Many people ask me about where eating disorders come from or why they develop in some people and not others. To be honest, there is no hard and fast answer to that question. At the time that I am helping an individual in the early stages of an eating disorder, we really don’t concern ourselves with the why or how the eating disorder began (the “etiology” if we are getting technical). We focus on the here and now and about getting medication (food) into the body and keeping it there (not engaging in purging behaviors) until the body has reached a healthy state.
I liken this to someone being ill with cancer. The first course of action is not to talk about the reasons why or the childhood factors that the individual may have experienced that lead to the cancer – that would not contribute at all the curing the cancer, what you would do is treat the cancer as quickly as you could with appropriate medication.
Once sustained health has been reached, we can definitely deal with the issues that may still be lingering and look at some of the issues that may have had a hand in contributing to the severity of the eating disorder.
The worst thing a parent can do when their child is affected by an eating disorder (ED) is to feel a sense of guilt and shame about their child’s eating disorder -that it must have been something they said or did that caused the ED. Parents of children with ED’s have no more reason to feel guilt than parents who’s child is affected by any other illness, be it cancer, cystic fibrosis or asthma, yet for some reason there is an enormous sense of guilt that parents of children with ED. This guilt debilitates parents to help their child; it takes away any sense of empowerment that parents might have to be the best advocates to restore health in their children.
This guilt causes parents to hand over complete control to health care providers who don’t know the heart and soul of the child, who didn’t raise the child and nourish the child from a helpless newborn to the person they are today. The guilt puts a barrier between the parents and restored health and I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Parents are the #1 champion for their children overcoming eating disorders. No one knows, loves, cares for a child like their parents do. No one knows the books they love, the smells that make them smile, the memories that light up their child’s face like a parent does. No one can offer them the comfort, love and compassion that they need when fighting an eating disorder in a more soothing way than their parents can.
As a counsellor, a large part of my role is removing the guilt that a parent feels and replacing it with a sense of empowerment, a sense that they are the best people to help their child recover. Reminding them that when their child was sick with the flu, they new – intuitively – how to renourish their child to restored health, and in the same way, when their child is ill and suffering with ED, in conjunction with a team of health care professionals, they can once again restore their child to optimal health.
By giving parents back the confidence they once had to raise healthy, vibrant children, they can end up being the exact medicine the doctor ordered.