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Parents and Eating Disorder Recovery

By Michelle Zaydlin--The moment that the eating disorder begins to take over seems to be the moment that everything else starts to go. Family, friends, school, work, they all seem to stop being priorities and the only thing that fills your thoughts is food, exercise, weight, and obsession.

While parents are often the first ones who see the signs of the eating disorder emerge, they are also often the first ones to get pushed away, ignored, and rejected.  Yet, parents can play a crucial role in the recovery process regardless of their child’s age, gender, or diagnosis.

Throughout my own recovery the support of my family and friends was crucial. While I often reached out to my parents for support in the process, they were also the first ones I wanted to push away when I was struggling. In hindsight, I was often angry with them for being concerned about where I was at and how I was doing.

What I learned throughout my recovery was that often my parents just needed guidance and felt lost and scared in the whole process. It was terrifying for them to watch their daughter struggle with a life-threatening illness, and they just didn’t know what to do.

I don’t imagine that this sense of fear and concern is something that just my parents felt throughout my recovery.  In the moment, it was hard for me to tell them what I needed and how to best help me. But in hindsight, this is the advice I would give them.

The first and most important thing to remember is that it is up to the individual to choose recovery and to do the work. Watching a loved one struggle is never easy and we often want to give them the magic potion or wave the magic wand and have them cured. On one hand, it is so important to provide love, care and support for the person who is struggling. Yet, it is also important to recognize that it is their process. They are the ones who have to do the work, who have to attend appointments, work through their obstacles and make the decision to embrace recovery.

It is also important to remember that recovery is a journey and not a linear process. When I began my recovery, both my parents and I felt as though this was going to be a quick and uphill process. What we quickly learned was that recovery did not have a concrete timeline and that it was certainly not all uphill.

Recovery is a journey, it goes up and down and there are good days, bad days and just okay days, and all that is normal and a part of the process. It is important to celebrate the ups and work through the downs and to never give up. It is also important to not put a time limit on recovery. Recovery takes time and there is no set time frame in which it occurs. Instead it is important to just focus on one day and one moment at a time.

Our society also often focuses on food, weight and sizes in regular conversation, often around mealtimes. For someone in recovery, these topics can be difficult and painful, especially when they are discussed around food. Especially during events such as parties and gatherings, the food and occasion can be difficult enough without conversation focusing on difficult topics. Parents can be a first line of defense in redirecting the conversation. Discuss school, work, life, and focus on positive events and accomplishments to remove the focus from food and weight. Though this may seem trivial, it can often make the biggest difference.

Most of all, provide support for your child. Educate yourself on eating disorders, treatment and the recovery process. Focus on learning the facts and learning what you can do to help. Provide a listening ear and give support with compassion love and understanding. Let your child know that you love them and care about them and only want what is best. Also, recognize that not only is this a difficult time for your child, but for your family as a whole. 

Reach out and find support for yourself, look to other friends, family members and professional organizations in your area. Find someone to support you in this process, whether it be a support group, therapist, or friend. Your own health, mental and physical, is equally as important as your child’s. Finally, encourage your child to focus on happiness, health and recovery and let them know that recovery is possible and that things do get better.

About this blogger: Michelle Zaydlin is currently a senior at the University of Michigan and will be graduating this May with a B.S. in Neuroscience and Spanish. She is currently involved with NEDA as a coordinator of the second annual Ann Arbor, MI NEDA Walk and a member of Dance Marathon which helps support pediatric rehabilitation therapies at local children’s hospitals. She also works as a physics study group leader through the science learning center at the University and as a behavior technician doing applied behavior analysis (ABA) with children on the autism spectrum. 

Also by Michelle: 

#LoveYourRealSelfie

For more on parents and EDs:

Recovery Dad and Recovery Girl

Real Experience, Real Advice: A Dad Shares His Tips for Parents

I'm Thankful My Mom Encouraged Healthy Body Image, Not Dieting

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