4 Tips for Supporting a Child with an Eating Disorder

If you have a child or teen who is battling an eating disorder, it’s important to be supportive of him or her. Prevention and recovery from an eating disorder starts at home. Your children are strongly influenced by your own perceptions, value judgments and flexibility in diet and exercise. Consider these tips:

1. Do NOT blame yourself. While families can be an important part of the prevention and treatment of an eating disorder, they do not cause an eating disorder.

Get more DOs and DONT’S for preventing eating disorders >

Download the warning signs of eating disorders (PDF)

2. Avoid “Fat Talk”. Be aware of comments you make about your own body. Offhanded comments about having a “fat day” or rejoicing over fitting into a smaller clothing size can have a bigger effect on a developing child or teen’s body image than you may think.

  • Any time we contribute to dialogue about “skinny is pretty,” we devalue body acceptance. Children and adults alike learn how to assess their bodies based on their environment.
  • If we buy into or even simply allow “fat talk” to occur around us, we create an environment that perpetuates “good” versus “bad” body types.

Learn more about how the media perpetuates this type of negative dialogue >

  • Hyper-focusing on changing the physical body is an easy hook for individuals who struggle with self-esteem or identity to latch onto as a way to feel more confident and even accepted by others.

3. Be Aware of Your Own Eating Habits

  • Similar to building self-awareness around your own body image, notice your value judgments associated with certain foods.

Get tips for setting family rules around health and nutrition >

  • Healthy eating and moderate exercise are recommended for both adults and children. However, identifying food types and portion sizes as “good” or “bad” can lead to extremes in diet.
  • Take notice of the labels you attribute to carbohydrates and fatty foods, and pay attention to your tendency to cut out these types of foods when seeking a “healthier diet.” Remember that all types of foods can be a part of a healthy diet.
  • “Everything in moderation” is a far more positive message to share with your children than the messages sent by food exclusion and restrictive dieting.

4. Be Aware of Your Own Exercise Behaviors

  • Do you feel guilty about not exercising “enough”? Do you make comments about needing to exercise after eating sugary or fatty foods? Do you talk about needing to “hit the gym” while trying on clothes?
  • Notice the emotions, such as guilt, that have become intertwined with exercise, eating, and your body image.
  • The drive for excessive exercise should not inspire awe or jealousy. When excessive, exercise can become a serious, and even compulsive ritual that can negatively impact health and wellness.
  • Avoid associating a desire to exercise with eating certain types of foods and disliking the way an item of clothing fits.
  • Be flexible in your exercise regimen and help your children see the variety of ways people can be active.

Get simple tips for talking to kids about healthy exercise habits >


The tips in this section have been provided by Elizabeth Easton, PsyD, Clinical Director of Child and Adolescent Services at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, CO.

For more information about the Eating Recovery Center, check out the video below, or visit them online at www.eatingrecoverycenter.com.