Avoiding Parent Traps By Abigail Natenshon
- I fear that becoming involved with my child’s eating disorder will jeopardize my relationship with my child.
- I feel that the best way to support my child is with hugs and acquiescence, eliminating emotional conflicts even when that means not being true to myself.
- Because I feel guilty for causing, or at least not preventing, the onset of disease, I feel inadequate when approaching my child.
- I sometimes interrupt my child before really hearing what they have to say, offering advice before I know what they need and want.
- I remember my own behaviors as a teenage and wonder,” Who am I to offer advice when I was worse at that age?”
- Assuming that involvement connotes intrusiveness, I worry that my child will be angered and alienated by my interest in him/her.
- Because I believe that my eating disordered child is emotionally fragile, I hesitate to say anything that might offend him/her.
- Sometimes I forget that no response is a poignant response; it implies just about any meaning my child chooses to assign to it.
- I believe that substance use (alcohol, cigarette, drugs) and fad dieting are a natural part of growing up. I don’t mind if she engages in these activities at home.
*Source: When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder by Abigail Natenshon, 1999
Walking on Eggshells by Abigail Natenshon
- Are you eating the lunches I make for you every day?
- Why do you feel it is so critical for you to lose five pounds? What will it be like for you if it doesn’t happen? If it does?
- Which are the articles that interest you the most in the magazines you are reading?
- What kinds of issues are of greatest concern to you and your friends?
- Do you understand what an eating disorders is? How would you explain it to someone else?
- Do you know how people behave when they have an eating disorder?
- If you had an eating disorder, what would be your greatest concern?
- You’ve been in the bathroom a long time; are you okay?
- I found all these candy wrappers in the garbage. do you know where they came from? (If the answer is no: Would you feel free to discuss this with me if they were yours?)
- You seem agitated and upset. Are you aware of what might be bothering you?
*Source: When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder by Abigail Natenshon, 1999
The Do‘s and Dont’s of Being Quietly Supportive
- “…hey, you’re looking like you gained weight.”
- “…you’re sure looking healthy these days.”
- “…I’m going to call_____if you _____.” ( A threat is a lose-lose situation.)
- “…Do you really think you should be eating that?”
- talk about food at the table, or let mealtime conversations get too heavy.
- always take charge of meal planning and preparation.
- always expect the recovering individual to cook only you favorite foods.
- ask your family members to tell you everything they ate in any given day to help you check up on them.
- ask recovering family members where they’d like to go when going out to dinner.
- compliment shiny hair, color in cheeks, bright eyes, character traits, personality.
- pay attention to the likes and dislikes of the recovering family members.
- meal time and the preparation involved should be a family task. Sharing the responsibilities will reduce stress and communicate family unity. Let young children have 1-2 meals per week they plan (especially helpful if mom is recovering and needs safety most meals, but needs to take risks as well).
- try to keep snack/finger foods in the house to a minimum. Instead, go out for ice cream as a family. Use chips as a recreational food, associate special occasions with special foods.
- schedule family sit-down dinners approximately 3 times a week and family time afterwards. This time can be helpful in developing communication, learning to have fun together and practice healthy boundaries.
Body Image Messages: What Mothers Should and Should Not Do by Joan Chrisler, PhD, Parent Magazine, 1999
The most important impression made on a young girl’s sense of self come from you. Any griping you do about your size or shape can ultimately influence your daughter’s body image, according to Joan Chrisler, PhD, a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London. Her Dr. Chrisler tells you how to accentuate the positive.
- Do not ask, “Do I look fat in this outfit?” This question sets up the idea that your daughter should be as anxious about her size and shape as you are about yours. If you’d like her opinion about your outfit it is okay to ask, “Do you like the color of my dress?” or “Doesn’t this sweater feel soft?” You want your daughter to see clothing as being fun and functional and not as a source of anxiety.
- Do not criticize your own figure. Comments such as, “my thighs are too big” or “my arms are so flabby” may influence your daughter to see herself in terms of parts rather than as a whole individual human being. “A healthy body image is not just about appearance,” say Dr. Chrisler. “It is important to acknowledge your natural grace, strength or athletic ability. Say, “Wow! I ran 3 miles today!” or “look at the beautiful artwork I did.” This helps your daughter value her talents and abilities rather than fixate on her looks.
