Mothers Daughters And Eating Disorders
By Chelsea Fielder-Jenks, M.A., LPC | CFJCounseling.com
The mother-daughter relationship is a powerful one. When considering biological, psychological, and social risk factors for the development of disordered eating behaviors, it is a primary relationship that is often explored in research and treatment.
Many experts hypothesize that mothers may impact their daughters eating disorder by modeling eating behaviors and thoughts, setting relationship boundaries, or by genetically predisposing their child to an eating disorder.
Furthermore, research has indicated the following:
It is important to note that these findings are correlational in nature and therefore do not constitute causation. In fact, there is no single cause of an eating disorder rather, it is likely a combination and transaction of multiple biological, psychological, and social factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of an eating disorder.
The correlations identified below are just a few of the biological, psychological, and social risk factors that may be involved in eating disorders.
My Child Is Weight Restored Is He Or She Now Safe
Well done for getting to this stage. If your child is not only weight-restored but eating without excessive anxiety, you’re through the first phase of treatment.
Treatment continues and very gradually starts to be less about feeding and more about helping your child practice normal behaviours over and over again: normal eating, normal exercising, normal reactions to stressful events. This rewires the brain, removes irrational fears, gives your child the confidence that they can live normally, and gives the body time to restore itself to full normal health.
It can take a year or more for normal hunger and fullness cues to return, so for a while people cannot eat completely independently they need some degree of checking and correcting. Some physiological processes, some hormones, take a long time to get back to normal. Psychological changes take time and repetition too: your child will be scared of maintaining weight, of gaining weight, of eating various foods in various situations, of being among friends who are on diets.
Too often, treatment stops far too early, and then people talk of ‘relapse’. You will know better.
See Chapter 9 on exposure therapy, and Chapter 10 on the road to full recovery.
For a very brief overview of this stage, read ‘Steps to independence‘ which is part of my free helpsheets, downloadable here .
If you prefer short audios, I cover this in detail in Bitesize. And sometimes I run an online workshop on the subject.
Early Indications Of Developing An Eating Disorder
1. The sufferer starts to comment about their weight, body shape, and size.
Many individuals start having concerns about their body during their pre-teen and teen years, specifically around the age of 9 or 10 . During this time, people start to become more conscious about their body shape/size and may notice differences from the status quo.
They may wonder what their body is supposed to look like, what they should weigh and question how their body compares to their peers. Often this is where it starts. When you hear your child or teen repeatedly compare his or her physical self to others, it may be a matter of concern.
2. The persons eating patterns change noticeably.
Oftentimes, when a teen starts to engage in disordered eating behaviors, it begins with diet patterns and behavior. You may notice a shift in meal choices, whether they say they want to start being vegetarian or they want to start eating healthier.
These individuals may show a heightened interest in diet and weight loss. They could be scared of the effects of specific foods and believe that they can lose weight if they follow a particular diet.
This might be an opportunity to arrange a meeting with a nutritionist and/or therapist in order to provide a discussion of weight, nutrition and body image with a trained professional who can provide unbiased guidance to your teen or child.
3. The individual starts exercising excessively.
4. The sufferer is caught hiding or hoarding food.
Read Also: Can Bipolar Disorder Turn Into Schizophrenia
Ive Heard I Have To Do Life Stops Until You Eat
You may have heard this mantra from parents on forums. Originally, it was an instruction for parents: Parents, put your life on hold until your child has eaten. Cancel your appointments. Get off your mobile phone. Give your whole support to your child during this meal. I approve.
But for many nowadays, Life stops until you eat has become something parents tell their child to impress on them that there will be no school, no friends, no TV, no phone, no bed even, until they have eaten every last morsel. It is often tied to consequences . It works for some. But I think its a blunt instrument, and that compassionate persistence is more effective and definitely less risky.
Next Steps When You Suspect A Loved One Has An Eating Disorder
What does a healthy body look like? There is no straightforward answer. The media often tells us that an ideal, healthy body is thin and muscular. However, a healthy body varies extremely in both size and shape.
For example, a healthy 13-year-old girl who is 52 tall could weigh between 88 to 123 pounds. Weight alone is not an indicator of health, nor of an eating disorder. Instead, eating behaviors and significant changes in weight are signs that someone could be struggling. This is important because people of all shapes and sizes develop eating disorders.
What I want to highlight today is the importance of paying attention to the early warning signs of an eating disorder, and what to do if you suspect that your child or adolescent is struggling.
Its important to act fast if you have concerns about a loved one. If you catch symptoms early, the chances of your child getting better are far greater. However, if left untreated, many people with eating disorders do not recover. More people die from anorexia than from any other mental illness.
