Parents & Loved Ones

We’ve been there..

There probably is nothing worse than watching your loved one suffer with an eating disorder and feeling completely powerless. It’s common to feel overwhelmed, angry, scared, helpless, confused, blamed, marginalized, defensive, frustrated, panicked.. and a million other emotions when an eating disorder shows up in your family.

  • First of all, it’s really important to remember: you didn’t cause this. Eating disorders are complex illnesses, with many factors that contribute to their manifestation. Research is showing there are considerable genetic and neurological factors involved.

  • Secondly, you will need to educate yourself and find supports for YOU. The more you understand eating disorders, the better you will be able to support your loved one’s recovery. Reach out to EDSNA, join one of our support groups, set up time for your own well-being, do things that bring you joy.

  • Thirdly, recognize that you have a critical role to play in their recovery. This doesn’t mean you can FIX it or MAKE IT GO AWAY, but you can be a consistent and gentle guide, helping them stay on track, comforting, listening, setting safe boundaries and being their lighthouse of hope when despair creeps in. Research shows that parents play an essential part in recovery and that for youth and children family-based therapy is the most effective approach.

  • Finally, remember that recovery is possible. There are probably more recovered people around you than you know. Sadly, many don’t share their story, so we don’t often hear about the happy, healthy lives that are being led after eating disorders. Clara Hughes, Sophie Trudeau and other prominent figures are slowly emerging to give a new perspective on eating disorders. Believe your loved one can be one of those people who successfully recover!

So what do I do?

You may want start by learning more about eating disorders, or encourage your loved one to attend a support group or attend one yourself. You may want to learn more about public healthcare through Alberta Health Services or perhaps you want to connect directly with our EDSNA staff to ask a specific question. Or maybe you want to support EDSNA’s efforts to raise awareness, dispel stigma by booking a presentation, ensure more resources are available by donating or give your time through volunteering.

Whatever steps you need to take to support your loved one’s recovery, EDSNA is here to help.

Accessing Treatment

Supportive documents when seeking treatment

EDSNA’s Working with your Healthcare Professional Checklist

This checklist helps you guide the conversation with your family doctor & ensures a thorough assessment is done. Most treatment facilities require a referral from a doctor, so this is an important step.

Alberta Health Services: Addiction and Mental Health – Information for Albertans

Find the right service for you – choose the region you are in/nearest you:

Alberta Health Services: Addiction and Mental Health – Crisis Team, Child and Adolescent

Location: Stollery Children’s Hospital

The Crisis Team offers immediate crisis support through the Crisis Line to children / youth, aged 5-17, and their care providers. The Crisis Team also provides support to professionals in the community. Therapists will determine, together with caregivers, if additional services (e.g., a crisis risk assessment) are required at the time of the crisis call. Services by the mobile response team include:

  • provide a risk assessment of the child/youth and the environment
  • assist child/youth and their caregivers to develop a safety plan
  • provide support and education to caregivers about mental health concerns and behavioural challenges
  • arrange a referral to other services as needed

Alberta Health Services: Resources available 24/7

Alberta Health Services: ACCESS Mental Health: Calgary Zone

Location: Calgary

Clinicians help people navigate the addiction and mental health system, in the Calgary Zone. They are familiar with both Alberta Health Services and community based programs and will explore options and direct/refer clients to the most appropriate resource to meet their needs. Access Mental Health is a non-urgent service.  Anyone is invited to call for information and options for addiction and mental health services.

Accessing Support

Other Supports Available

Family Support Specialists:

This organization provides help with accommodations, advice, support, advocacy and more.

Tel: 403-955-FCRC (3272)
Toll Free: 1-877-943-FCRC (3272)

​​Gurze-Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue

Provides emotional support for parents of eating disordered in-patients, and illustrates ways the treatment team can support them and their loved one.

Understanding this Complex Illness

 EDSNA’s Media Library

For a more comprehensive list of books, videos, and podcasts, check out EDSNA’s media library

NEDA Toolkit for Parents

The NEDA Parent Toolkit is for anyone who wants to understand more about how to support a family member or friend affected by an eating disorder. You will find answers to questions; signs, symptoms and medical consequences; information about treatment and levels of care; and questions to ask when choosing a treatment provider.

National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED)

Download NIED’s special booklet Understanding Starts Here that includes sections on Eating Disorder Recovery, Approaching Someone with an Eating Disorder, Tips for Parents, Families, Spouses & Significant Others and Resources.

More-Love

More-Love.org is an online resource that empowers parents to raise kids who are free from body hate and eating disorders. We educate parents about weight, food, and mental health and seek to reduce the fear and shame parents feel when their child has a problem with body hate, disordered eating, or an eating disorder. We believe full recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and we support a Health at Every Size® approach.

