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How Others Can Help

What you can do to help a family whose child has an eating disorder?

When a child is sick, parents are expected to get them the treatment they need, and to take on the responsibility of caregiving until the patient is well. Unfortunately, when a child develops an eating disorder, parents are too often told WHAT WE SHOULD NOT DO. Some treatment philosophies actually discourage parents from taking on the role of caregiver, and may even blame the parents as having contributed to the development and maintenance of the illness.

At F.E.A.S.T., we believe that supported parent and family involvement is key to the successful treatment of eating disorders, and prefer to focus on WHAT PARENTS CAN DO to help their children recover.

We also encourage others to commit to what they CAN do to support the family. A family in crisis needs understanding, support, and practical help. What can YOU do?

Advice from F.E.A.S.T. parents:

As a neighbor, friend or relative please….

  • try not to focus on or talk about weight, weight loss programs, body types and how the person with anorexia looks.
  • feel free to buy or bake and bring over high calorie foods including cookies, ice cream, brownies, whole milk, casseroles, etc. Anything will be greatly appreciated and you will be greeted with a smile!
  • ask if you can mow the lawn, clean the house or do a load of laundry; these are often the activities we don’t have the time or energy for.
  • call often and let us talk as much as we are comfortable doing so. Please don’t be offended if we have to cut the conversation short to shop, cook, provide a meal or run to an appointment.
  • ask if it is a good time before making plans to visit.
  • offer to stay with the person with an eating disorder for a few hours so parents can take a much needed break.
  • read any and all up-to-date information on eating disorders, including books and website links listed on this site. There are many misconceptions and we need you to support us by being open to new information and nonjudgmental.
  • don’t blame us as parents. No one knows exactly how eating disorders develop but we do know parents do not cause eating disorders, nor do patients choose them.
  • avoid telling us to back off or relax; eating disorders are life-threatening, urgent, and difficult for all family members
  • let us make decisions with our treatment providers about the course of treatment. We will ask if we want your opinion or to help us with research.
  • help out with other children as they will need more attention during this time. Volunteer to take them on a bike ride, to a movie, out for dinner or for a weekend sleepover.
  • treat the person with an eating disorder as you did prior to the diagnosis. Much of their personality is still intact and will return to normal as they get better.
  • understand that this can be a long term illness and may take months and years to recover.
  • send cards of encouragement or little gifts to the person with an eating disorder and their siblings. These are helpful for Moms and Dads too!
  • “a neighbor of ours gave my d a basket of 30 small, wrapped gifts (e.g.,a cute pen,asmall book of sayings, etc)and told her to open 1 per day for a little happiness and sunshine. This was during the worst of her (diagnosis). It touched me and I know that it touched my d(aughter).”

As an employer, please understand…,

  • this is a serious illness and should be treated as if your employee told you their child had cancer.
  • eating disorders are not a choice, and your employee did not cause the illness.
  • your employee may have to take extended sick or vacation leave, a leave of absence, and/or change to more flexible hours to accommodate the many needs of their ill child. Your employee may need to be available for their child for all meals and snacks (up to six times per day) and will need to transport their child to numerous medical and psychological appointments which may not be in the immediate geographical area.
  • your employee may be unable to work up to their full potential for a period of time as this illness cause extreme stress on families.
  • know that with good support and assertive treatment eating disorders are treatable and that good treatment early can keep the illness from being chronic