Parents & Loved Ones

There probably is nothing worse than watching your loved one suffer with an eating disorder and feeling completely powerless. If there was a way for you to take their suffering and bear it yourself, you would, in a heartbeat. It’s common to feel overwhelmed, angry, scared, helpless, confused, blamed, marginalized, defensive, frustrated, panicked and a million other things 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!

You may want to learn 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 treatment options 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.

Edmonton: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Mobile Response Team
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 behavioral challenges.
  • arrange a referral to other services as needed.

Calgary: Access Mental Health
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.

EDSNA’s Checklist Guide to take in for visits with your family doctor helps you guide the conversation & ensure a thorough assessment is done. Most treatment facilities require a referral from a doctor, so this is an important step.

For information on treatment options in Alberta, please visit this page.

EDSNA’s Support groups for parents, partners and loved ones.

Body and Soul Counselling offers expressive arts groups for children and youth around positive body image and other topics. Contact Michelle Buckle, RPsych for more info: Phone (780) 757-8255. Email:

Family Support Specialists: They provide help with accommodations, advice, support, advocacy and more.

​​Good article on stresses of parenting a child with an eating disorder and ways treatment teams can support.

NEDA toolkit for Parents

Understanding Starts Here brochure:  great pamphlet to help other family members understand eating disorders.

A website set up just for parents of kids with eating disorders:

Series of podcasts on Eating Disorders, ED Matters: The Gurze/Salucore podcast airing once a week where we interview 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. Healthy conversations about eating disorders.

Excellent podcast from expert from Dr. Erin ParksSan Diego Eating Disorder Centre explaining the types of eating disorders (including ARFID and Orthorexia), inherited psychological traits common to those with eating disorders, impact of culture, neurology of eating disorders, risk and reward pathways, how fMRI tests work, intense emotions, difficulty regulating powerful emotions.

A website that provides information on self-injury or cutting.

Book of Hope, Stories of love, courage and recovery from families who have battled eating disorders by Sue Huff (EDSNA’s former Executive Director). Stories from people in Alberta who have recovered!

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 mind set and decoding language choices

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

video for parents about meal support strategies.

video talking about meal support for parents of children who have a restrictice eating disorder, like anorexia and are stuck.

video about supporting Youth with Bulimia Nervosa- helpful strategies for families.

Family Eating Disorders Manual: A very comprehensive workbook for parents on Family-Based Therapy. Some call this the best workbook they’ve ever seen. Developed by Dr. Laura Hill who is featured on our Videos page and below.

Dr. O’Toole’s ability to put research into practical and applied messaging for parents in great.

Around the Dinner Table (a FEAST forum): a chance to connect with other families and learn from each other.

Parents Thrive to Survive Guide from BC, A resource guide for parents of a child with an eating disorder. Written by parents with lived experience.

A few books that we recommend:

A great template to help your child write a letter to the eating disorder. Created by Kids Help 

How to Become your Child’s Emotion Coach– helping your child process and regulate emotions in a healthy way. More information on this can be found at this website or at this website

Mental Health SOS guide: a helpful resource developed in the UK, which covers panic attacks, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and other scenarios and provides practical tips on how to help and what to say or do.

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 a book on how to support an adult with an eating disorder.

Self Help Guide 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.

From Thrive to Survive. From BC, A resource for people recovering from an eating disorder,  written by those with a lived experience.

Series of online modules and workbooks developed by the Centre for Clinical Interventions to help with issues such as overcoming disordered eating (Part A and Part B),  depression, building body acceptance, facing your feelings, improving self esteem, coping with panic attacks, overcoming perfectionism, social anxiety and worry.  Parents may want to discuss these with their child’s clinician or discuss ways the modules might be helpful.

If your loved one is having difficulty finding employment, there is a free service that can help: G4U Employment Promotional FLYER – June 6, 2017

“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.

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?


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”.


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?


If you are the person with an eating disorder, review NEDIC’s suggestions on strategies for coping with the holidays. You may want to put some extra supports in place in anticipation of the season. As well, this article also has some excellent suggestions of way to prepare for the holidays. If you are the person hosting a meal which will include someone with an eating disorder, you may find this article helpful.


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)


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.


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.”


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.

Siblings are also very affected by eating disorders. The 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. Click here to read a document developed by nurses who specialize 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 created a SURVEY to better understand the viewpoints of siblings, their experiences, and how to support them. They have also coauthored AN ARTICLE about the sibling experience.