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What Not to Do If Your Child Has an Eating Disorder

An eating disorder can take a toll at any age. That’s why at Valley Oaks Health, we want to help you support your child through their recovery journey. Here are just a few things to avoid as you help them understand their disorder and heal from it.

Make negative comments about weight and appearance

Parents and guardians don’t always realize how much impact their words have. When a child is battling an eating disorder, it’s even more important to watch your words. Avoid commenting on things like clothes fitting too tightly, being bigger than other kids their age, or giving compliments based on weight as these can be fuel for an eating disorder.

It’s also important to remember that your kids hear how you talk about your body. Do your best to model how you want them to think and talk about themselves by speaking kindly about yourself.

Talk about food in a way that is triggering

It can be easy to refer to foods as “good” or “bad,” but doing so can worsen your child’s relationship with food. Try to frame foods in terms of a well-balanced diet that should include fruits, vegetables, and the occasional treat. If your child feels shame about the foods they’re eating, do your best to put them in a neutral or positive light and focus on the importance of the nutrients they need.

Put too much pressure on them

If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s probably taking up a lot of their energy—both physically and mentally. Be supportive and encourage them to stay engaged in school, hang out with friends, and participate in activities they enjoy. At the same time, keep in mind that certain activities may be harder for them, and they may face struggles outside of their eating disorder. Too much stress is not going to help them heal, so try to find an approach that is encouraging but not overbearing.

Make mealtimes stressful

It may be tempting to enforce strict rules around food and watch your child’s every move at mealtime, but you don’t want them to dread eating. Whenever you can, make eating an enjoyable experience. Get your child involved with cooking and shopping for food. Start with small steps like having them chop vegetables or choose a special drink to have with their meal. Remove as much stress from the process as you can, and give them something to look forward to instead.

Be unprepared

This experience is likely new for you and your child. That’s why it’s important that you’re prepared with affirming statements that help them as they process and deal with their eating disorder. 

Here are more examples of comments to avoid and what to try instead:

  • Don’t say, “You need to lose weight if you’re going to fit into your old swimsuit.” Instead, say, “I can’t wait to go to the pool with you this summer. We can pick out a new suit together.”
  • Don’t say, “That donut is so bad for you. It’s full of fat and sugar.” Instead, say, “That donut looks delicious! I was going to make some eggs and fruit to go with mine. Would you like some too?”
  • Don’t say, “Stop eating those chips. You’re eating way too many.” Instead say, “Are you feeling stressed? Do you want to go for a walk with me and talk about it?”

Remember, shame and judgment are not great tools for fixing an eating disorder. As your child’s caregiver, you can help to make a positive difference in how they view themselves and their relationship with food, and it starts with the little things.

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