Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How do I respond to my child's comments about her body?

Parents/Family and Friends often ask me about how they are to reply to the comments of loved ones with eating disorders.

When we barely can comprehend what it is they are saying and why, it can make responding feel like walking through a field of land mines.

Here are a few examples of what a family member might hear during the course of an eating disorder:

  • I ate at my friend's house, I don't need dinner.
  • Why are you always into my business?
  • What difference does it make to you what I eat?
  • So, are you happy now? My jeans that used to be loose are now tight!
  • I hate my life, will I ever be recovered?
After a long day it can be overwhelming and feel a bit like you've been slammed against a wall to hear some of these comments and questions. What's a person to do right then and there in that moment?

I welcome your feedback on what has worked (and not worked) in your household and also the comments of therapists and dieticians who specialize in treating eating disorders.

Here are some great suggestions from the National Eating Disorders Association toolkit for Parents on How to be supportive:

  • Be patient and nonjudgmental
  • Be honest
  • Let him/her know you only want the best for him/her
  • Don't take the person's actions personally
  • Listen openly and reflectively
  • Talk with the person in a kind way when you are calm and not angry, frustrated, or upset
You can view the whole list here by clicking on #4 How to be supportive -

ps. I love hearing your ideas on what works for your family during holidays such as Passover and Easter when you have a loved one with an eating disorder.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Children and Eating Disorders

Have you read Carolyn Coker Ross, M.D.'s blog on children and eating disorders? I thought she did a great job on talking about the important things that parents, especially mothers, can do to help avoid negative messages. She sees girls in her practice who tell her they first learned to dislike their bodies or learned to diet from women in their families, including their mothers.

I think these suggestions Carolyn shares are all very good, and I would like to have seen the issue addressed that mother's don't cause eating disorders.

Here are my summaries of Dr. Coker Ross's excellent points:
1. Watch your comments about body dissatisfaction in front of your children.
2. Don't go overboard on focusing on healthy eating and calling some foods good and some bad.
3. If you have heavier children don't fight obesity but exercise together as a family, eat together and accept genetics.
4. Build up self-esteem with good qualities other than appearance.

I think these are all great approaches and I feel it is imperative to stress that eating disorders are complex, multi-faceted bio-psycho-social disorders caused by a combination of many factors. Don't beat yourself up mom's if you have made some mistakes, this is only a part of the puzzle. Take these suggestions and use them to improve your parenting, not to blame yourself.

We've had enough blaming of mom's and it isn't helpful for anyone. Let's make sure when we give mom's suggestions that we include the information that they alone can't cause eating disorders.

See Dr. Coker Ross's blog here:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What is Orthorexia?

Did any of you catch the ABC piece on Obsession with 'Pure' foods Leads to Eating Disorder this morning on Good Morning America?

Here is the link to the story:

I would love to hear your thoughts.
Are you often avoiding certain foods so you can eat really "clean" and feel better?
Does eating "pure/clean" foods help with your anxiety?
Are you isolating yourself socially?
Spending increasing amounts of time food shopping and reading food labels?

Orthorexia is not yet a diagnosable eating disorder but clinics are seeing these patterns of people worrying about what is in their food to the point that they are becoming dangerously ill.

What if you allowed yourself to try those foods that you used to let yourself have? Just one for now? Why not try it if it gives you back your normal existence?

Email me or call me at Hope Network, Inc. to share your stories. You too can recover as the woman in the GMA piece did.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Education about Eating Disorders

Thanks to Sheila Himmel, Co-Author with her daughter Lisa of Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Battle Anorexia for her article on Pediatricians: first responders to possible eating disorders I found it thought provoking and frustration producing. Not due to what Sheila shared but what a doctor shared...this is why I am out there talking with health care providers.

Here is what the doctor had to say in Sheila's article:
Dr. Frederick Lloyd told me, "I've never had to hospitalize on that first visit. My usual strategy is to listen to the family and the child's concerns, which is most often weight loss. The child almost always feels there is not a problem and they are in control. Since they are usually medically stable, I suggest the parents step aside and we will see where we are in a couple of weeks. Sure enough they come back with further weight loss, and then I describe what needs to be done to be sure this is not an occult medical condition [such as celiac disease]. I describe how we will follow this, and then, depending on how they do, discuss other resources."

Tell me why the doctor wouldn't talk with the parents further and dig a little deeper instead of wasting valuable time? Why not refer to an eating disorders specialist who could do an evaluation and if there is a problem, get treatment started right away? If this was cancer would the doctor take the child's word for it that he/she feels fine and delay treatment? It is time for more education of the front line health care providers on the seriousness of these illnesses.

AND - that doctor and many others need to know that not all people with eating disorders present with weight loss. Hello.

Here is my comment to Sheila, I am so grateful that she got me thinking about this more. Yes, this one hit a nerve with me. Gives me some more talking points with the health care providers I speak with on this topic.

Thank you Sheila for this article and for the work you are doing in trying to educate the doctors. I felt my blood start to boil when I read what the doctor said about weight loss being the most common thing he sees! Then it hit full boil when I immediately read that he asks the parents to back off.

