Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association
"Supporting those affected by eating disorders"
Family and Friends
Information For parents who have a child with an Eating Disorder
What it feels like when your child has an eating disorder?
Having a daughter or son develop an eating disorder can leave parents and families in a difficult and painful place. Often it seems as if there is no one to tell or to turn to and you end up carrying all your thoughts and feelings alone.
You or your friends may wonder why can’t they just eat and keep the food down. An eating disorder is about food but much more, if a person could just eat they would but underneath the food issues lies a whole host of thoughts and feelings that make the issue very complex These things can leave parents feeling very frustrated angry upset and sad.
Some descriptions have been:,
Where do you turn for help?
How do you support your child?
What can you do?
If you and your child decide to go to your G.P. you need to ask for a referral to the local Community Mental Health Team, refer your G.P. to the NICE guidelines January 2004.
“Eating Disorders:anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders”
Then you should get an assessment and hopefully they will be able to support your child and offer them a referral to a specialist Eating Disorders team.
You may then be left with lots feelings and may want to talk these through with people who understand.
You can call
You may find a local carers group or parent line that is helpful.(0207 4908818)
We are looking at possibilities of online support for parents and families to help manage these feelings and thoughts.
Some students wrote the following and these may be helpful to you
Supporting people with eating disorders
What is it like when your child leaves home to go for treatment / or to University?
This can be a really difficult time, it maybe that your child has never been away from home, maybe they have not slept over at friends and had sleepovers for many years or at all , or that they have only been away under the professional care system and now they are proposing to go to University.
It is very natural that you will feel highly anxious about this, that you panic about how they will cope, how they will manage to eat, cook, keep up their weight, manage to make friends and socialise and stay safe and you may find this all too much and that when they go you will have a gap at home with all the things you used to do to support them and then you don’t know how to reach them
You may celebrate that they have reached a stage to leave home and try independence you may hope that this will be their turning point, that their pride of being a student, of belonging and making a place for themselves in the world will help them recover and for some people it does. For other people it is a very traumatic event of leaving home which leaves the students very vulnerable and you may get lots of phone calls and hear all the pain and worries and want to drop everything and get to your child, then debate if this is the right thing to do or whether it is better to listen on the phone or what. You may feel in a much paralysed position and feel unsupported. 18-25 is here to support parents and students with this transition.
Here there is no right or wrong but keeping yourself with support is really important so that you can decide rationally how to support your child.
It may be that:
Meal supporting can be a difficult thing to do and to receive. Some 18-25 people have made some suggestions about what may be useful for meal supporters to know.
It is important to remember that each person you meal support is individual and a meal is a very personal and intimate thing to support someone with an eating disorder in.
Therefore it will be important to ask the person what they find useful and also what they find not helpful so that you have a baseline to work together and move forward from.
Things that help
It is important to achieve a balance between “normalising” the environment to minimize stress and to be aware of the specific eating difficulties and needs the person you are supporting have. Generally if the meal supporter is providing support in a relaxed way and behaving naturally it helps to demonstrate that mealtimes are a healthy part of everyday life.
This needs to be agreed before the meal as on the spot decisions can be very stressful and upset the meal. It is easier for meals to be served away from the table as this saves the agonising time of wondering how much a portion from a shared dish is. It also can make you self conscious with other people around and watching which may make you stressed and not wanting to eat the right amount. But if everyone else is serving themselves being given a ready prepared plate is patronising. In these cases it can be helpful to have someone who can take their portion that you can copy and know it is safe and allowed. So the meal supporter needs to be eating a similar meal to your own so you can see they suffer no ill effects from eating the meal so why should you?
If there is doubt about what size a portion should be talk to a dietician or nutritionist before you plan your meals so that you are all clear about portions sizes.
Having background noise whether this is music or having the radio on can help relieve the tension in the room. Carrying on with general conversation unrelated to food can also help however the person providing the support needs to know that struggles with food can become very preoccupying and intense so do not try to launch into a demanding conversation requiring continual responses.
So, keeping a light conversation going away from food and eating disorders and where they do not expect you to keep talking back and are not talking about weight, food diets, calories or exercise
During the meal :The actual process of eating the meal can make you feel extremely self conscious, so it is important not to draw too much attention to the person needing support. There is nothing worse than feeling watched which is why being distracted is helpful with music and the radio
After the meal
Be cautious of praising someone for completing a meal. This can provoke different reactions in people and is a very sensitive area.
It is important that people feel that their efforts are acknowledged and that others appreciate what an achievement it is for them, for some people this can enhance shame guilt and self disgust.
The way in which feedback is given is important so it doesn’t feel patronising. It can be helpful to have an activity planned for after a meal to enable digestion to be a natural process and the focus goes away from reflecting on what you have eaten.It is helpful when the meal supporter is
Things which are not helpful
When the supporter is…
Reflecting on how it is going
If you are supporting someone maybe check out how regularly you want to talk about how the meal support is and review what is helpful and what is not helpful and talk about the difficulties that you both have and make a plan to help you work together more.
Being able to be open and honest is important and will help you build trust with each other. If it is hard to do this you may choose to do some writing to each other and then write about what you would like and need and how it feels to be in your role. You may choose to share this with your supervisor to help you work more effectively with the person you are supporting. If you are being supported you may choose to share your writing with your therapist and or with your meal supporter.
Behaviours can be challenged. It is hard to do therapeutic work at the table because of all the emotions facing food can evoke.
Sometimes it can be helpful though painful to have issues addressed around portion sizes and tacking really bizarre eating habits at the time is helpful in the long run, although it feels horrible
It can be necessary to ensure adequate amounts are eaten and to prevent really antisocial habits from becoming established and therefore seem acceptable. This needs to be done in a non confrontational or patronising way as an instruction, it simply makes you feel ashamed and defensive, which reinforces negative self perception. Introducing these casually and in a non judgmental manner by phrasing them as suggestions e.g. “Don’t you think it would be a good idea if…?” can reduce a sense of being controlled and encourage self-respect, because you are being prompted to take responsibility for yourself.
What if I have no meal supporter?
Work with your dietician to create a meal plan that can work for you.
If you do not have a dietician find a friend you trust about food and ask them to help you plan what to eat and shop if needed.
Work out when and where you are going to eat each day, so if you are at Uni or college you may need to take a packed lunch or choose to do the canteen with a safe friend or learning support tutor. So make a meal plan to suit your life, check portion sizes if you worry about this with a State registered dietician or reliable book.
Some people find writing how they feel before their meal , how they feel during and after their meal as helpful and find their health care professional or friend or family to share this with or keep a private journal for yourself
Sometimes it is important to have a plan of what you are going to do after your meal, whether that is writing, going for a walk, make a phone call, text a friend, drawing , going to a lecture, listening to music going on the website doing an assignment.
You may find you can only buy food for one meal at a time and do not feel safe to do a bigger than this shop. Sometimes you can ask a friend to shop with you.
If you find yourself reluctant to eat try writing letters to yourself
“If I carry on not eating / bingeing/ __________ for the next year I think my life will be ……….”
“If I decide to eat and take care of myself I see that in a year my life will be………….”
Then you can write back to yourself from the rational well part and the food difficulties bit and see what you notice. You may want someone to witness this like a counsellor or other health care professional.
It can be hard to be honest but the only person you trick is yourself.
© 2004 ~ 2013 Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association