5 Tips To Help Your Teen Beat An Eating Disorder

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Eating Disorders In Teens: Help Your Teen Fight Back

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

Eating disorders are complex and confusing. What’s usually hardest for parents to understand is why their child is so strongly against something we all need to do to live, eat. For those of us living without an eating disorder, that weight loss would be more important than anything else, including physical health and well-being, is incomprehensible. And this divide is exactly what eating disorders play on.

Parents become frustrated that their child won’t ‘just eat’ and the eating disorder successfully pits parent against child. The more isolated and misunderstood the child feels, the more they turn to their eating disorder to cope. Score one to the eating disorder.

Eating Disorders will convince teens food is 'unnecessary'

Eating Disorders will convince teens food is ‘unnecessary’

Eating disorders are sneaky and conniving and will stop at nothing to control your child. They gain power by twisting your words so comments like “you’re looking so much better” or “I’m so proud of you for everything you’ve eaten today” are heard as “I think you look fat” and “you’ve eaten too much”.

An eating disorder will make your child so fearful of weight gain that eating provokes the kind of fear we’d experience if we were held at gun point. Some eating disorders will take it further and convince your child they’re worthless and don’t deserve to eat.

Help your child beat their eating disorder by following these tips

Tip #1: Seek Help Now

If your child has an eating disorder it’s highly unlikely that they’ll come to you and ask for help. What’s more likely is that your child will argue that there’s nothing wrong with their eating and tell you that you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Listen to your parental intuition and if you have concerns seek help. Early intervention is absolutely critical in the treatment of eating disorders to avoid years of treatment both in and out of hospital.

Eating disorders should be treated by a team of professionals, including a clinical psychologist, GP or paediatrician, and a dietician. When choosing a clinical psychologist and dietician make sure they have experience working with eating disorders. It’s also a good idea to ask your clinical psychologist about their treatment approach for eating disorder so you can make sure you’re happy with their treatment plan.

Tip #2: Avoid Talking About Body Shape and Weight

Your words and actions can have a huge influence on your child’s fear of eating so avoid criticising your own body and appearance or the appearance and physique of others. Your child will be sensitive to comments like this and it will trigger them to critisise themselves. Also avoid commenting on your child’s appearance. Even positive comments can be twisted by an eating disorder so that your child hears “I think you’re fat”.

Tip #3: Eat Regularly

Encourage your child to eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. Depending on the severity of your child’s eating disorder they will probably have difficulty with this at first and if this is the case, involve a clinical psychologist and a dietician. To help your child eat regularly, talk about food as fuel for the body and refer to dietary facts:

All of your bodily organs like your heart and lungs need fuel to function properly. Your body will burn through this food to fuel your bodily functions, there won’t be any extra calories left over

Once a meal is over, move on. Don’t comment on past meals or how much your child has eaten throughout the day. Even positive comments like “I’m so proud of you for eating 3 meals and 2 snacks today” can be twisted by an eating disorder into “you’ve eaten too much and now you’re going to get fat”.

Tip #4: Limit Exercise

Your child’s eating disorder will make her feel that she has to exercise to compensate for what she’s eaten, especially if she’s eaten outside her “safe foods”. Get advice from your GP about whether or not it’s ok for your daughter to exercise, and if it is, limit how much exercise she does each week.

If your daughter is in a school team or attends a gym, make sure that the teachers or trainers involved in her exercise regimes don’t focus on weight loss and calories burning as this will trigger her eating disorder. Make exercise about fitness, strength, and health.

Tip #5: Encourage Family Meals

Adolescents with eating disorders often prefer to prepare their own meals and to eat away from the rest of the family. This can be a way to avoid having to eat. Try to introduce structure and routine around meal times. Have meals together as a family and try to eat meals at roughly the same time each day. Meal times can be stressful but try to keep calm. The more frustrated you get, the more anxious your child will become and the harder it will be for her to eat.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.