This is why it is so important that you and I and many others are out there doing the educating that our medical schools haven't done. First of all, anorexia is the least common of all the eating disorders and so if he is watching for weight loss then he is missing many kids with bulimia and binge eating disorder who don't often present with weight loss.

It took at least 2 years to get my daughter's eating disorder diagnosed in part because she wasn't emaciated. Doctors need to know that it can still be serious and that the parents need to be involved.

That parentectomy model is so old - I am not shocked that he is still suggesting this but I am saddened by it.

Thank you Sheila for sharing this.
Becky Henry
Hope Network, Inc.

So readers, I'm a bit riled up for a Friday, thanks for reading. Would love to hear your experiences with trying to get an eating disorder diagnosed by a primary care physician.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Weightism...what's up?

Making comments about other people's appearance, what is it about? We are often socialized to give one another compliments on appearance.

"Oh, your hair looks so nice today." "You look great."

On and on it goes. I've been asking lately what people have heard in the way of body comments, it is bizarre.

Yesterday I addressed the shame and stigma that larger sized people face by referencing a NY Times article about Gabby Sidibe.

Today I want to respond to a respond to a readers comments on the discrimination felt by the underweight population. Same thing - different flavor.

Here are some of her thoughts (used of course with her permission):
I read your status on face book, and the linked article, about shame and stigma being used in dealing with obesity. The article got me thinking about another problem on the opposite end of the scale that I’ve experienced but never read anything about.

The obese are discriminated against, but also the extremely underweight are. I have found that people who would normally try to be politically correct when around an overweight person will come right up to an underweight person and tell them what they think. They will openly and bluntly call the person a skeleton, and tell the person that no one wants to see bones, tell them they are going to die if they don’t gain weight, tell them they need to be in the hospital, tell them they look terrible and sick. Our doctors have already warned us of the risks, it is not something we should have to hear when we go to church or come across friends. All of these things may be true, but since the person saying them has no medical background it is none of their business, and is not helpful. It seems as though some people feel that with overweight people they shouldn’t say rude comments directly to them, but they feel it is ok to talk behind their back, but they feel that with underweight people it is ok to state their opinions openly right to them. There is still a lot of stigma and shame and prejudice attached to being overweight, but many people talk behind the persons back due to wanting to appear politically correct and socially proper, but with persons underweight there is no social expectations of what is proper and what is rude. Society has said it’s rude to say you are fat, but society has never told people it is also rude to say you are too skinny, you look gross. As I mentioned I’ve never read anything on underweight bashing being a problem, but it does exist. It will be nice when some day society accepts the person without feeling a need to comment on their weight at all.

I responded to her by saying, "...have heard many people share about folks feeling it is okay to make comments about a thin person's body...maybe one day people will no longer feel a need to make comments about another's I dreaming?"

To which reader replied:

That would be nice if some day people can appreciate the many varieties of personalities and body types without feeling a need to make themselves feel better through comparing.

Thoughts? How about health care providers? Are you stumped as to how to address health issues without being rude about the patient's appearance?

Thanks reader for sharing your perspectives. I welcome comments here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Congrats Gabourey Sidibe

How many of your hearts were bursting with joy to see the lovely Gabourey Sidibe present at the Academy Awards nominated for an Oscar? Not only was a thrilled for this amazing young woman who is having a fabulous start to her career, I felt a glimmer of hope that we may be making progress on accepting people for who they are being and what they are accomplishing rather than their size.

Those of you in the eating disorders world know that our families/friends may tire of hearing us talk about body image issues when we look at TV. So, I kept my mouth shut and just listened to the comments of the other ladies who had been making catty comments all evening about the appearance of many of the people who crossed the screen. Quite an interesting commentary, no wonder women feel so judged...when we are constantly judging everyone who crosses our paths we must feel they are also judging us. It was sport. Kind of like the "sport" of throwing dynamite into a lake and watching the fish fly out is "fishing." Those of you not from the upper midwest of the US might not know about this "sport." Or maybe this goes on in other parts of the world too.

I digress with my analogy, let's just say:
What if we all started feeling love and acceptance toward those we see during our days?
Would we in turn start feeling love and acceptance toward ourselves?
Would the incidence of eating disorders decrease?
Would we be happier and have a more prosperous society?
Would women (and men) improve their self-esteem? Body-esteem? Body image?

Who knows but it seems worth the effort to me.

So in the spirit of love and acceptance I am sharing this fun - tongue in cheek, smartly written article written by Kate Harding. Enjoy and kudos to both Kate and Gabourey keep being the change you wish to see in the world - and thank you!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Do parents cause eating disorders?

Have you ever seen Laura Collin's video interviews of many eating disorder's experts on the topic of a parent's role in causing eating disorders?

I wish I had seen this many years ago when I was feeling blamed for causing my daughter's eating disorder. There are still people to this day who feel that over-controlling mothers are the cause or at least contributing factor.