- Do not compare yourself with other women in a negative way. Remarks such as,” I wish I were a size 8 like Aunt Stacey” or “Why can’t my tummy be as flat as Heather Locklear’s” or “I would be happier if I was thinner” tell your daughter that you think you fall short of some ideal. This message may eventually push her to look into the mirror in search of her own shortcomings. “When you compare yourself with others, you lose the sense of your own uniqueness,” say Dr. Chrisler. To help your daughter improve her sense of self-worth, point out diverse images of beauty. And tell her that inner beauty is even more important, that everyone has something that makes her special: a talent for playing piano, a great sense of humor, skills on the soccer field.
- Do not talk about your weight. Hearing you go on and on about how hard it is to lose weight can plant seeds for your daughter’s own obsession with the scale. Instead of complaining about your weight, emphasize any positive feelings you have. Say, “Wasn’t that bike ride fun?” or “I feel so healthy when I swim.” And when you are out with your daughter and see a friend, don’t say, “You look great – did you lose weight?” This implies that looking good depends on weight loss. Dr. Chrisler’s comment” “All you have to say is “You look terrific!”
- Do not brush off compliments. The lesson of self-depreciation is all to easy to learn. If you see yourself as unworthy, your daughter may feel that she’s also undeserving of praise. Or she may think that blowing off a compliment is the polite thing to do. Dr. Chrisler’s advice:” Next time someone pays you a compliment say, ‘Thank you’ and smile. Bite your tongue if you have to!”
- Do not describe food in terms of being bad for you. “By labeling doughnuts and ice cream bad, you make it harder for your daughter to learn to enjoy treats in moderation,” says Dr. Chrisler. “She also learns to protect her self-image by depriving herself.” When teaching your daughter good eating habits, take the focus off calorie counting and put it on a well-balanced way of eating with a variety of foods that taste delicious.
- Do not comment on your daughter’s weight. Even a mild suggestion that she may want to lose a few pounds sends a message that the only acceptable body is a slender one. Such negative thinking could contribute to a developing eating disorder. Less talk about appearance and more praise for achievements will help boost your child’s self-confidence.
*Source: Parent Magazine (May, 1999), author, Joan Chrisler, PhD
Ten Acts of Courage for Parents of Children with Eating Disorders by Joanna Poppink, MFT
- Creating a healthy family system surrounds the eating disorder child with an environment that supports her recovery.
- All family systems have strengths and weaknesses, and many dysfunctional families do not give rise to a child with an eating disorder
- Nevertheless, while a dysfunctional family does not create an eating disorder, a family that strives to be as honest and healthy as possible can help a child with an eating disorder to heal.
- Do you have the courage to go into a burning building to save your child?
Of course you do.
Courage comes from the Latin ‘cor’ meaning heart. Courage means going into the unknown despite fear and being led by the heart.
If your child suffers from an eating disorder her life is in danger. And the steps you take to try to save her are not as clear as rescuing her from a fire. You can’t reach into her inner world and pull her out of a destructive way of thinking, feeling and behaving. But, you can take some heart-guided actions that help to heal your child. Some actions may appear straightforward while others may be confronting and painful. However, like going into the burning building to save your child, your love and courage will equip you face the challenges ahead.
Ten Acts of Parent Courage
- Keep communication clear and open with your spouse. Negotiate any differences so your day-to-day living with each other and your family reflects your shared values.
Be courageous about communicating.
- Establish and maintain respectful boundaries for yourself and the people around you. Say “no” when “no” is required. Expect yourself and others to keep their word and carry out their responsibilities. This relates to paying bills, living within an allowance or budget, transportation needs, laundry, maintenance of personal property (including cars, clothes, rooms, bureau and desk drawers, etc.)
Be courageous about saying no.
- Establish an honest relationship with your spouse and dissolve or resolve secrets. If you live in a complex family structure, establish an authentic relationship with your spouse and your child’s other parent and any other children and stepchildren.
Be courageous about being honest.