If you suspect that a loved one has an eating disorder, below are some recommended next steps. While these suggestions are applicable to all eating disorders, I am going to specifically highlight anorexia nervosa.
Also Check: What Are The Three Stages Of Schizophrenia
My Child Is Scared Of Weight Gain Can I Keep Them Thin
The eating disorder will stay if your child is allowed to stay underweight underweight meaning whatever your child needs for physical, mental and emotional stability. Their fear of weight will only pass by them going through the painful process of being exposed to that fear, and discovering it’s OK. More on Weight Restoration: Why and How Much Weight Gain?
What Are Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are psychological disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A teen with anorexia refuses to stay at a normal body weight. Someone with bulimia has repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compulsive behaviors such as vomiting or the use of laxatives to rid the body of food. Binge eating is characterized by uncontrolled overeating.
Anorexia nervosa affects as many as one in every 100 females. Teens with anorexia fear gaining weight and are at least 15% below their ideal body weights. They believe the main gauge of self-worth is their body image.
Experts believe many American girls are bulimic and have kept the problem a secret. Bulimia often starts in the late teens and early adulthood. People with bulimia go through cycles of eating enormous amounts of foods followed by purging by vomiting, using laxatives, or diuretics or hours of aerobic exercise.
Warning signs of bulimia include:
- Extreme preoccupation about being overweight
- Strict dieting followed by high-calorie eating binges
- Overeating when distressed
- Frequent use of laxatives or diuretics
- Excessive exercising
- Irregular menstrual cycles
Don’t Miss: Brief Psychotic Disorder Vs Schizophreniform
Signs Of Eating Disorders
So, how do you know if your daughter is suffering from an eating disorder? Some of the most common symptoms include:
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of eating disorders is an important first step to getting your daughter the help she needs. With the right support, your daughter can learn how to think of food in a healthy way and learn healthy eating habits.
Understand Whos Most Likely To Recover
There are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders. One of the most common is that people think that once someone has an eating disorder, they will have it for the rest of their lives. This is not true. Many people completely recover from anorexia and go on to be happy and healthy. The people who have the best chance of recovering are younger, receive treatment quickly, and restore weight and health quickly.
The longer a child struggles with eating disorder symptoms, the more serious the illness and its consequences become. It is also important to find providers with training in specialized eating disorders to provide the best care for your child. Our specialized team provides evidence-based care that has been shown to be the most effective in helping youth recover.
Recommended Reading: How To Tell If You Have Postpartum Depression
What If My Child Has An Eating Disorder
If you think your child has an eating disorder:
Get help early. When an eating disorder is caught early, a person has a better chance of recovery. Make an appointment with your childs doctor or an eating disorders specialist.
Talk to your child about your concerns. Be calm, direct, and caring. Let them know you will help. Ask them to tell you what its like for them.
Go to all appointments. Treatment takes time and effort. Work with the care team to get the help your child needs. Ask questions any time you have them.
Be patient and supportive. Learn what you can do to help your child. Try to keep your relationship with your child strong and positive. Make time to listen, talk, and do things that you both enjoy.
Also Check: Fear Of Storms Phobia Name
Could The Eating Disorder Be Due To Bad Gut Microbes
There’s tentative research on this, in particular for anorexia. As explained on ‘Could targeting gut microbes help treat anorexia nervosa?‘ it’s unclear if gut health is part of causation and/or part of the solution, for some people. If you are looking into the use of probiotics, prebiotics or synbiotics, note that these are unlikely to provide a total solution, so keep your focus on standard treatment as well.
Read Also: Schizophrenia Expected Findings
I’ve Heard I Need To Do ‘tough Love’
Gosh, that sounds harsh. Assuming you are suffering big time yourself, do you think ‘tough love’ is what you need?
It depends what people mean by ‘tough love’.
Your child definitely needs love. You need to make it explicit because with the state of threat their nervous system is in, they feel they are unlovable, despicable, responsible for all the chaos that descended on your family. They are ashamed about their behaviours, and feel awful about every nasty comment they threw at you. All this could be going behind a polished, aggressive front, but I bet it’s all there, hurting underneath.
With love, you calm the nervous system. The sense of threat lifts a little, leaving more space for a bit of rationality, a bit of happiness, and hopefully, lots of good eating.
What about the ‘tough’ of ‘tough love’? Yes, if what is meant is ‘persistence’. Generally, our children cannot lift themselves out of the pit they are in. We need to pull them out. That means supporting meals they don’t want, that raise their anxiety. Same with exercise and purging. So yes, it’s tough. But it should never be nasty, exasperated, punitive.
Instead of thinking ‘though love’, think ‘compassionate persistence’.
Or ‘loving persistence’.
