Where do I begin?
Fad dieting in our society seems to have become a “normal” way of life for many, irrespective of age. Women of all ages have become concerned about their weight and body image which has lead to utilizing a variety of methods to help them conform to what society says is acceptable. Although women present more often with an eating disorder, men are not invincible to its grip. Eating disorders are a medical and psychiatric condition listed in the DSM-IV. They are common and pervasive and people often go to great lengths to hid the seriousness of their illness. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders can all have serious medical side effects if proper treatment is not sought. Eating disorders is rarely about appearance or beauty, it’s not an attempt to seek attention but rather it is a complex mental illness that includes socio economical, environmental, cultural and biological factors. Gaining knowledge about eating disorders is a good place to start when you suspect your child is struggling with one.
Approaching your child whom you suspect has an eating disorder puts most parents in unfamiliar territory. Where does one begin? Whether you are a parent, friend, teacher or a spouse the following information can be of use.
Gain an Understanding:
Learn more about the eating disorder you think your child is struggling with. Research, read information and ask for help to understand how they might recover. Psychologist James Prochaska discovered that changes in behaviour occur in stages. In his model “Stages of Change” it is recognized that readiness to take action depends on the stage a person is at. Parents, teachers, friends, spouses and others can provide assistance at any level, and even if you think you can’t do anything to help there are tools to learn that can help someone progress from stage to stage. The distinct stages are: Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance and Recovery. An article written by Joanne Gusella available on NEDIC outlines helping strategies for each stage. Become familiar with them and how to use them.
Identify the Purpose:
Recognizing that an eating disorder is serving a purpose for your child can allow you to approach the topic with curiosity. Take a moment and think about why it may be that they are using this form of behaviour. Explore what your child may be afraid of if they are to give up their disorder and recover. Letting go of this purpose can represent a significant loss and she may feel that recovery is too high a price to pay. Some purposes that have been identified are: Self-Soothing, Social Reinforcement, Protection Against Failure, Preservation of the Family, Coping with Emotions, Avoidance of Sexuality, Control. By openly discussing the “positive” aspects she may be gaining from her disorder can allow her to identify and articulate the purpose. It also allows exploration for tools and skill building in these areas to learn to manage things such as fear of failure, controlling emotions and tolerate family issues in a healthy useful way.
Eating disorder recovery generally is a long and frustrating process, for both you and your child. It’s a rough road and even when you think they may be on the road to recovery there may be set backs along the way. A few things to keep in mind are: be patient – this will take time, give hugs – a gentle touch can show you care, communicate – about emotions not about behaviour, focus on what she is doing right not wrong, share together about how you can build practical concrete tools to use and get involved in helping her follow through, be sensitive and comforting – she is critical enough of herself, she needs someone to believe she is worthy even when she doesn’t.
Gain support for her and for yourself. First look for medical support, she may need hospitalization or a residential treatment program depending on the severity of her illness. Find a therapist who is familiar with eating disorders that can help her understand her behaviour and make changes towards recovery. Therapy can also be very beneficial for parents or loved ones to safely express how they are impacted, what their worries are and gain tools to be supportive at home. There are also various support groups available for parents who have a child with an eating disorder. Groups such as these can provide support, knowledge and hope from parents who have been there and know about the up’s and down’s of recovery. Learn strategies for your own self-care, this will be important as you embark on the journey of helping your child recover.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore it – it’s not likely to go away on it’s own. The sooner you can get help and support for you and your child the better the chances are of recovery.