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My Daughter Has an Eating Disorder and I Don’t Get It

July 15, 2009

By Lori Hanson

The bombshell drops. Your precious little girl or boy has an eating disorder. For some parents they suspect and have to figure out how to confront their child. For others, they are blissfully unaware until their child confides in them. 85% of eating disorders start between the ages of 13-20.

Finding out your child has an eating disorder stirs up numerous emotions for a parent. The first reaction seems to start with questions of how could this happen? I was a good parent! Then guilt sets in and for many parents, mom’s in particular they quickly jump on the thought train of what am I going to do to fix it? How can I make it go away quickly and make my child normal again. The embarrassment is there along with the  guilt. For some there is a feeling of betrayal because their child, teen or young adult didn’t tell them about he eating disorder, or didn’t tell them sooner.

But what parents and loved ones don’t understand is why it is so difficult for the child or young adult to tell them. First, it’s incredibly difficult for the individual suffering with an eating disorder to admit to themselves that they have a problem. It’s a behavioral addiction which means it’s a “psychological” thing. Which means there is something mentally wrong. And most individuals aren’t anxious to join that club. Second, the embarrassment, guilt and shame of the eating disorder behavior makes it incredibly difficult to share with family or loved ones. It’s not about betrayal. Third, one of the core characteristics of eating disorders is isolation (in addition to obsession with food, body and more.)

So when the news comes out via an intervention or when the individual suffering approaches loved ones for help just remember, both the individual with the eating disorder and their loved ones are hurt, confused, feeling guilt, embarrassment and shame. Underneath all the embarrassment, the parents core sentiments is usually, “How can I help them recover? What’s the best way to support them?” And depending on where the individual with the eating disorder is on their path, their core sentiment may be denial or wanting to get help.

For the individual suffering the obsessiveness of the behavior is draining, scary and totally controls them. As much as they may want to stop, the fear of losing the control they gain through the disorder is often paralyzing. At the root is low self-esteem, but that is only one of the factors that contributes to an eating disorder.

For most who suffer, they lack the courage to communicate freely, to set appropriate boundaries, and to express their emotions, positive or negative.  The eating disorder behavior helps them numb out and disengage from life and other people. It provides a quiet solitude which evolves into a living hell of isolation and obsession. Digging out on their own to improve self-esteem and gain much-needed self-confidence isn’t something most can do on their own.

A holistic approach to treating eating disorders teaches the individual healthy communication skills, helps them improve self-esteem and understand the causes of their addictive behavior. It is critical to understand and address the body and brain chemistry through diet, nutrition and nutritional supplements which helps move the individual beyond “willpower” and gives much-needed nutritional support and objectivity. Reprogramming negative thoughts and beliefs is key to recovery and lastly improving mental and physical health with body work rounds out the circle of a solid holistic approach.

So parents, before you get consumed in anger, hurt, embarrassment and try to figure out to make the problem go away quickly realize that as a behavioral addiction it runs deeps and won’t go away with simple comments of “honey, why don’t you just eat.” Unfortunately, this is something the individual suffering has to change, as parents and loved ones you can’t fix it for them. Find a practitioner your child relates to and a treatment facility that is family oriented and a parent advocate. Healing an individual from an eating disorder can and should have a positive effect on the entire family!

To help your daughter and get advice to you’re looking for, visit our online community where both you and your daughter can attend bi-monthly eating disorder support calls, special classes and get more resources you need to help the family.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. merelyme permalink
    July 22, 2009 12:09 pm

    I’m scared to tell my parents. I’m scared to tell my friends. I feel like anyone I tell will judge me and just make me feel worse about myself. I’ve heard my friends talk about bulimia saying “how could anyone WANT to throw up? Its so disgusting. Bulimic people are seriously screwed up…”

    I’ve told one person about being bulimic, and they live over a 1,000 miles away, don’t know my parents, don’t know my friends, and thus can’t tell anyone.
    It kind of seems they’ve given up on trying to help me, too. It doesn’t feel like they care anymore.

    I know I shouldn’t. But I can’t stop. It’s not even so much a binge and purge thing. If I eat a full meal, I automatically feel like I need to get it out.
    I sometimes think I should get some sort of therapy, but … that would require telling my parents, and I really don’t want to do that.

