I want to make it perfectly clear I am NOT a mental health professional. This comes strictly from my experience with my clients and even a few friends over the years. If you have child struggling with an eating disorder it can be a very scary time. The sooner you catch it the better. This can happen to literally anyone so don’t make the mistake that your child couldn’t fall into this. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years.
- There is a control component
- There is a self-hatred component
- There is a fear component
When life is out of control we tend to grasp for what we do have control over. Some of us lock onto things like:
- Restricting food
- Over eating to try to gain comfort which is leading to obesity
- Binging then either vomiting, taking laxatives, and/or working out too much to offset the binge
- To deal with stress we may work out way too much
Here’s the hook though: It’s that it works to lose weight in the short-term. Then that is when the fear kicks in. The thought of gaining weight is petrifying so now here comes being afraid of food.
What can happen if this goes on for awhile is adrenal fatigue sets so it becomes harder and harder to keep the weight off so they may amp things up even more making the spiral downward even scarier. This can amplify all the components at the same time.
Some people have had horrible things happen TO them and without realizing it they think there is something wrong with them instead of something being wrong with the person who did this horrible thing to them. This can range anywhere from abuse, sexual assault, any kind of assault, and bullying.
The deep emotional pain of a friend moving away, a bad breakup or even losing a loved one is enough the begin the out of control spiral.
We all are prone to something when we are overwhelmed. Watch to see what your kids are prone to and keep an eye on it. Talk with them about what could be causing them emotional pain. Here are some things NOT to do:
- Don’t be overly confrontational about it.
- Your child is already feeling shredded inside. They are living in a shame storm so being confrontational about it only makes them feel worse. At some point they received a “you’re not good enough” message, so tread very carefully here so you don’t make it worse and shut down communication altogether.
- Don’t completely ignore it.
- Some parents don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all. Listen, I get it, but here’s the thing….the sooner you catch it the easier it will be to help them out of the tailspin they find themselves in. ‘Apathy’ is the message your child will receive. You don’t want that! Keep reading for what to do.
- Don’t make it about food!
- It’s not about the food! It’s about an enormous amount of emotional pain. This just happens to be their vice. I’ve seen parents actually CAUSE eating disorders by making things about food! Not even kidding! It’s sickening! Be very careful how you approach this.
Here are some things to do initially when you are beginning to notice a problem.
- PRAY, PRAY, AND PRAY SOME MORE.
- Eating disorders have a very evil component to them. What better way to destroy someone than to have them turn on themselves? Go to battle for them! God knows what’s really going on inside of them so obviously He is the one who can help the most!
- Make sure to give them a lot of extra love, time, and attention so you can make some huge deposits in their emotional bank account.
- Be present when you’re home. Find their love language and meet their needs. Go for walks together to see if maybe they will talk about what’s bothering them. If you think you know, tell a story about someone you know who is struggling with the same thing and see if they open up. Remember rule #1 about telling stories? Don’t be judgmental. Rule #2 is keep it confidential.
- If they are under eating make sure to have food in the house you know they love.
- We all lose our appetite from time to time and we know it’s easier to eat something we really like. We will most definitely not eat anything we don’t love when we are feeling this way. By doing this you are helping them get their appetite back.
- If they are overeating remove unhealthy things from the house and only keep things like fruits and veggies around.
- Make time to go for walks, join an exercise class or sport they enjoy. If you think they need a buddy, do it with them.
- Ask them if they’re doing okay. Again, don’t make it about the food. Say something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed you don’t seem yourself lately.” Then let them talk.
Women: Don’t talk too much. Just listen and ask good questions that are neutral, not anything that would make them have to defend the question. Keep your emotions steady. Don’t rush to try to make it better just yet. Get a grasp of what is really going on. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Hug them and let them cry if they want.
Men: Have a two-way conversation with them. Nothing is more frustrating than to tell someone about something that is bothering you or causing you pain only to have Mr. Stoic sitting in front of you. React when they tell you. Say something like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” to start. Making what is important to them important to you is the key. Ask good questions that are neutral, not anything that would make them have to defend the question. And..hug them and let them cry if they want. Whatever you do…don’t have the “buck up” attitude with them. Something is obviously so overwhelming to them that they are in self-destruct mode so don’t make it worse by having that attitude about it…unless you want to cut off all communication with them and watch them finish self-destructing. Sorry to be harsh, but that can easily happen.
- Ask them if they’d like to go see a therapist…and then make it happen ASAP.
- Have a conversation with the therapist about what you are seeing so they can help sooner rather than later. There is no need for your child to know you spoke with the therapist about it. Some kids dig their heels in for various reasons when they know you’re onto them, so be cool about it.
- Encourage and facilitate things they enjoy.
- Are they an artist? Sign them up for art classes. Do they love music? Get them involved in lessons or maybe your worship team at church. Do they love horses? Get them into riding lessons. Do they love to dance? Get them into a good dance school. Never underestimate the power of joy to turn someone around! It helps them really WANT a better life.
- Make home a stress-free zone.
- Home should be a place where we are free to be our fantastic selves. We should work to do our part to make it a fun, relaxing place to be. That doesn’t mean we, as parents, need to be our kids’ fun factory. It just means we need to be fun and easy-going to be around.
SIDE NOTE FOR KIDS WHO ARE COMPETITIVE:
If you have a kid who loves sports and it competitive, you have an advantage here. Get them into something like Crossfit. Yes, I’m a Crossfit junky. The thing with Crossfit, or any tough sport, is you have to eat well to be competitive and see results. You have to take care of yourself or you’ll get smoked at the gym. If they are competitive and hate that thought, then they will correct their issues on their own! Use this to your advantage and get your kid involved. It’s just one more catalyst to aid in getting them moving in the right direction.
A caution for wrestlers or others who want to stay in a weight class: Think about being awesome at the weight you feel the best. If you are dieting, sweating your brains out to lose water weight, etc to stay in a lower weight class you can’t be performing at your peak. Consider taking really good care of yourself so you are at the top of your game and let your body determine your weight class 🙂
The longer the eating disorder has gone on the harder it is to recover. Pay attention! Pour into your kids. Meet all the emotional needs you possibly can. Make it easy for them to spend time with friends who have a positive influence. Joy needs to be a constant in this kids life! When a person is joyful they don’t want to self-destruct. They want to thrive.
If you are a parent with a child struggling with this, I empathize and encourage you to do whatever it takes to get them on the road to wellness. You can do this, but you can only do your part. They have to do theirs too, which is the hard part for us. Pray like you’ve never prayed before and watch what happens 🙂