- Learn to quietly and with generous patience listen to any member of your family, especially during times of intense emotion. Then, without taking any action or supplying any solutions, articulate your understanding of what they said and feel and mean. Ask them to help you understand if they think you are missing something.
Be courageous about listening.
- Find or rediscover a joyous and satisfying activity for yourself and participate in it on a regular schedule. (Remember to honor your boundaries and follow through for yourself.)
Be courageous about honoring your capacity for joy.
- Find or rediscover a joyous and satisfying activity for you and your spouse and participate together on a regular schedule. (Remember to honor your boundaries and follow through.)
Be courageous about recommitting to your marriage.
- Accept the fact that all actions and inactions have consequences. Meet those consequences with caring, empathic and neutral acceptance (in other words, no blame on others and no taking on other’s responsibilities). Also know and teach that consequences are not punishment but neutral events. A consequence of rain is that we can get wet. We then decide what actions we will take to deal with the rain. The rain is not punishing us (even if it’s inconvenient to our plans).
Be courageous about facing reality without judgment.
- Know in your heart that your children are temporarily in your care while you raise them to be competent, responsible and compassionate adults. You raise them to maturity and then they leave. Your primary relationship is with your spouse. (in other words, be wary of situations that align one parent with a child and isolate the other parent. This gives a confusing and problematic message to a child about his or her power and position in the family system.)
Be courageous about letting your children grow up and be independent.
- Regardless of how anyone in or out of the family responds, live a healthy life style: reasonable and healthful portions of various foods in regular meals presented and eaten with grace; reasonable and healthful amounts of regular exercise; reasonable and healthful amounts of regular sleep; reasonable and healthful amounts of work and play.
Be courageous about caring for yourself.
- Know that living an honest and healthy life yourself, loving and honoring your spouse, respecting boundaries and being there for each other will affect your child in positive ways and, over time, contribute greatly to his or her healing.
Be courageous about trusting that a healthy present will bring a healthy future
Joanna Poppink, L.M.F.T. is a Los Angeles psychotherapist in private practice who specializes in working with people recovering from eating disorders and their loved ones. She has been in practice since 1980 and is the author of “Triumphant Journey: a guide to stop overeating and recover from eating disorders.” She gives presentations on treatment, prevention and family dynamics as they relate to eating disorders to professional gatherings and to local schools and community centers. You can learn more about her work, her professional background and read her writings by going to her website: Eating Disorder Recovery: Information & Links. Contact: 310-474-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Overt Behaviors by Carolyn Costin, MFT
- Does your daughter constantly go on diets and/or make excuses for not eating?
- Does she exhibit bizarre food rituals or behaviors?
- Is she preoccupied with food and weight?
- Does she express herself in all-or-nothing, black and white, thinking?
- Does she avoid social situations, especially if they involve food?
- Has she started to lose friends and withdraw?
- Have you found hidden food, laxatives, diuretics, and/or diet pills?
- Does your daughter go to the bathroom or otherwise disappear after eating?
- Is she eating a great quantity of food but losing weight or not gaining?
- Has she started wearing baggy clothing and layers of clothes?
- Did you notice extreme mood swings in her that have no apparent source?
- Is food missing from the house with no explanation?
- Is she spending money with nothing to show for it?
- Does she fast occasionally with various excuses?
- Does she get up late at night and have trouble sleeping?
- Have her face and neck glands become swollen and puffy?
- Does she have signs of scars on the back of the hand (due to teeth marks from forced vomiting)?
- Does she seem tired and lack vitality?
- Does she get depressed and angry for no apparent reason?
- Do you feel as though you never see her eating?
- Is she losing weight and is defensive about it?
- Has your daughter become a vegetarian and/or otherwise avoid specific foods?
- Is your daughter almost illogical and paranoid about eating certain foods?
- Does she take showers after meals?
- Have there been signs of vomiting, although she never said anything about being ill?
- Are there any signs of enema or laxative abuse?
- Does she seem to feel cold all the time?
- Is her hair falling out and showing up on her hairbrush or in the shower?
- Does your daughter obsess over what others eat and does she want to cook for, bake for, and feed others?
- Is she preoccupied with or does she obsess over pictures of thin people?
- Does she obsessively weigh herself, panicking at your suggestion of taking the scale away?
