4 Parents



This section is first and foremost for parents who may be worried that their teenager may be developing or currently has an eating disorder. It is also for parents whose teenager has a friend who has an eating disorder.

It is really important to take issues about eating and eating disorders seriously. Parents play an important part in the recovery process both directly and indirectly.

Try and be as informed as you can but don’t spend too much time trying to find out causes of the eating problems at the start; what’s more important is to stop their course.

  • Points to remember
    • Eating disorders are not ‘normal’ dieting and body shape concerns; they are serious mental illnesses with damaging physical consequences. They need consistent and long term monitoring. Don’t be deceived by thinking it’s just a ‘passing phase’.
    • Resistance to acknowledging that there is a problem; to accepting and changing and to help are symptoms of these conditions. She/he is not being deliberately difficult. No one chooses to have an eating disorder.
    • Eating disorders respond well to early diagnosis and appropriate help.
    • Eating disorders alter the sufferer’s thinking and behaviour so work with your child/teenager even if they may appear changed, secretive and defensive.
    • Your role in working with your child/teenager with an eating disorder is important. Keep your connection with them.
    • Consistency is crucial in bringing about change. This includes consistency of approach, tolerance, input and monitoring.
    • Do not lose sight of all of the other aspects of your child/teenager. Her/his eating is only one aspect of the person you know and care for.
  • Common feelings shared by parents of someone who has an eating disorder:
    • Feeling frustrated to be dealing with someone who doesn’t want help.
    • Being bewildered, confused, distressed or angry.
    • Feeling guilty – ‘did we/I contribute to the development of this in any way?’
    • Feeling helpless and panicked about the possible consequences.
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  • Discuss your concerns with your child/teenager. Try to work on an agreement of what the next step is. Keep in mind that resistance to change is very common in Anorexia Nervosa. Get a medical opinion as soon as possible from your G.P.
Find out all treatment options available
  • There are usually outpatient treatment options, which include individual sessions, group treatment, a day programme or in-patient treatment.
  • stem4 produces a handout on a simple management protocol at home – Taking Charge of Change
Seeking support from someone else
  • Psychological support for you and your child/teenager is recommended. This can be sought through your GP, your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) or privately. If there are specialist services for eating disorders in your area it is strongly recommended that you seek their help, rather than more general medical services.
Be committed
  • to following your child/teenager’s health long term. Low self-esteem takes time to improve and is easily affected.
  • Relapse is part of the condition and early detection is the key to recovery. Getting better is a two-pronged approach of physical and psychological recover.