  2. Allison permalink
    January 30, 2010 12:23 pm

    I would highly suggest that children and teens tell their parents about an eating disorder, and that parents talk to their children once they know they have an eating disorder. I used to have an eating disorder in my teens caused by depression, low self esteem, and a lack of control over my life. I just wanted to die and thought about starving myself, and it somehow made me feel temporarily better when I ate a low fat low calorie diet. Losing weight can make a teen feel empowered and better about their self-image if they have low self-esteem like most teen girls. My parents were over-controlling, gave me no emotional support, and failed to accept that I had a disorder. This is a horrible situation for a teen, because someone with an eating disorder really loses a sense of reality and may not understand the physical and emotional consequences of their actions. Eating disorders are a behavioral addition similar to alcoholism – in fact both my father and my mothers father were alcoholics. The main focus for the individual is health and happiness. I have been living without an eating disorder for a few years now, but have suffered from borderline personality disorder, and hormonal problems (ed affect the hypothalmic-gonadal-adrenal axis) that have impacted my overall and reproductive health as a result of my past eating disorder. I wish my parents had intervened and gotten me the counseling I needed to see that health is the road to happiness and sexuality. Children and teens are too young to understand the effect an eating disorder will have on their lives. Help yourself by telling your parents if you have an eating disorder, and parents, please let your child/teen get help and support. I wish someone would have been there for me.

  3. October 29, 2011 8:36 pm

    well as a parent with a child in treatment, tell your parents and ask for help…

  4. don permalink
    April 28, 2012 4:46 pm

    Well as a parent i would not agree more my Daughter has a lot of health issues and one of them we just found out is a eating disorder, and she has confided in me about it but as above in someones blog she is in the denial stage.My Wife and i want and are trying to support her,just like any parent who cares we want to fix,or to just take all the hurt away but we can not,and realize that she has to help herself.Our family Doctor has asked my Daughter to go to a clinic for what she is going through,and has a crises team involved in her situation,And as above my Daughter was really worried about telling anyone about what she was going through,and my family Doctor is the one who picked up on all this.My whole Family was oblivious to all what was going on in my Daughters life,we all thought she was happy and had her life in order,she is a nurse,has just recently bought her own house,and is very independent,very smart,pretty,good attitude.But possible low self-esteem is one of the root causes of all her hurt and pain.

    • May 7, 2012 12:18 pm

      Absolutely, low self-esteem is one of the root causes. But not the entire problem. It’s a difficult process. But one that can be won. If you need additional help, feel free to reach out to us at Learn2Balance ( visit our website for more information on our programs, that’s what we’re here for ( Blessings to your daughter and your family.

  5. Chris permalink
    January 8, 2013 6:08 pm

    Our daughter told us that she had a combination of bulimia/anorexia about a year ago. At that time she said she had only started the behavior 4-5 months prior because of a very stressful time at college and with her boyfriend at that time. She went to counciling at college a few times and to a special clinic a couple of times. She’s told us she is doing better, but she doesn’t say anything unless I ask her about it. How can I respect and trust that she doesn’t want to talk about it and still feel that we are showing her support. I’m still having a hard time dealing with it and she said she doesn’t like talking to me about it because I cry everytime and she doesn’t want to make me cry. I don’t want her to feel guilty like that either. What do you suggest? Don’t ask her anymore how she is doing?

    • January 9, 2013 11:41 am

      Thanks for your comment and question. Two things that are really difficult for a young girl with an eating disorder are #1 – knowing that you are causing your parents to be upset about it emotionally.
      #2 – knowing that it is costing a lot of money to get you help.

      Both of these things cause a lot of guilt for the individual who is in the grasp of the eating disorder. When they see or know these things it just makes them want to hide and numb out even more. Combined with the fact that denial is a big deal it makes it difficult for them to communicate openly and honestly about it – until they are ready to get help.

      Here’s a couple of recommendations for you specifically:
      #1 – realize that this is something you daughter has to solve. This isn’t your problem to fix. let go of your emotional charge to the issue. Relieve your guilt, anger and frustration so that you are detached when you talk with her about it. Being emotionally invested doesn’t help you be objective and, as you have seen pushes her away.

      #2 – Keep an eye on here. I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but you do want to monitor the situation so that if it gets worse you know you need to seek help for her. Asking her may/may not be the best way to deal with it because she will lie and deny if she’s sinking further down.

      #3 – I would recommend simply asking her on a regular basis how’s she’s doing and if there is anything you can do to help her “today.” Don’t necessarily direct your questions at the eating disorder. Tell her that you are always there if she needs someone to talk to (and be a good shoulder for her without judgment) and prove it to her. Be open – and don’t push. At the same time, keep an eye on the situation.

      If you need more advice, or if things get worse. You can schedule a FREE 30-minute coaching session with me. I’ll help you through it.

      PS – I would let your daughter know about the Finding Hope Community – it is a great resouorce for her, and for you as a parent!

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