part: why you’re the key to it all.

We absolutely need you to take charge of the recovery process for many reasons: you buy the food, you make the food, you are capable of thinking (bear with me on this one) and you’re the parent!! If your child had a broken leg or diabetes, you would 100% be in charge of their care, right? Well that’s the same with an eating disorder, your child is ill and you are in charge of helping them get better.

I wasn’t for a second doubting your intelligence when I said you could think, what I meant by that is: contrary to your child you can think straight. A hallmark of anorexia is that the brain is starved and a starved brain is completely illogical so you’re going to have to think for two (this is why you need to learn to look after yourself but I shall leave that for another time).

You buy and prepare the food so it’s also important that you know what we have discussed and what I expect of them. This is why I ask parents to be involved in my sessions so that you are very clear on what they should be eating, This is all the more important because recovery food often doesn’t look like “normal” food and you may have to buy things that you would never otherwise have bought, you may have to cook differently and revisit portion sizes.

No one else knows them better than you do

Finally, I think parents need to be involved in the process and be present at the sessions because eating disorder sufferers lie. They are not liars but their eating disorder will drive them to lie and I need you to call on the lies because there is no one who knows your child better than you do.

You are more capable than you think and together we can help extract your child from that wretched illness.

If you think we could be a good recovery team drop me a line.