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Ten Things I Want Parents to Know About Anorexia
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Ten Things I Want Parents to Know About Anorexia

by Carrie Arnold, F.E.A.S.T. Advisor. Patient Advocate, Science Writer

March, 2010

  1. It's not your fault. You will need all your energy to help your child recover from anorexia, so don't waste it on blame and guilt. Let it go and focus on what you can do to help your child.
  2. Insist on being part of your child's treatment. This is especially important if your child is still living at home, since you can see things that the eating disorder may have left your child blind to. Speak up. Trust your instincts.
  3. They don't realize that they are sick. One of the most frustrating symptoms of anorexia is the inability to comprehend the presence of the illness. It's not that they won't admit they have anorexia, it's that a sufferer literally cannot see it.
  4. It's not a choice. Your child isn't starving herself because she wants to or is choosing to. She is starving because she has anorexia. She won't stop until someone makes her.
  5. Resistance--extreme resistance--is the rule, not the exception. If you didn't think you had cancer, you probably wouldn't volunteer to receive chemotherapy that made you feel awful, right? It's the same thing for someone with anorexia. Insist they receive immediate, intensive, evidence-based treatment.
  6. Anorexia does not lend itself to honesty. Your child isn't lying to you because it's fun or just to push your buttons. They're lying because they're scared. This isn't to say that lying is okay, but try to reframe dishonesty as fear rather than bad behavior.
  7. Don't give up. People with anorexia often feel hopeless and helpless and ultimately depend on loved ones not to give up on them because they have often already given up on themselves.
  8. Prepare for relapse. Relapse isn't a rule, but it's exceedingly common. Prepare for it. Be ready for it. Have a plan. And meet it face-on.
  9. Anorexia is deadly serious. Eating disorders are the deadliest of all psychiatric disorders, and the longer your loved one has been ill, the greater her chance of dying. Don't be afraid to insist on treatment--it just might save their life.
  10. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Take a deep breath. Full recovery can take some time, even after healthy weight and eating habits are established. Be patient. Your child will come back to you, without anorexia peering over their shoulder.

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