The hardest part of having a child or family member with an eating disorder is the longevity of the disease. Dads especially are used to going in and “fixing” problems; but, when it comes to eating disorders, it is not that simple.
I tell parents that the unrelenting, pervasive and constant eating disorder thoughts in their child’s head are similar to what they would experience if they were wearing headphones with loud rock music while I was talking to them. I would not expect them to be able to retain the information I was giving them with the all of that “noise in their heads.” Similarly, the malnourished brain cannot make good decisions. When your child has an eating disorder her ability to remember all the loving things you do as parents goes right out the window each time she is confronted about her food intake. Also, the level of fear, shame and guilt eating disorder patients experience is huge. I ask the family to think about times when they were fearful. I give the example of the time I was in a tall hotel in San Diego and woke up in the middle of the night with my bed moving. I couldn’t even keep my balance on the floor. I hit the stairwell with 500 other guests and you could almost feel the collective fear that the building would collapse and we would all be killed. That is the level of fear that those who struggle with eating disorders live with on a daily basis around their food. Parents frequently ask me what they can do. First and foremost, they can be parents – not food police or therapists. It takes a team to fight these dis-eases (hyphenated purposely because of the dis-ease it causes the family). I would not attempt to treat a patient without a team approach. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is focused on helping family members get the information and tools they need to deal with their loved ones. They have support groups, reading materials, guidelines, information on treatment centers, and a lot of options for parents, siblings, significant other to learn and deal with eating disorders. I also direct family members to 12-step groups for support. It may be AA, CODA (co-dependency anonymous), EDA (eating disorders anonymous) EA (emotions anonymous)—any group that can offer support and a chance to voice your feelings. At Remuda Ranch at the Meadows, we have dietitians, therapists, and primary care physicians on board to tackle these issues. The family is also considered an important part of our team; we try to educate, support, train, and encourage them through a family week process. We know we are just not treating the patient – it is a family affair. Please call our intake department at 866-390-5100, or reach out to us online, if you need more information about treatment options for a loved one, or for yourself.
Vicki Berkus MD remudaranch.com