My Daughter Has an Eating Disorder – I Don’t Know What to Do

At Addiction Helper, we understand the great concern of parents and carers who suspect or know their daughter has an eating disorder. It can come as a terrible shock, to realise your baby girl is unwell. Equally, you may have known she has an eating disorder for a while. She may have asked you for help. Or she may refuse to speak to you about her illness. Some need our help to break through their daughter’s denial of the eating disorder itself. Others come to us when their daughter is already willing to accept professional help. Whatever stage you’re at, we can help.

We want you and your daughter to be assured that eating disorder recovery is possible. The earlier you intervene, the better the recovery outcomes are. Our advisors are available now to assess your situation confidentially, in order to propose the best options for treatment. Please get in touch for help.

Eating Disorders Affect Millions of People and Their Families

Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by an eating disorder. The illness typically starts in adolescence or young adulthood.

Parents and carers can experience a very significant burden of care – particularly if they are in daily contact with a relative who denies the extent of their illness.

Though the statistics show that millions of families are affected by eating disorders, the experience within each family is often very isolating.

On the positive side, there are fantastic sources of information, help and treatment. If your daughter has an eating disorder, you do not have to suffer in silence.

What Are the Signs of an Eating Disorder?

If your daughter has an eating disorder, the first thing you may become aware of is a change in her temperament. She may have become withdrawn, anxious or angry. She may be unusually passive or preoccupied. Perhaps she is switching between elation and depression. Though there are no set patterns when it comes to moods, it is likely that there will be mental and emotional shifts. As eating disorders progress, these usually become more obvious.

However, some people with eating disorders are very adept at hiding their feelings and behaviours in connection to the disease. Secrecy is very common with eating disorders, often due to shame, guilt or fear. Societal stigma and misunderstanding also feed into secretive thoughts and behaviours. So it’s important to look out for subtle emotional or behavioural cues too – unusual patterns of behaviour at or around meal times, unexplained absences from school or work, dissatisfaction with body shape or appearance, obsessive thinking or repetitive harmful behaviours.

Physical changes connected to the illness tend to happen later than emotional changes. However, it’s important to know that obvious changes to the body do not always happen. Even when they do, people who suffer from eating disorders can be very skilled at hiding the extent of them by altering their clothing or providing plausible reasons for differences in their weight or appearance.

What Type of Eating Disorder Does My Daughter Have?

There are different types of eating disorders, which manifest in different ways.

Anorexia nervosa typically involves a pursuit of extreme thinness – anorexics will restrict food or binge and purge. Purging food involves taking laxatives or diuretics and/or forced vomiting. Anorexics sometimes exercise excessively to lose weight. They may also develop other addictions to drugs or alcohol to suppress their appetite.

Bulimics binge and purge food but they don’t tend to become underweight.

People with binge eating disorder eat large amounts of food, to the point where they feel uncomfortably full – but they don’t then purge food.

Othorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating only the ‘right’ types of food – the illness centres around controlling intake of food, excluding anything the person believes is unhealthy or unclean.

Less common eating disorders include pica (eating non-edible items) or rumination disorder (bringing up food in order to chew it again, then re-swallow or spit it out).

How Do I Talk to My Daughter about Her Eating Disorder?

If you suspect your daughter has an eating disorder, try to avoid emotionally charged confrontations. It’s particularly important to avoid heated discussions at or around meal times. Try to remember that the behaviour around food is merely a symptom of underlying mental health distress – your daughter may not even be aware of the real causes of her food addiction.

Understandably, some parents and carers are so distressed that they try to avoid the subject altogether – fearing they’ll say the wrong thing or make their daughter’s eating disorder worse. It can be helpful to show you are available for conversations with your daughter, on terms she feels comfortable with. It’s best to use non-confrontational language, such as ‘is it okay to ask how you’re feeling?’ or ‘I’m available to talk if you want to’. Avoid direct challenges about the way she is eating without seeking specialist help first. If your daughter does not want to talk right away, try to respect that, however much you may be worried. Express your fears and hopes by speaking to qualified professionals or accessing support groups.

Professional interventionists can help you – particularly if you have tried to speak to your daughter before and it hasn’t worked out well. Equally, if you just don’t know how to broach the subject at all, then skilled therapists can guide the process safely. Addiction Helper can advise you on the most qualified interventionists who work in your area.

If you already have an open dialogue with your daughter about her eating disorder, and she acknowledges her problem with food, then please speak to us as soon as possible about eating disorder treatment. We know that outcomes improve when people access treatment sooner rather than later. The Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health also highlights early intervention as essential to recovery outcomes:

“There is a critical window for intervention for people with an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa does not improve spontaneously and the prognosis for all eating disorders worsens with time. Recovery is less likely if an eating disorder has remained untreated for more than 3-5 years.”

Treating Eating Disorders as Food Addictions

Eating disorders are now commonly understood and treated as food addictions. This is because the person who suffers becomes increasingly dependent on their destructive eating patterns. As with any addictive substance or process, there are beliefs and motivations that drive compulsive behaviour. Addicts seek certain effects – whether that’s an escape from reality, feeling more in control, avoiding distressing feelings or numbing their pain.

As with all addictions, the underlying causes of the eating disorder must be identified and treated in order for people to get well. Eating disorder recovery is never simply a case of correcting how someone eats.

To suggest this to people in the throes of an eating disorder risks a disinterested or hostile reaction. Eating disorder treatment is about identifying and changing faulty belief systems. This therapeutic process will help your daughter feel safe enough to modify her eating patterns.

Finding the Right Treatment for Your Daughter’s Eating Disorder
To discover the range of options for eating disorder treatment in the UK and abroad, please contact Addiction Helper. There are different treatment approaches, depending on the nature and severity of your daughter’s eating disorder.

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