Health at Every Size (HAES)

The Health At Every Size® (HAES®) approach is a continuously evolving alternative to the weight-centered approach to treating clients and patients of all sizes. It is also a movement working to promote size- acceptance, to end weight discrimination, and to lessen the cultural obsession with weight loss and thinness. The HAES approach promotes:

  • balanced eating
  • life- enhancing physical activity
  • respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes
  • flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight
    control.

The dietitians listed on the EDSNA website all practice utilizing the HAES perspective.

ED Matters Podcast

Series of podcasts on Eating Disorders, ED Matters: The Gurze/Salucore podcast airs once a week, featuring interviews with the top experts in the field of eating disorders, sharing information for individuals recovering from eating disorders, their loved ones, clinicians in the field, and other individuals, professional or otherwise seeking to learn about eating disorders. Includes healthy conversations about eating disorders. 245 episodes currently.

Brainstorms Podcast

Brainstorms is a 2016 podcast dedicated to teenage neuroscience.  It features an interview with Dr. Erin Parks, UC San Diego Eating Disorder Center. Discusses:

  • the range of eating disorders, including ARFID and orthorexia
  • the neurobiological, genetic, and psychological roots of eating disorders
  • how culture and personality traits are associated with such disorders
  • how science has shed light on development and treatment.

Cornell University – Self-Injury and Recovery Resources

Research and insight into self-injury. Resources and tools useful for those seeking to better understand, treat, and prevent self-injury.

ED says U Said- Eating Disorder Translator

This book aims to improve communication between someone with an eating disorder and their friends and family by revealing the eating disorder mindset and decoding language choices

For further reading, refer to the media library on this page.

Workbooks, Guides, Videos, and Activities That Support Recovery

 EDSNA’s Book List

EDSNA maintains a list of books that parents/caregivers might find helpful. A full list is available here.

A few books that we recommend:

Kelty Mental Health

The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre connects you to resources and information for every stage of the eating disorder journey. They have developed many videos and tools to help parents and families, including the:

These materials explain ways to provide structure and support to youth with eating disorders before, during and after meals.

Videos are available in English, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, French and Punjabi.

Resources from Lived Experience caregiver Eva Musby

Parent caregiver Eva Musby has compiled a books, toolkits, and other resources for parents of individuals with eating disorders, especially anorexia and other restrictive eating disorders. Includes parents’ meal support tips.

The Family Eating Disorder (FED) Manual

This project includes feedback from clients and families about what does and does not work when trying to support someone with an eating disorder. Based on the principles of Family-Based Therapy (FBT).

Developed by Dr. Laura Hill (also featured in our Media Library)

Kartini Clinic for Children and Families

Resources, videos blogs, treatment and research about eating disorders. Includes research into applied and practical messaging for parents.

Article: “Eating Disorder Traits as Strengths in Recovery”

This article, written by a Social Worker with Lived Experience, outlines how some of the traits that are common to eating disorders can also be strengths in recovery, recovery maintenance eg. persistence and attention to detail.

F.E.A.S.T’s Around The Dinner Table forum

This is a free service provided for parents of those suffering from eating disorders. It is moderated by kind, experienced, parent caregivers.

Kids Help Phone letter template

This letter building tool is intended for people who identify as having an eating disorder and want to get better. The purpose is to help point out the impacts of the eating disorder on your life, and to help pull out some of your strengths and to reflect on what keeps you going. A great template to help your child write a letter to the eating disorder.

Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) Resources

EFFT teaches participants how to be their loved one’s emotion coach– helping them process and regulate emotions in a healthy way.

Mental Health SOS guide

If you think you, or someone you know, might be affected by a mental illness, help is at hand. This guide offers advice on recognizing the distress signals. It will help you know how and when to act. Includes information about panic attacks, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and other scenarios.

If Your Loved One is an Adult

Adult Eating Disorder Recovery

Provides online meal support, 24/7 text message support, pro-recovery forums for adults with ED, and a number of free resources including podcasts, and number of Guides and Contracts and Survival Tips for Holidays.

NHS Self Help Guide (UK)

Developed by healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom that can help the person with the eating disorder start to understand their illness and assess their readiness for change.

Kelty Mental “From Survive to Thrive” Guide (client version)

This Guide is intended to provide information as an aid to people struggling with eating disorders to help in the development of healthy strategies to overcome these disorders. The Guide was written by individuals who have experienced an eating disorder and the Guide contains their suggestions on how to reduce disordered eating behaviours.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)

CCI has produced resources for consumers and healthcare professionals to assist in providing interventions for mental
health problems such as depression, bipolar, social anxiety, panic, self- esteem, procrastination, perfectionism, and eating disorders. The eating disorder modules cover topics such as:

  • overcoming disordered eating (parts A & B)
  • depression
  • building body acceptance
  • facing your feelings
  • improving esteem
  • coping with panic attacks
  • overcoming perfectionism, social anxiety, and worry

Parents using this resource may wish to discuss these with their child’s clinician, to ascertain the ways these modules may be helpful.

