National Eating Disorders Association
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Recovery Dad & Recovery Girl: Fighting Eating Disorders, One Bite at a Time

Recovery Dad

Eating disorders can be terrifying, confusing, and, perhaps worst of all, lonely.

First comes the diagnosis, and probably some scary news from the doctor. In our case it was Anorexia Nervosa. Nothing about dealing with it is remotely intuitive. But, with the help of a good medical team, we turned the corner.

Late in the process our nutritionist suggested to Recovery Dad that he should be a parent coach. We had no idea what that meant. But later when we tried to find a podcast aimed at families in recovery we came up empty. We’re not experts or professionals. Just a family that got through this and know that others can, too. So we stepped in to make one of our own.

We launched our superhero identities, podcast, and a web site  with a few simple ideas:

  • This is the stuff we wish we had known at the beginning.
  • We want parents (especially dads) to find ways they can help.
  • We want everybody with an eating disorder to understand it doesn’t make them a bad person.
  • One of the most powerful tools parents have is listening.
  • We share tips, resources, and even recipes 
  • We want to reduce the stigma and the isolation. You’re not alone! You can get through this!

We have a couple of regular features on the show: Recovery Girl’s Coping Skills and Recovery Dad’s Tips for Distraught Parents.

Recovery Girl has both specific suggestions for coping skills, such as finger painting and making lists, as well as tips for figuring out your own coping skills. She even produced a video on making a grounding box

Some of Recovery Dad’s tips are to prepare yourself for how counterintuitive eating disorders can be. A hard one is that you can’t tell your daughter that she’s pretty (and we talk about why not). Dads can sometimes be most helpful by doing what seems like doing nothing: Being a steady rock for your kid. But there are jobs dads can do really well. Recovery Dad’s first assignment was making yummy breakfasts. Being someone your kid can talk to about anything is more helpful than you might imagine. And being a good listener is key, especially since almost none of this seems to make sense.

A good example of that is that eating disorders are not about the food, yet food is a key part of recovery. Those two, apparently conflicting, ideas got an episode each just to try to sort it all out. Another big subject is numbers: You should never talk about calories or pounds until your kid is ready for that step. This is really important not only because calorie numbers can be quite triggering, but the requirements on a recovery diet can seem spectacularly large. Something that worked really well for us when we were on the “sprint” to gain some weight was to report the daily calorie budget as a percentage. Recovery Girl was fine with knowing that she got 40% at breakfast, and could check in during the day to see how close she was to 100%. It was still hard work, but it was doable and not triggering.

We understand how counterintuitive and heartbreaking eating disorders can be for parents and kids. We know how terrifying a plate of food can be to an anorexic. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we do know that there are answers. One of the most important things we learned was to take it one step, one day, one meal, and sometimes one bite at a time.