National Eating Disorders Association
Blog
Parents & Caregivers

Knowing the right thing to do or say is not always easy, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to navigating eating disorders. In fact, the “right thing” to say one day may be the “wrong thing” to say the next. It is a challenge both for the individual battling an eating disorder and their support system. 

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With Mother’s Day approaching, I began to think of the moms in my life as well as the moms I treat in my practice. A running theme for many of them is the struggle with balance, happiness, and the demands of motherhood. More often than not, self-care is the one area that moms tend to let fall by the wayside. One reason moms often give me for not taking better care of themselves is that they feel it’s selfish, in addition to being too busy, therefore, putting themselves last.

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My mom has always been one to rescue those in need. One time, in second grade, I got a D on an oral math test. I’ve always been a math whiz, but doing what is now known as “mental math”—you know, doing math in your head instead of on paper— has never been my thing. After getting my test grade, I crawled into my mom’s car at the end of the school day and started crying hysterically. 

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I have been practicing psychotherapy for close to 18 years now. In this time, I’ve focused most of my work on the treatment of eating disorders. Having suffered with an eating disorder in high school, prevention, education, and treatment have become my passion. 

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We want our kids to grow up feeling strong and confident in their bodies. We’ve learned a lot about what to do—and what not to do—to promote a positive body image. We know better than to comment on other people’s weight and engage in diet talk in front of our kids. We model self-care behaviors and teach them values related to diversity in all areas, including body size.

But what happens when our children walk into the world?

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"Dear KJ" is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin "KJ" Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012).

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If you are worried about your friend’s eating behaviors or attitudes, it is important to express your concerns in a loving and supportive way. It is also necessary to discuss your worries early on, rather than waiting until your friend has endured many of the damaging physical and emotional effects of eating disorders. In a private and relaxed setting, talk to your friend in a calm and caring way about the specific things you have seen or felt that have caused you to worry. 

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There is a tendency for the media to portray eating disorders as superficial illnesses of female adolescence. The limited scope of these stories mitigates both the severe emotional and physical consequences inherent to eating disorders, as well as their prevalence across other genders and age groups. 

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Why is it so hard to talk to our parents about our struggles with ED, poor body image or low self-confidence? Guilt and shame probably play a pivotal role in why we don’t want to talk about these things with Mom and Dad.

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As I walked Sarah and Allison home from school, I noticed Allison falling behind. She began walking slower than us and staring down at the ground, silent. Our walks home from school usually involved nothing but talking and laughter, but today was different. She was usually the chatty one. I asked her what was wrong, but she brushed me off saying she was just tired. 

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