Helping a Parent With An Eating Disorder
Eating disorders are a serious problem. When a parent battles this type of illness it will touch each person in the household. Since eating disorders often go undetected and/or untreated for many years, this is a condition which may have pervasive influences in the lives of family members. Today, there are many older men and women struggling with the disorder and it is likely that they have been doing so for decades. What then can adult children do to help themselves as well as the parent with food struggles?
For good or ill, parents play a formative role in the lives of their children. As an adult child of a parent with an eating disorder, it is wise to face up to the fact that you were likely transmitted some unhealthy attitudes toward self-acceptance, food and eating, and personal appearance. Quite possibly your parent has been living with a mild form of depression. This means that there were unhealthy negative attitudes communicated about many things.
On the other hand, it is important not to paint the parent with a single broad swipe of the brush. Your parent probably did many things well and managed to guide you in positive ways despite their own struggles. Your parent is more than his/her illness. Keep a balanced perspective regarding the parent, remembering that all parents come with faults.
Still, it may take more than simply acknowledging you were raised with some wrong thinking about food and body weight. It might help to talk with a mental health professional in order to sift out the wrong thinking of the parent from the right thinking you want to embrace as an individual. Outside ears and eyes that recognize unhealthy patterns can be invaluable in that process. This will give you confidence when it comes time to raise your own children and free you from the worry that you may be perpetuating an unhealthy pattern.
Always keeping in mind that an unhealthy parent is still a parent, adult children may want to lovingly confront the parent about the problem. It is usually most effective to approach the person with questions rather than accusations. It is appropriate for you to explain to them how their illness has impacted you. Recognize in advance, however, that your parent may resist your well-intentioned advances. They may deny the problem or become defensive. They are adults responsible for themselves just as you are responsible for yourself. You cannot make them willing to change.
There are a small number of books available to adult children of eating disordered parents which may be helpful. Certainly, talking with a counselor or therapist is a positive step. It is possible that the parent may be ready to deal with the issue if they feel that you will be supportive. Adult children can help parents stay faithful to treatment and gently hold them accountable. Parents may respond well to the truth that their proper response can serve as a good example. Every parent has failings. Modeling a right response to the faults all parents have is a powerful influence and one which can continue over a lifetime.