We all influence our children in many ways but blaming mothers, even if they have been dieting and criticizing their bodies and those of other people, does not do any good in aiding the recovery of people with eating disorders.

Long ago we realized it was useless and harmful to blame the families of those with alcoholism or drug addiction but so many persist in blaming parents of those with eating disorders. We need to move into the 21st century and even though we are not certain of the multi-faceted causes for these deadly illnesses we need to spend our energy on more research for a cure instead. See Laura's wonderful video here:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Support for parents of kids with eating disorders

I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago but it bears repeating as this should be a great event for families to attend to get what they need to support them while they are caregiving their loved one with an eating disorder.

The Mission of Hope Network is to provide access to resources, hope and healing to all families affected by eating disorders through: education, coaching, writing and speaking. Creating informed healthy families leading loved ones to full recovery as they navigate the crisis of an eating disorder with Joy and Peace and Hope.

Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 10:00 am - 5 pm, The Lighthouse International Conference Center, 111 East 59th Street, New York, NY

Please join ROAED and RAMS for a day of education, renewal and friendship. This event is for parents, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and other loved ones of those suffering from an eating disorder. Presentations will include guest speakers, music, art, coping skills and much more.

Visit to register.
Registration deadline is February 20, 2010.
Tickets $125 per person, lunch included.

Our goal with this workshop is to bring parents, mothers, fathers, boyfriends, husbands, and other loved ones of those suffering from an eating disorder together to empower you to feel you are not alone. It is to give you the freedom to realize it is okay to take care of yourself, as a person, and that in this way set an example for your child that you can survive this difficult time. We want to be able to educate as well as give a refreshing and new outlook on the recovery process. We envision that a Journey to Hope is the first of many workshops we can offer families.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Emily Program new facility in Orono?

Last week I read the Star Tribune article; Eating Disorders facility touches off a battle in Orono, by HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA. I wasn't so shocked by the content of the article, as people often react out of fear of any change. I was mostly disappointed. What shocked me most were the comments from readers - lots of anger an assumptions.

Reading many of these comments is fascinating to me. I am happy to see that there are a couple that sound open minded and able to see a grey area worth exploring further.

My initial reaction to this news, as a coach supporting the parents of these frighteningly ill young people, was REALLY? And then I thought about it, would I want this right behind my home as neighbor5533 points out? Will there be bright lights all night long? Were there lights when it was a school? Was there noise then? Will this bring more noise?

So many things to consider. How many families will this help? Will this raise property values? What if everyone believed that having an eating disorders treatment facility nearby would RAISE property values?

Reading the comments I was very sad to see so many ASSUMING that everyone in Orono is super wealthy. I lived near Orono for a while, close to some homes that didn't even have insulation, the people were not all well off.

I am a strong supporter of the Emily Program having a facility in the western suburbs. Now that the Anna Westin House is moving to St. Paul there is next to nothing west of St. Louis Park for far west suburban and rural west MN families facing this crisis. Having a child with an eating disorder and trying to find and GET TO treatment is a nightmare I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Eating Disorders are an epidemic, destroying millions of lives everyday. There are not enough treatment facilities and I am so glad that the Emily Program is expanding to serve this dire need. I do hope that cooler heads will prevail and find a solution that serves our communities effectively. If this old school isn't used for this desperate need perhaps there is another facility that won't disrupt zoning issues. I do wonder then, what will the old school be used for? Will it be something creating even more traffic or police calls?

Fear and Panic are what parents of kids with eating disorders live with every day. I hear fear being present for this neighborhood that is about to have a change. Change is not easy. We can choose to react out of fear or we can choose love. There are so many more options available to us if we choose love, curiosity or another perspective other than fear. I'm not saying that is easy but if we can see the grey area, choose curiosity or love, then we might find a solution for this wonderful old building. And for people who need our help to get well.

I am grateful that the Emily Program is working to expand their locations and I hope that they can find a community that welcomes this much needed service.

Comments? Thoughts? Ideas?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Eating Disorders Family Support

I hope you all had a great National Eating Disorders Awareness Week! So great to see all that is happening including the upcoming BEDA Conference and locally the Anna Westin House is moving to St. Paul and doubling in size!

Therapists - here is a resource for the parents/families of your clients:

Twin Cities Eating Disorders Parent Support Group: Any parent struggling with an eating disorder problem may feel “alone.”

Now there’s a way for families to talk with other families who have lived this horror. You’ll have some group coaching, someone to listen to you, acknowledge the crisis you are in as well as the losses you are experiencing, give you some encouragement and connect you with your greatest source of strength.

This is for anyone who cares about someone with an eating disorder.

Details: 10-Week Family/Friends Support for Eating Disorders.
Location: Ridgedale Library - 12601 Ridgedale Dr. Minnetonka, MN 55305, Mtg. room on 1st floor below library.
Dates: Wednesdays 5-6:30 pm.
Cost: $10/person or $15/couple per week (or pay for all 10 weeks up front and SAVE $10).
Led by: Becky Henry, CPCC
For more information, visit: or send email Becky Henry with questions.