- Does her diet contain an excessive amount of gum, coffee, diet soda, mustard, spices, and other non-calorie items?
- Has she become a calorie computer?
- Is she steadily gaining weight?
- Does she always want and/or use food as a reward?
- Has she had temper tantrums over food not being :just right”?
- Have you seen her with bloodshot eyes and burst blood vessels (from vomiting)?
- Has she had a increased number of cavities and/0r discoloration of the teeth?
*Source: Your Dieting Daughter by Carolyn Costin, MFT, 1997. Carolyn Costin is the director of the Monte Nido Treatment Center and the Eating Disorder Center of CA, for more information visit her websites at www.montenido.com and www.edcca.com.
Dos and Dont’s for Significant Others of Someone with an Eating Disorder
Do: Examine your own attitudes and beliefs concerning food, eating, body size and appearance.
Do: Understand that this is a serious, life-threatening illness – not just a call for attention, a fad, simple dieting, or an act of stubbornness.
Do: Learn to listen without judgment and look to the emotion beneath her complains about food and body size.
Do: Validate her feelings and perceptions even if you do not agree with them. They are her reality and are causing her pain.
Do: Help her to become aware of her dichotomous (black and white) thinking, inconsistencies, and confusion concerning her beliefs and actions.
Do: Help her with household chores – especially those that involve children, cooking, cleanup, and shopping for food.
Do: Eat together (if you have children, include the whole family) – even if she balks at this at first.
Do: Get support for yourself – being a supporter is often draining and hard work. Participate in therapy together.
Do: Separate the eating disorder from your loved one as well as other aspects of your lives and relationship.
Do: Try to empower her to recognize her strengths and capabilities.
Do: Support and encourage her in her decisions to make changes – especially ones of career, school or relationships. Previous choices may have been made to please or live up to the expectations of others.
Do: Love her unconditionally.
Don’t: Talk to her about weight and body size – it is a no win situation.
Don’t: Talk about other people’s bodies and weight. It will be internalized as a personal message even if it was not meant to be.
Don’t: Put her in situations, or with people, where constant talk is about food, diet, and exercise.
Don’t: Fight about the illness.
Don’t: Try to find a rational answer to an irrational problem.
Don’t: Assume the role of food police – it could backfire and cause her to eat less or more. Instead, assume a supportive role to help brainstorm and problem-solve her food issues.
Don’t: Question her each day about what she ate or if she purged. Instead ask, “How was your day?” which will give you a pretty accurate barometer, if you have encouraged honesty, as to what she really needs and feels.
Don’t: Make the eating disorder the only topic of conversation and focus. Try to maintain a social and “normal” life outside the illness.
Don’t: Wrongfully accuse her of lying about everything in your relationship because she has lied about her eating disorder behaviors. Understand that this is most often done out of shame, guilt, and fear and is a symptom of the disorder – not necessarily character.
Don’t: Believe that you can cure or “fix” her. Recovery from an eating disorder needs professional help. She needs you as a supporter not a therapist.
Don’t: Be simplistic as to why she has developed and maintained her eating disorder – it is a complicated illness.
*Source: Eating Disorders Today, Winter 2005
10 Myths About Fathers, Daughters and Food by Margo Maine, PhD
Myth #1 Eating disorders and body image are women’s issues.
Myth #2 Men can’t understand…
Myth #3 Eating disorders are caused by problems in the mother/daughter relationship.
Myth #4 Distant, uninvolved fathers are the cause of eating disorders.
Myth #5 Fathers play an inconsequential role in the development of their children.
Myth #6 Father’s role is to “provide” economically.
Myth #7 Parenting isn’t important to men.
Myth #8 Father’s don’t feel.
Myth #9 Girls learn about femininity from their mothers.
Myth #10 Girls need their mother, not their fathers, during adolescence.
*From Dr. Margo Maine’s book, Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and Food (1991), Gurze Books.
10 Tips for Dads with Daughters, By Joe Kelly, DADS Executive Director
- Listen to girls. Focus on what is really important–what my daughter thinks, believes, feels, dreams and does–rather than how she looks. I have a profound influence on how my daughter views herself. When I value my daughter for her true self, I give her confidence to use her talents in the world.
