5 Tips for Talking about Eating Disorders

Remember: Your goal is to start a conversation with your child, and not simply to get answers. Focus on opening lines of communication and allowing your child to tell you what is really going on, to the best of his or her ability in that moment.

1. Ask Questions

  • Speak to what you have noticed instead of making accusations.
  • Focus on what needs to be done, rather than simply asking, “Are you okay?” Kids can easily “skate” around yes or no questions and give parents answers without details.
  • Ask direct questions about your child’s feelings concerning food. For example, “I noticed that you haven’t been eating carbohydrates and fats lately. Why are you cutting back on these types of foods?”
  • Ask direct questions about their feelings concerning their body. For example, “I’ve noticed that you have been making negative comments about your body and talking about losing weight. How do you feel about how your body right now?”
  • Ask directly about any other behaviors you have noticed that are concerning and any other changes in typical behavior.

Download the warning signs of eating disorders (PDF)

2. Be Careful with Compliments

  • Be wary of complimenting your son or daughter about his or her weight loss or how he or she looks. For someone on the brink of an eating disorder, these types of compliments can be seen as encouraging and make him or her think others are noticing the eating disorder “working.”

3. Be Empathetic and Firm

  • Recognize that the eating disorder can be embarrassing, shameful and overwhelming for your child to discuss out loud.
  • Make sure that he or she hears, “You are not ‘in trouble’. I am just concerned.”
  • Be firm in the need to openly discuss your child’s health. For example, “I know this is difficult and you don’t want to discuss it, but we need to talk about your weight and eating habits.”

4. Set the Pace

  • If you are concerned about your child’s health and potential for an eating disorder, tell your son or daughter what’s going to happen, instead of asking for permission. For example, “In an hour, we’re going to see a physician and explore what’s going on with your weight and overall medical functioning. We need to make sure you’re healthy.”

5. Talk to Siblings

  • Ask siblings if they have any questions about what is happening with their brother or sister.
  • Assure them that you are taking care of their sibling and getting them the help they need.
  • Ask them to not comment to their sibling about food or weight.
  • Continue to check in regularly.
  • When possible, find separate time to spend with siblings to help maintain connections and communication and avoid feelings of jealousy.

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.