What to do when your teenage daughter has an eating disorder
Once your daughter has developed an eating disorder, you need to encourage her to seek professional help. It is very unlikely that she will get better by herself. It is inevitable that you need to be involved in her treatment. Positive contribution from you will go a long way in helping her to recover.
These are some of the things that you can do:
- You need to accept the fact that she is suffering from a serious illness that may take a long time to recover. She needs more than just simple advice and insistence from you about a good diet to get better.
- You need to support her treatment program that may involve you attending some of the counselling sessions and working closely with the doctors, nutritionists, nurses and other health professionals who are looking after her.
- You must allow her the space to explore and understand her feelings about the family and yourself who is the parent. You have to deal with your insecure feeling that she may be talking about her relationship with you to her therapist.
- Her eating disorder would stir up mixed emotions of guilt, anger, frustration and sadness in you. These feelings are normal. It is better for you to talk to your own spouse, a confidant or therapist about it than to take it out on her.
- You have to remain firm but loving. It is very confusing for her when you fluctuate between the attitudes of being too rigid and overpermissive. Do not become punitive.
- Your primary goal is to help her get better. So, stop worrying about her school grades and work performance.
- Maintain a normal and good diet for her and the family. Do not compromise the other members of the family just because you do not want to upset her.
- Seek professional help if you have parenting or marital problems that are affecting your children.
More positive actions to minimise her chance of a relapse
The short-term outcome for eating disorders is good. The long-term outcome is not so encouraging. For example, in the case of anorexia nervosa, 50% of the sufferers are still struggling with eating and weight problems five years after their treatment.
Your contribution in ensuring healthy eating habits and positive parent-child relationship will help her to maintain her gains and decrease the likelihood of a relapse. The followings are some simple but effective actions that you can undertake:
- Continue to provide a good, balanced and healthy diet for your family.
- Make mealtime and eating out a fun and enjoyable time for the entire family. Do not fuss over and argue about the food during mealtime.
- Do not use food as punishment or reward.
- Be a good role model. Do not go on a diet unnecessarily and obsess over your own weight.
- Do not criticise her body shape, size or weight. Do not call her names like “fat child”, or “pork chop” even though you mean it as a joke.
- Help build her self-confidence by getting her involved in things that she is good at.
- Teach her to value herself as an individual irrespective of her abilities and physical appearance.
- If she is involved in activities such as acting, modelling, dancing and gymnastic, she is at a higher risk of a relapse. Teach her to deal with peer pressure.
- Maintain an open communication with her about her emotions.
- Teach her stress management skills.