- Encourage her strength and celebrate her savvy. Help my daughter learn to recognize, resist and overcome barriers. Help her develop her strengths to achieve her goals. Help her be what Girls Incorporated calls Strong, Smart and Bold!
- Urge her to love her body & discourage dieting. Growing girls need to eat often and healthy. Dieting increases the risk of eating disorders. Advertisers spend billions to convince my daughter she doesn’t look “right.” I won’t buy into it. I’ll tell my daughter that I love her for who she is, not for how she looks.
- Respect her uniqueness. See my daughter as a whole person, capable of anything-and make sure she knows that’s how I see her. My daughter is likely to choose a life partner who acts like me and has my values. So, treat her and those she loves with respect. That will help my daughter choose someone who respects and nourishes her long after she’s left my home.
- Get physically active with her. Play catch, tag, jump rope, basketball, Frisbee, hockey, soccer, or just take walks.you name it! Help her learn all the great things her body can do. Physically active girls are less likely to get pregnant, drop out of school, or put up with an abusive partner. Studies show that the most physically active girls have fathers who are active with them. Being physically active with her is a great investment!
- Get involved in your daughter’s school. Volunteer, chaperone, read to her class. Ask tough questions, like: Does the school have and use an eating disorder prevention or body image awareness program? Does it tolerate sexual harassment of boys or girls? Do more boys take advanced math and science classes and if so, why? (California teacher Doug Kirkpatrick’s girl students weren’t interested in science, so he changed his methods and their scores soared!) Are at least half the student leaders girls?
- Get involved in your daughter’s activities. Volunteer to drive, coach, direct a play, teach a class-anything! Demand equality. Texas mortgage officer and volunteer basketball coach Dave Chapman was so appalled by the gym his 9-year-old daughter’s team had to use, he fought to open the modern “boys’” gym to the girls’ team. He succeeded. Dads make a difference!
- Help make the world better for girls. This world does hold dangers for our daughters. But over-protection doesn’t work, and it tells my daughter that I don’t trust her and her abilities! I can work with other parents to demand an end to violence against females, media sexualization of girls, pornography, advertisers making billions feeding on our daughters’ insecurities, and all “boys are more important than girls” attitudes.
- Take your daughter to work. Participate in every April’s official Take Our Daughters to Work® Day and make sure my business participates. Show her how I pay the bills and manage my money. My daughter will have a job some day, so I need to introduce her to the world of work and finances!
- Join with other fathers. When I share my commitment to make the world respect and nurture our daughters, I’ll be amazed at how many other fathers agree. We can learn a lot from each other. And we can have a lot of influence when we work together by becoming a member of (or renewing a membership in) Dads and Daughters. Encourage other fathers to join, too.
* To learn more about the nonprofit group Dads and Daughters visit www.dadsanddaughters.org or call 1-888-824-DADS.
Ten Things Every Father Should Know
- Our body size is a given, like our height or hair color. Yet, by middle school, 30-50 percent of American girls say they feel too fat and 20-40 percent are dieting; many beginning before age 10. By high school, 40-60 percent of girls feel overweight and try to lose weight.
- Young girls say that they are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of cancer, nuclear war, or losing their parents.
- Today, the average fashion model weighs 23 percent less than the average woman.
- The average age for onset of eating disorders is during adolescence. While self-esteem for both girls and boys is strong as children and drops for both in adolescence, the drop is much steeper for girls, beginning at around age of 12.
- In a survey of working-class 5th to 12th grade suburban girls, 69 percent reported that magazine pictures influence their idea of the perfect body shape; 47 percent reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
- Before puberty there is no difference in depression rates between boys and girls. By age 15, girls are twice as likely to be depressed and 10 times as likely to develop an eating disorder than their male peers. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide than boys are, but boys are more likely to succeed.
- Clinique Laboratories, Inc. surveyed 500 moms of teen daughters and found their number one New Year’s Resolutions was “lose weight/eat less”. Yet 22% of these same mothers list the fear of their daughter developing an eating disorder among their top concerns. Only 16 percent of the 500 teens in the same survey worried about developing an eating disorder.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that comments by male family members trigger dieting, and teasing is associated with weight-control attempts in adolescence.