Article: “9 Lessons I’ve Learned While Supporting an Adult With An Eating Disorder”

A caregiver lived experience’ list outlining one individual’s experience in supporting their adult child through their eating disorder recovery. From BEAT UK

Supporting Siblings, Partners, and Friends

 Support groups for siblings, partners, and friends

EDSNA recognizes that the role siblings, partners, and friends play is supporting recovery is different than that of a parent. With this in mind, EDSNA has a developed a support group specifically to discuss these differences, validate tough feelings and emotions, and offer a safe space for non-parent supporters to find help for themselves.

Check out our program calendar to see when we will be running this group next!

Tips for Siblings (from: Eating Disorders Victoria – AUS)

Siblings are also very affected by eating disorders. This fact sheet was created by an eating disorder association in Australia to explore the feelings of the “well sibling”. Sometimes, we wonder what to say, or not to say.

Language that Helps or Hinders Recovery

A document of specific language tips to support recovery, developed by a nurse who specializes in eating disorders.

Kym Advocates

Kym Piekunka has launched a website to give siblings of those with eating disorders a voice. There are tools, resources, and videos for siblings to help them support not only their loved one but also themselves. She and colleague Bridget Whitlow have also co-authored an article about the sibling experience.

Managing the Holidays

It isn’t just you..

For families and individuals affected by eating disorders, the holidays can be extremely stressful. Everywhere you turn there is food, food and more food. Every holiday gathering seems to involve food and the expectation to eat “like everyone else” is intense.

Extended family may say things that are extremely triggering and loved ones may yearn for “just one day” that isn’t focused on the eating disorder. High expectations and the hope of a Hallmark version of the holidays set everyone up to fail. Shame and intense pressure to measure up can trigger a downward spiral.

​In short, the holidays can be a complete gong show for families affected by eating disorders.

So, how can we re-write this holiday narrative?

STEP ONE

Acknowledge the eating disorder exists, that it’s real, and that it’s not a choice. Like other serious illnesses, it can’t be postponed or put off for one day, or one week or one holiday season. You wouldn’t ask someone with cancer to change their diagnosis for the holidays, so it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect someone to stop having their eating disorder “just for one day”.

STEP TWO

Develop a plan as a family (or as a couple or as friends) to deal with the illness over the holidays. What days/events/meals are the likely to be the most challenging? What plans can be adapted, changed, modified or avoided to reduce the likelihood of exacerbating the illness? How can we make this holiday season more focused on being together and less focused on food?

STEP THREE

If you are the person with an eating disorder, review the articles at the end of this section for coping with the holidays– you may want to put some extra supports in place in anticipation of the season. These resources will outline suggestions for ways to prepare for the holidays, including how to prepare if you are the person hosting a meal which will include someone with an eating disorder.

STEP FOUR

We understand that disclosing about an eating disorder is difficult, but eating disorders thrive on secrecy. That’s why we suggest, in advance of the holidays, that you inform other members of the family of the illness. If Aunt Bertha and Grandpa are completely in the dark about eating disorders, educate them. Give them concrete examples of what to say and what not to say. Dispel any myths or misunderstandings they may have about eating disorders. (Resources included below)

STEP FIVE

Develop a Back Up Plan. Even with the best-laid plans, unexpected situations may arise. It’s a good idea to have an exit strategy to allow the person with the eating disorder a safe way to de-escalate or manage the symptoms. You may want to establish a private signal that the person with the eating disorder can give which lets you know they are experiencing a lot of distress so that you can support the back up plan kicking into action. Knowing this safety net exists can be very comforting for everyone involved.

STEP SIX

Start new traditions. What events or activities can you add to focus the holidays on the joy of being together without including food? Can you go for a walk to look at the Christmas lights? Attend a Christmas concert? Have a snowball fight, go skating or tobogganing? Help a senior decorate their house with Christmas lights? Drop off clothing for a women’s shelter? Make paper snowflakes with children? Have a scrap-booking night or puzzle night or game night or home-movie night? There are many ways to show and share love that have nothing to do with food. Choosing to add these to your family tradition can be a tangible way to support your loved one with an eating disorder and show that you “get it.”

STEP SEVEN

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Review this document on ten steps to build self-esteem. Whether you are the person with the eating disorder or the loved one who is supporting them, remember this season is all about love and love starts with you taking care of yourself.