How to cope with eating disorders
The key is to make goals very small and to build on any signs of progress. If the simple goal of eating an apple for breakfast is progress, then this should be marked and celebrated.
Attending the outpatient clinic can help with this, as the staff can be outside arbitrators to give your daughter feedback on the seriousness of her problem and motivate her to set goals that you can both work on.
A range of individual, family and group therapies might help, depending on your daughter’s specific needs. A cognitive-behavioural approach, for example, would focus on helping your daughter challenge her distorted beliefs about body shape and her unhelpful eating habits, while setting positive concrete behavioural goals to overcome them. This can help, but the most important thing is to find empathic mental professionals you can work with.
There are also a number of voluntary sector services such as BodyWhys ( bodywhys.ie), which offers helpline and group support for individuals and their families, or Overeaters Anonymous ( overeatersanonymous.ie), which follows a 12-step group approach to recovery. Through these organisations, try to make contact with other parents dealing with similar issues as this can be a crucial source of support and information.
Be careful to monitor your daughter’s weight and health, and continue to work closely with health professionals as needed: if things deteriorate, be prepared to step up her level of care as needed.
Many people with eating disorders can benefit from inpatient treatment, especially if their weight becomes dangerously low. A residential stay can be used as a time to kick-start a period of recovery.
In addition, make sure to consider alternative therapies such as relaxation, yoga or mindfulness, all of which could contribute to improving her health.
As well as focusing on tackling the eating disorder and setting small goals around healthy eating, it is important to support your daughter in getting on with her life, whether this is in pursuing study or employment, making friends, having relationships and doing what you would expect other 19-year-old girls to be doing.
When you have an eating disorder, it can take centre stage and prevent you from getting on with your life – which can make things much worse.
Indeed, what often helps a young person overcome their disorder in the long term is achieving in other areas of their lives, whether this be working in a satisfying career, establishing quality friendships and relationships, making a contribution in voluntary work or taking up interesting leisure or pastimes.
John will be giving a one-day course on Parenting Primary School Age Children on Saturday, October 20th in Wynns Hotel Dublin.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and psychotherapist and director of ParentsPlus charity. His website is solutiontalk.ie .
Readers’ queries are welcome and will be answered through the column, but John regrets that he cannot enter into individual correspondence. Questions should be emailed to email@example.com