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 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.

Alberta Health Services 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.

Alberta Health Services: 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 Working with your Healthcare Professional 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.

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 J. Buckle, RPsych for more info:

Phone (780) 757-8255.

Email: bodyandsoulcounselling@gmail.com.

Family Support Specialists: They provide 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.

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

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, and respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes. Promotes flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight
control. The Nourish Collective, a group of weight-inclusive dietitians, utilize the HAES approach in their work helping individuals with eating disorders and disordered eating to heal.

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. Healthy conversations about eating disorders.

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 range of eating disorders and their neurobiological, genetic, and psychological roots. Addresses how culture and personality traits are associated with such disorders, and how science has shed light on development and treatment.

Cornell UniversitySelf-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.

Kelty Mental Health connects you to resources and information for every stage of the eating disorder journey.

The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre developed many videos and tools to help parents and families, including the Meal Support Toolkit. These materials explain ways to provide structure and support to youth with eating disorders before, during and after meals. These videos are available in English, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, French and Punjabi.

Stuck & not eating! Anorexia/eating disorders: parents’ meal support tips.

Supporting Youth with Bulimia Nervosa: Helpful approaches for families.

The Family Eating Disorder (FED) Manual. This exciting project includes feedback from clients and families about what does and does not work when trying to support someone with an eating disorder.

Kartini Clinic for Children and Families: Resources, videos blogs, treatment and research about eating disorders.

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.

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:

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. 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: 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.

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.

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. 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) 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.

“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?

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 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.

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.

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 also co-authored an article about the sibling experience.