Youth Helpful Info-For Family

I’m concerned about my loved one…

  1. How do I know when someone has taken their diet too far?
  2. What are some warning signs I should be looking out for?
  3. How should I approach my loved one?
  4. How can I talk to my children when I see a problem?
  5. Can you recommend some helpful books?
  6. How can I connect with other parents?
  7. Any tips for parents at mealtimes?

How do I know when someone has taken their diet too far?

Dieting is about doing something healthy for yourself. It’s about losing weight in a healthy way so how you feel on the outside will match how good you already feel on the inside.

Having an Eating Disorder is much more than just being on a diet. An eating disorder is an illness that permeates all aspects of a sufferer’s life, is caused by a variety of emotional factors and influences, and has profound effects on the sufferer and their loved ones. Eating disorders are about trying to make your whole life better through food and eating (or lack of) and/or exercise. They are about seeking approval and acceptance from everyone. Eating Disorders are about how life won’t be good until weight is lost, and there’s no concern for what kind of damage you do to yourself to get there. Eating Disorders are about being convinced that your whole self-esteem is hinged on what you weigh and how you look. They are an attempt to control your life and emotions through food/lack of food and are a huge neon sign saying “Look how out of control I really feel!” Eating disorders are about stress, coping, pain, anger, acceptance, validation, confusion, fear, cleverly (or not so cleverly) hidden behind phrases like “I’m just on a diet” (adapted from

What are some warning signs I should be looking our for?

Warning Signs of Anorexia Nervosa

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (i.e. no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight despite weight loss
  • Anxiety about gaining weight or being “fat”
  • Denial of hunger
  • Development of food rituals (i.e. eating foods in certain orders, excessive chewing, rearranging food on a plate)
  • Consistent excuses to avoid mealtimes or situations involving food, such as “I ate a big meal earlier so I’m not hungry now,” or “I’m not hungry now so I’ll just eat later
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury- the need to “burn off” calories taken in
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities

Warning Signs of Bulimia

  • Evidence of binge-eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or the existence of wrappers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food
  • Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury- the need to “burn off” calories taken in
  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area
  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Bloodshot and/or watery eyes after using a bathroom
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth
  • Creation of complex lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

  • Dramatic weight gain or obesity
  • Disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods of time or the existence of wrappers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food
  • Frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food in short periods of time
  • Feeling out of control over eating behavior
  • Feeling ashamed or disgusted by the behavior
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating in secret

How should I approach my loved one?

Here are some ideas you should take into consideration when approaching a loved one with the possibility they are suffering with an eating disorder:

  • Be gentle and caring, and be prepared to listen without offering mounds of advice. You are not the person’s therapist, nor should you pretend to be. Being a good listener means your ears are open and your mouth is shut, you are not intervening with “I know what you mean, that happened to me once when….”- just listen. If they then finish and ask what your thoughts or opinions are, be honest and caring.
  • Don’t make the person feel threatened. It is not your job to dictate what they should and shouldn’t do. If this person has finally decided to talk to you and trust you, cherish it and uphold your role in holding their confidence.
  • Be encouraging. The recovery road can be a long and uphill battle, with pitfalls and setbacks. Don’t be disappointed or disapproving when a sufferer displays signs of falling back, just encourage them to continue pushing forward. Recovery is not only hard work, but can be very confusing and painful, be sure to remind them that you understand this, and that “you cannot always continue to stride forward without a stumble from time to time. It’s okay.” Recovery is about progress, not perfection.
  • Read as much as you can on the topic of Eating Disorders. The more you know, the more equipped you will be to offer a helping hand. Photocopy or print out articles of interest and if time presents itself share the info with your loved one, but do not overstep your boundaries. If the person has asked you not to do certain things, or talk about things, then respect their wishes. The only exception is if the person is truly at risk and needs immediate medical attention.
  • Do not talk about food or weight! Don’t continuously ask what the person has or hasn’t eaten, how much weight they have lost, or how great or bad they look after gaining or losing. This is harsh and very threatening and you are fighting a losing battle either way. Saying they look “healthy since you’ve put on some weight” is heard as “you are fat,” and expressing disappointment or concern in weight loss comes across as “you’re a failure” or “you’re a burden.” By the same token, don’t be afraid to talk in front of the person about your own day to day living (such as, “Fred and I went out for dinner last night and the steak was so good.”) When you stumble trying to avoid topics it will be as noticed as your persistence in discussing them. Don’t watch the person intensively when they are eating, or give looks when they excuse themselves from a meal or from the table. Recovery is not easy and does not happen overnight. Be respectful and courteous and do not try to be the Food Police.
  • If your loved one is looking for recovery resources try not to let him/her get discouraged. Unfortunately, there are doctors and therapists out there that do not know what they are doing, or who do not recognize eating disorders as the serious issue they are. Be supportive. If you feel it’s within your boundaries, offer to help by finding names of local support groups and therapists, and offer to go with them their first time if they’d like the company and support. If they are getting discouraged, remember to be patient and supportive, and don’t push. Recovery is a very personal choice each sufferer will need to make for her or himself. Encourage them to find support in others who share the same experiences, through support groups, on-line bulletin boards or chat rooms, or through larger meetings like those of Overeaters Anonymous.
  • Don’t pretend to understand if you have never had an eating disorder yourself, as it can sound condescending and ingenuine. You can be supportive without living with Anorexia, Bulimia or Compulsive Overeating yourself, and your loved-one will appreciate that more than you putting on a facade of empathy. The sufferers of eating disorders can do better in their own recovery with a good support network behind them. Consider it this way: don’t we all do better in life when we know we have people we can count on? Learn to be a good listener and what “being there” for someone truly means (adapted from

How can I talk to my children when I see a problem?

  • Be calm and caring when you convey your worry
  • Use proper timing to open up the conversation
  • Use “I” statements
  • Think about what you most want to convey and be specific
  • Watch your body language
  • Empower with your own personal experiences
  • Make statements about behaviors and actions, not the total person
  • Stay on the most important topic and focus on one issue at a time
  • Offer choices; compromise when appropriate and keep an open mind
  • Learn to say no when you need to set limits
  • Make eye contact, face the listener, and speak slowly, calmly, and clearly
  • Check it out; seek further information in order to understand the adolescent’s point of view
  • Do not judge

Can you recommend some helpful books or newsletters?

Click here for some great books for parents and family members
Click here for a great monthly newsletter for parents of daughters
Click here for an informative monthly newsletter for families struggling with an eating disorder

How can I connect with other parents or loved ones?

In the Atlanta area, attend the Families of Eating Disorders group at Ridgeview Institute.
National Eating Disorders Parents and Family Network
Something Fishy Support Finder
Eating Disorders Coalition Family and Friends Action Network

Any tips for parents at mealtimes?

  • Try to control your emotions and vent any negative feels away from your child
  • Set boundaries/limits on the behavior that you will tolerate; praise them when things go well
  • Enlist professional help so that you have a strategy; planned meals at planned times are crucial
  • During mealtimes, appear positive and warmly supportive
  • Make sure that everyone else eats balance, age-appropriate meals
  • Be aware that your other children may be experiencing the same grief, or feelings of jealousy over the amount of attention their sibling is receiving
  • Remember that their eating disorder is not your fault, neither is it theirs; eating disorders are serious mental illnesses
  • The quicker eating disorders are caught, the more likely it is that sufferers will make a full recovery

By: Eating Disorders Information Network

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