Unfortunately, they can strike almost anyone in the US: men, women, children, teens and adults of all ages, races and economic status. Though some are more vulnerable during certain periods and life stages, the faces of those suffering from eating disorders vary greatly. It is estimated that about 11 million Americans suffer from eating disorders. Unfortunately, their illness is still shrouded in shame and embarrassment, making discussing the symptoms and causes particularly difficult. So what is a parent to do when it seems that their teenage daughter is exhibiting signs of a budding eating disorder? How does a parent approach the subject without alienating their child? Though the subject should be approached with compassion and open-mindedness, discussing it openly is not only possible but key to finding a path to physical and mental health.

  • Do your research – Make sure to prepare yourself with the facts of anorexia or bulimia before you open up the subject. Understand that your daughter is likely to react with anger, denial and embarrassment. If you don’t respond negatively to their initial declarations you’ll make more progress. Let her know that she has a safe place to land with you and you are not judging her.
  • Choose a safe place – Approaching any touchy subject can be made doubly difficult if in a public place where she may believe that others are listening. Make sure to make your conversation private and in a place where she feels safe and comfortable. Do not raise the subject if she is already emotional, is around food or focused on other issues.
  • Watch your language – Try to remember to use “I” statements like “I am worried about a couple of things I am seeing.” Refrain from “you” statements like “You never eat and look sickly.” You statements feel like an attack and you’ll quickly put her in a defensive mode, which only helps to have her shut down.
  • Keep the conversation about her – Try your best to not bring up food or weight in your conversation. Make your questions and comments about her feelings and perceptions instead.
  • Keep quiet and listen – Don’t try to persuade her into admitting something or feeling something she’s not. You don’t have all the answers so don’t pretend to. Simply provide an ear and a shoulder when needed.
  • Realize that it is not about you – Avoid making her feel any worse than she already does. Those with eating disorders are often ashamed of their issues; having manipulative statements thrown at them that make them feel even more guilty is never a positive step. Safety and trust are of the highest importance here.