Hold Your Ground When Necessary
Eating disorders can be dangerous when it comes to your daughters physical health. Your daughter may be resistant to getting treatment and may argue that she doesnt have a serious problem. You may have to hold a firm boundary with her. Just remember to frame it with love and concern for her well-being. It may not end well, but things will get better with time.
Don’t Miss: Pristiq Anxiety Side Effects
Why Be Calm And Compassionate Isn’t It Better To Be Firm
You can be calm, compassionate and firm. I call it compassionate persistence. What you want to avoid is blaming, judging and criticising your child. Research shows that when there’s a lot of that, outcomes are poorer. But please understand that all parents occasionally lose their temper and say the wrong things it’s such a difficult illness and no lasting harm is done. In a loving atmosphere, our children are actually quite resilient.
Knowing What To Look For
Theres no doubt people living with eating disorders are great at hiding. But there are signs that can indicate a problem.
I personally have recognized eating disorders in teens Ive met after seeing things I used to deal with small cuts and bruises on their knuckles, a seeming obsession with chewing gum, or the faint smell of vomit on their breath.
More than once Ive been able to gently bring these things to the attention of a parent who had concerns already, but hadnt wanted to be right.
The National Eating Disorders Association also has an extensive list of signs parents can watch for. It includes things like:
- being preoccupied with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
- developing food rituals, like eating foods in a certain order or excessively chewing each bite, something I actually used to do, trying to chew each bite at least 100 times
- withdrawing from friends and activities
- expressing concern about eating in public
- having difficulty concentrating, dizziness, or sleep problems
Ive also found that dentists are often great at recognizing some of the signs of bulimia, especially. So, if you think your child may be bingeing and purging, you might want to consider calling their dentist ahead of their next appointment and asking them to discretely look for signs of excessive vomiting.
But what do you do with those suspicions when you realize theyre founded?
Read Also: Does Pristiq Help With Anxiety
Research Options For Treatment
Ask your pediatrician for referrals to eating disorder specialists in your area. Additionally, research other treatment providers. The internet can provide a great deal of information, but keep in mind that some individual providers may not maintain websites so you may have to make phone calls and get recommendations.
Familiarize yourself with the different types of treatment, including family-based treatment, leading outpatient treatment for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Learn about the various levels of care including outpatient, intensive outpatient , partial hospitalization , residential treatment , and medical hospitalization. Do not be swayed solely by beautiful marketing. Do your research. If you have insurance, call your insurance carrier and make sure you are familiar with your insurance benefits.
Reputable sites to find treatment providers include:
What Can You Do If You Suspect Your Child Has An Eating Disorder
If you believe your child has an eating disorder and/or may be struggling with food or their body image, know this: there is both help and hope. Recovery is possible. If a parent suspects their child has an eating disorder, its important to talk with your child. Be calm, direct, and caring, Walsh explains. Discuss their behaviors with a physician, therapist, and dietitian, all of whom are considered eating disorder specialists . And know they dont need to recover alone. There is help for you, as a parent, and for your child.
You should also create a healthy environment. Parks tells Scary Mommy you should structure your home environment for pro-health behaviors. If you want your child to eat breakfast, eat breakfast with them. Do not eliminate entire food groups from your home. Adopt an all food is good food mentality. And, if you want your child to love their body, model for them by how you embrace your own body. Learn about the fat-phobia and diet-culture in our society, and teach your kids to be informed consumers of our culture.
You May Like: Phobia Suffix Meaning
Im Confused How To Talk About Weight Body Shape And Healthy Eating
Join the club! Most of us parents evolve in our own attitude, fat-phobias, healthy-eating guilt trips and so on, because we see the world through different eyes when our child has an eating disorder. Our current society is slightly mad and were all bathing in that corrosive juice! You can find some sensible talk from many experts in The Full Bloom Podcast.
Which Of The Eating Disorders Is The Most Dangerous
All the eating disorders present immediate and long-term risks. It is easy to see the great danger an underweight person with anorexia is in, but people who binge or who purge are at high risk from malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance. All eating disorders also come with high risks from suicide or self-harm. Whatever your child’s eating disorder, he or she need regular medical checks and specialised treatment.
Read Also: Long Term Effects Of Pristiq
How Are Eating Disorders Diagnosed
Health care providers and mental health professionals diagnose eating disorders based on history, symptoms, thought patterns, eating behaviors, and an exam.
The doctor will check weight and height and compare these to previous measurements on growth charts. The doctor may order tests to see if there is another reason for the eating problems and to check for problems caused by the eating disorder.
Families may notice early warning signs such as:
- changes in diet, such as low-carb, low-fat, or vegetarian diets
- frequent trips to the bathroom, especially during or after meals
- eating alone
- increased physical activity
If you are concerned your child may have an eating disorder, talk to your health care provider.