FOR PARENTS, FRIENDS AND SPOUSES
It can be frightening or overwhelming if you have child or loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder. Fortunately, there are resources to understand this illness and to help you support your loved one. It's important to know that you did not cause the eating disorder and that recovery is possible. The Alaska Eating Disorders Alliance is offering free, confidential Family and Friend support groups on a monthly basis for caregivers.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. They are treatable, and the sooner someone gets the treatment he or she needs, the better the chance of a good recovery. If you are looking for local treatment team members,
Eating disorders are not choices, passing fads, phases or special diets. Eating disorders are severe and can be fatal.
Eating disorders can be recognized by a persistent pattern of unhealthy eating or dieting behavior that can cause health problems and/or emotional and social distress.
These pages will help you understand what the various types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and more. You can also learn about treatment opportunities and resources you can use to support your loved one's recovery.
Resources for Parents
F.E.A.S.T. is a global support and education community of and for parents of those with eating disorders. Among their resources are a Family Guide Series, which are small booklets for the use of families facing an eating disorder diagnosis in the household. These booklets are designed to be well-sourced and represent the best current science. Guides include information on diagnosis, nutrition, neurobiology and treatment.
Resources for All
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) offers information to understand these illnesses. You can learn about eating disorders, including diagnoses, warning signs and symptoms, diagnostic criteria, health consequences, stages of recovery and more. Online forums are available for parents, spouses, friends and children of those struggling. In addition, NEDA offers helpful brochures.
These videos and articles are helpful in understanding eating disorders and what causes them.
How to help a Loved One, NEDA video
Eating Disorders: What Are They? Video on eating disorders by people who have experienced them
“Eating Disorders from the Inside Out” video by Dr. Laura Hill
CONFIDENTIAL SUPPORT GROUPS
The Alaska Eating Disorders Alliance offers free, confidential support groups for families and friends on the third Saturday of the month from 1:30-3:00 p.m. at NAMI Anchorage, 1057 W. Fireweed Lane, Suite 103.
There are also confidential online support groups. Please review these to determine if one is right for you.
Closed Facebook Group: International Eating Disorder Family Support, a co-ed, peer-to-peer, experienced and EDucated support community with no ties to for-profit treatment centers or clearinghouse organizations funded by them. IEDFS offers helpful "units" for members, including ED (eating disorders) essentials, therapy and skills, medications, phases of Family Based Therapy and more.
Closed Facebook Group: Eating Disorder Parent Support, a closed international support group for adults who care, or have cared for a loved one with an eating disorder, including adult-age children. EDPS offers downloadable files for reference on family guidelines, treatment modalities, and more.
NEDA Forums an online community to enable parents, spouses, children, siblings and friends to connect and offer support.
Around the Dinner Table, a moderated online community of parents of eating disorder patients around the world.
TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT FOOD
We live in a culture where children (and adults) find it increasingly hard to feel good about food and their bodies: one in three parents of preschoolers seeks a doctor’s help with feeding, up to one in ten children have a ‘feeding disorder,’ and eating disorders are more common, and in ever-younger children.
Increasingly, eating disorder, and child health experts stress that the current model of
nutrition education encourages disordered thinking around eating. Pushing “healthy” foods can make children like them less; demonizing and forbidding “junk” foods may make children obsess about, hide and hoard these foods when old enough to get them on their own. Here are some tips to help rather than harm.
Judgment. “Candy (or sugar, flour, meat...) is bad for you.” “That’s junk food.” Children as young as four report guilt and shame when eating forbidden foods.
Even kinder, gentler labels like: “Green-light” or “red-light”, “growing” or “fun” foods, “healthy” and “unhealthy.” Small children still hear “good” and “bad.”
Praising, or judging children around eating: “Olivia is a good, healthy eater, but Ethan is our picky sugar addict.”
Inciting shame or fear: “If you don’t (eat X or avoid Y) you will get sick and fat.”
Pressuring, bribing or rewarding children to try new foods. Offer, don’t force.
Using the words “overweight” or “obesity.” Or “Fat is bad” messaging, such as fat people “eat too much,” or the “wrong” kinds of foods. Two people eating the same types and amounts of food may end up different sizes.
Implying, “We don’t like fat people.” Children pick up on prejudices, and fear displeasing their parents (even thin children) if they are not the “right” size.
What to Do
Stress taste, and balance. Fruits and veggies taste good, too.
Be age-appropriate. Small children can learn that banana is a fruit, but don’t understand the word “protein.”
Focus on joy and permission. “We are so lucky we get to eat so many wonderful foods; pizza and clementines, green beans, and pie.” Maybe, “We shop at the co-op because it’s fun to find out where our food comes from.”
Remember that all foods can be part of a balanced intake— including treats.
Support internal regulation (using the body’s wisdom to guide how much to eat). “Is your tummy full, or do you want more?”
Provide opportunities for fun physical activity. Children need play and movement.
Focus on health, strength, capability, and the pleasure of movement—not weight.
Respect body size diversity. Let your children hear you say, “People come in all sizes and that’s just fine.”
Neutralize power struggles with a Division of Responsibility in feeding (www.ellynsatterinstitute.org) Parents decided what, when and where the child eats, children decide how much from what is available.
Create and celebrate food traditions with your children.
Aim for family meals as often as possible. Family meals are linked with better nutrition, stable weight and less disordered eating.
After all, we teach nutrition best by serving and enjoying the foods we want our children to eat!
Katja Rowell MD, childhood feeding specialist and author
Elizabeth Jackson MS, RD, clinical dietitian specializing in eating disorders
1. O’dea, J. School-Based Interventions to Prevent Eating Problems: First Do No Harm.
2. Neumark-Sztainer D. Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents: What Can Health Care Providers Do?
3. Satter EM. “Children and Their Eating—Ellyn Satter’s Guidelines for the School Nutrition Staff.”
4. Lytle, L. Children's Interpretation of Nutrition Messages Journal of Nutrition Education. 1997
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Warning Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders - Includes information about each type of eating disorder, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, orthorexia, diabulimia and more.
Children Pediatric Growth Charts and Eating Disorders - learn how monitoring your child’s growth charts could prevent an eating disorder
Regular Eating for an Eating Disorder Recovery - How frequency of meals and snacks helps improve the recovery process
Eating Disorders Meal Support: Helpful Approaches for Families - Video providing strategies to help parents and families provide structure and support to youth with eating disorders before, during, and after meals.