- According to data presented to the National Institutes of Health, 33-40 percent of adult women are trying to lose weight at any given time -fueled by a cultural perception of a feminine “ideal” that is much too thin for good health.
- Girls with active and hardworking dads are more ambitious, more successful in school, attend college more frequently, and are more likely to attain careers of their own. They are less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date or marry abusive partners.
To learn more about the nonprofit group Dads and Daughters visit www.dadsanddaughters.org or call 1-888-824-DADS.
Sources: Dads and Daughters, 1999. Michael Levine, Prevention of Eating Problems with Elementary Children, USA Today, July 98, Special K report, Business Wire, 1998, Jo Sullivan-Lyons, The Psychologist, American Academy of Advertising, Pediatrics, March 99, American Psychological Assn. congressional briefing.
Ten Tips for Live-Away Dads by William C. Klatte
(Dads who live away from their children due to divorce, separation or conflict with the child’s mother)
- Hang in there for the long haul. My involvement in my daughter’s life may be different than my dreams for the two of us when she was little, but it is no less important. I remain a tremendous influence in her life and need to stay involved in a clam, loving and committed way forever.
- Develop healthy social and emotional supports for myself. Some live-away dads struggle to handle anger and loneliness with maturity. These feelings are normal, but I must be careful not to become emotionally dependent on my daughter. Instead, I need to spend time with healthy adults and get my emotional and social needs met through them.
- Remember that my daughter lives in two homes. I need to be patient if my daughter doesn’t do chores or follow rules the way I want. She has different rules in her mother’s house. She may sometimes be upset or moody when she leaves my home or her mother’s home. I need to remember that my relationship with her is much more important than getting her to do things the way I think she should.
- Father the best I can when she is with me. I cannot change how her mother raises her or make up for what her mother does or doesn’t do. I can’t correct excessive leniency by her mother with excessive strictness on my part. Instead, I need to father her calmly. Give her choices. Be a patient and loving father, not a demanding and critical perfectionist. Be the dad she can always talk to and trust to support her – even when she makes mistakes.
- Keep my daughter out of the middle – even if her mother doesn’t. Talk well about my daughter’s mother even when I’m angry at her – and even if she talks poorly about me. Negative talk about my daughter’s mother is a little wound to my daughter, and causes her to think less of herself, her mom and me. I’ll resolve adult conflicts away from my daughter and allow her to be the child.
- My daughter and her mother are different people. I’ll not misdirect anger at my daughter’s mother toward my daughter. When my daughter does not listen to me, does less than her best in school or makes other mistakes (normal behaviors for most kids), I’ll be careful not to confuse my daughter’s mistakes with her mother’s actions, and instead, see what I can do to make things better.
- Give my daughter consistent attention. My daughter needs my healthy attention in person, on the phone, over the internet, through the mail, or any other way. I can’t try to buy her love with things – even if her mother does. My daughter needs my presence not my presents.
- Listen to my daughter. Lecturing and arguing get me nowhere. It does not help if I minimize my daughter’s feelings or falsely tell her something will be okay when I can’t guarantee that it will. Instead, I need to listen and be there for her. Accept my daughter for who she is; not who I want her to be, think she should be, or think she would be if she were raised only be me. I’ll take the lead in communicating – even when I feel unappreciated. I may not agree with everything she says r does, but when I listen, I build the emotional connection that will help her listen to me when it really counts.
- Focus on my daughter’s positives. Many men were raised by fathers pointing out what we did wrong, so we could fix it. That may work on the job, but intimate personal relationships are not like a job. Focusing on negatives undermines her strength and confidence – already stretched by living in two homes.
- Be her father, not her mother. I am a powerful and encouraging role model, and I’ll tell her that she has a special place in my heart. My masculine actions and loving can help her realize that she too can be adventurous, playful, and successful – and should expect respect from affectionate, honorable men.
Created by DADS advisor. William C. Klatte, author of LIVE AWAY DADS (Penguin, 1999). Source: To learn more about the nonprofit group Dads and Daughters visit www.dadsanddaughters.org or call 1-888-824-DADS.