Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, but it is not necessarily easy – not for the individual or the family. Considering that recovery is the goal, parents can take steps to help prevent their child’s relapse. The following are some strategies designed to help improve the recovering daughter of any age, as well as the rest of the family.
Eating Disorder Recovery
Although it may be the daughter with the actual disorder, she is probably not the only family member who may need to make changes. Therefore, all family members need to be fully committed to working on the aspects of their lives that could benefit from careful attention and growth. For example, if a father has anger issues, he should be actively working on understanding and altering that behavior; if a mother has body-image issues or a tendency toward perfectionism, she needs to be addressing that in her own life. Doing so will be helpful to the patient’s eating disorder recovery, and it will also demonstrate the family’s commitment to the one in recovery. Parents should strongly consider participating in a family or marital therapy to reinforce their commitment to their daughter’s recovery, to obtain objective feedback about her behaviors, and to grow in their relationship with their daughter.
Eating Disorder Recovery Expectations
Recovery is usually a painful and challenging process. The family should not expect it to be a smooth road. The amount of struggle will depend on each person’s situation.
Separate the Eating Disorder
Your child may have an illness, but she is not a problem that needs to be fixed. It is important for parents and siblings to separate the two, just as any parent would do if a child had a disease such as cancer. She is your daughter and will remain your daughter long after the disorder has become part of her past.
Eating Disorder Relapse vs. Mistake
Full recovery takes time. During this time, slips may occur. This is not the end of the world and does not mean your daughter has to go back to square one and start the recovery process all over. It means she made a mistake – that’s all. Slips can occur several times during recovery; only if eating-disorder behaviors become the norm day after day does it indicate she is probably headed for a relapse. It is wise to stay in communication with the patient’s treatment team so that they can professionally assess her risk of possible relapse.
Talk to One Another
Communication, involving the entire family, is key to recovery. This means talking. Far too often, families fall into unhealthy methods of communicating, be it body language, facial expressions, off-hand or negative remarks, or silence. Families develop unhealthy strategies for coping with painful emotions such as shame or guilt. Positive communication through conversation is key to recovery.
Practice Effective Listening
It has been said that in conversations with their children, parents should listen 90% of the time. Listen to how she speaks about her world and how she fits into that world. Don’t go by how things look because appearance is deceiving. Ask questions … then listen to the response, the words that are used, and her tone of voice. Stories that start with “when I was your age …” should be shared sparingly. Participating in family therapy can teach what it means to listen well.
Set a tone in your home of emotional honesty, telling the truth in love. Validate your feelings and emotions. If something hurts your feelings, admit it. Through honesty, openness, and vulnerability, you set the stage for others in the home to act similarly. Remember, speak to one another in love. Attending family counseling sessions can teach the whole family how to communicate safely in this open emotional manner.
Work on Trust
Parents should not try to be in charge of the daughter’s recovery process by being too controlling or setting down scores of rules. This is an issue of trust. Give her enough freedom to not only affect change but regain parental confidence. A power struggle in the home will likely push her back to the eating disorder, instead of away from it.
Trying to contain the eating disorder within the family system is a mistake, meaning you must have an outpatient treatment team and support from friends and other family members. Do not keep the eating disorder a secret. This indicates to your daughter that it is something to be ashamed of, which it is not. Secrecy is contrary to recovery.
Make Certain Adjustments
Remove mirrors, especially full-length, from the daughter’s bedroom. She should not have a computer in her room, instead, use one in a more common space. You do not want her to go to eating-disorder websites, of which there are many. Consider eliminating scales in the home. These changes need not necessarily be permanent; they need to be in effect only as long as it takes for the daughter to be secure in recovery.
Praise and compliments are lovely aspects of human interaction, as long as they are concerned with intangible qualities and character traits. Stay away from compliments that are appearance or performance-based. Focus on the beauty of her heart, not your perception of the beauty of her face or body.
Preventing An Eating Disorder Relapse
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible. It’s happening every day at The Meadows Ranch. Based on feedback from patients, families, and professionals, the vast majority of our patients remain committed to a life of health, balance and purpose.
For additional information about the treatment of eating disorders, please call to speak to an Intake Coordinator at 866-390-5100 or complete the form below and we will contact you with the information you need.