How to Talk to Your Daughter About an Eating Disorder
If you have a daughter who you suspect might be struggling with an eating disorder, it’s hard to know where to start the conversation. It can feel as if you’re walking on eggshells—on one hand you want to address the problem, and on the other, you fear that you could say the wrong thing and exacerbate it.
Nothing hurts worse than seeing your child suffer, regardless of her age. Most parents would do or give anything to help their child recover from an eating disorder.
It is important to remember that bringing up the subject of an eating disorder with a person who is suffering from one can be a tremendous help. It plants the seed about your concern for what she is doing and brings her focus to the issue. Even though it may be difficult, saying something is better than ignoring a dangerous and painful behavior.
This tip page
is designed to guide you through the process of discussing your concerns with your daughter. One day, when she is recovered and healthy once again, she will thank you for the role you played in her recovery.
Dr. Lynda Brogdon, Founder of Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center has 25 years’ experience providing treatment to those with Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, and associated Eating Disorders. Below are her suggestions for talking with your daughter.
Schedule a time:
Choose a time to talk when you are calm, not rushed and will not be interrupted. The more you are able to stay composed and centered, the more likely it is that your daughter will be open to listening to you and understand that you truly care and are worried about her health. Be as supportive and kind as you can, but be clear in your concern.
Plan to approach her privately when there is enough time to seriously discuss the issue.
Write down what you might say ahead of time. Choose 3-5 key points and share them during your talk. You don’t have to follow your notes perfectly, but it helps you to focus and stay on track.
Offer your observations in a caring but direct manner. Try to be as specific as you can regarding your observations and concerns.
Plan how to start.
Something simple like “I have been worried about you because ”, can get the conversation started. Talking directly about your feelings and what you have been noticing is helpful.
Set guidelines for yourself:
Do’s and Don’ts
DO: Choose “concern focused” comments rather than “condemning focused” comments.
Example: Say, I’m concerned about some of the behaviors you are engaging in. Rather than, “You are hurting yourself by bingeing”.
DO: Re-focus the conversation on your concerns and fears and indicate that you do not feel things will change without intervention.
Do express the desire to be of help.
Don’t comment on her weight or appearance.
Don’t get into a power struggle.
Don’t threaten to remove your love or support.
Don’t attempt to shame or blame her in any way.
Don’t offer simple solutions, such as “I wish you would just stop” or “I wish you would just eat”.
Don’t make blanket statements like ‘You have a problem,’ or “You’re ruining your life”
Don’t say anything that will make your daughter defensive.
Don’t argue with your daughter as to whether or not she has an eating disorder – this will not help.
Create a healthy tone for the talk:
Ensure that any comments you are about to make come from a place of concern and love. Before your talk, develop a healthy tone for your talk by asking yourself the following questions.
- What do I want my daughter to think? (i.e. Recovery from an Eating Disorder is possible).
- What do I want my daughter to feel? (i.e. I want her to feel supported and loved)
- What do I want my daughter to do? (i.e. I want my daughter to agree to discuss her situation with an Eating Disorder Specialist; I want her to consider seeking treatment)
Plan for the “expected”
Plan how you will end your talk. i.e. I wanted to ask if you would please consider: reading some information and scheduling to talk again, speak to a specialist that I’ve connected with.
Plan and be prepared to take a break if necessary. Be ready with a helpful comment such as “Why don’t we take a break and have some time to process what we’ve talked about and then talk again in 30 minutes, an hour, tomorrow afternoon.”
If “talking” isn’t going well, consider other ways to communicate. Examples include emailing back and forth while in the same room, writing back and forth on a pad of paper.
It is very important that loved ones know that those dealing with an Eating Disorder are often “Anosognosic”. This means they are blocked in their own minds from seeing the gravity of the illness or the risk of the behaviors. This condition presents a treatment challenge, but is reversible. With full nutrition and normalized eating and behaviors, the patient can regain self-awareness and engage in therapy to develop insight, motivation and coping skills.
When to intervene? Often a person with an Eating Disorder will be in denial and unable to acknowledge the severity of their situation. When this is the case, their loved ones are confronted with the need to decide if they should remain passive and risk permanent consequences or death, or intervene to persuade their loved one to seek treatment.
If you need guidance encouraging your loved one to agree to treatment, please contact us for suggestions and tips. 1-800-236-7524