What to Do If You Think Your Child Has an Eating Disorder

Pittsburgh Dietitian Blog Posts
November 28, 2022

Co-Written By: Ava Elliott, Marketing Intern &Danielle Marzella MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Devon Kroesché MS, RDN, LDN &Danielle Marzella MS, RDN, LDN

The prevalence of eating disorders (ED) and disordered eating is still being studied and results vary based on specific types and subtypes of EDs. However, the nationwide prevalence for children with EDs is increasing and can continue into adulthood. It is vital to prevent disordered eating from developing into a clinically diagnosed ED. After speaking with Danielle, who specializes in counseling clients with eating disorders (ED) and disordered eating, we compiled a list of “do’s” and “don'ts” if you suspect your child may have disordered behaviors. Additionally, some general tips on how to proceed with getting professional help.Tips To DoMake an appointment with a professional. There is no point that is too soon to schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian (RD), counselor, or doctor. It is important to get help and establish a path towards recovery. As a parent, be aware of the conversations your children are having with their friends and conversations that occur around your children. Is anything triggering? Is there a lot of diet talk?Step 1: Express concerns to a doctor and see their opinion.

  • Danielle recommends speaking with a pediatrician or RD who has background knowledge in working with EDs and disordered eating. Look for the Certified Eating Disorders Specialist (CEDS) credentials or a provider with a specialty in EDs. It is vital to work with a professional who is trained and can help your child on the path to recovery. Some RDs and doctors have experience with appetite stimulants, how to manage medications, and can also refer you to another qualified provider.

Step 2: Be an advocate for your child.

  • If you start working with a health-care professional that you do not feel comfortable with, switch to another provider. Children are easily imprinted upon, and you want them to get the best help possible. Speak up to help your child maximize their experience.

Step 3: Support your child.

  • Encourage your child and always support them, but do not force any diet talk. Forcing certain food patterns will create a negative environment around food and you want to create a welcoming environment in your home. All foods fit.
  • Your tone of voice as a parent is vital to support your child. For example, you might say to your child in private, “I’m noticing (behavior) and wondering if you are feeling some type of way? Why don’t we find someone that can help us explain this behavior. We can both learn more together.” Sharing the burden with your child will help them feel loved and supported in this complex environment.

Step 4: Be aware of your tone of voice.

  • Remain inquisitive and supportive.
  • If you are struggling to get your child to attend a meeting, spin it in way that your child needs to hear it. This conversation might look like:
  • “Okay, detective. If you’re concerned, let’s seek help.”
  • “You want to maximize your nutrition and a dietitian can help us with our bodies and nutrition.”
  • “You think nothing is wrong with your habits. Let’s go prove your point and see a professional to provide proof you are right.”
  • Your child may know something is wrong deep down and not want to do anything about their disordered behaviors. Meet them where they are. Remain supportive and you can say, “I want to feel my body too. Let’s go find a dietitian that understands us.”

Please, Do Not:

  • Minimize a person’s experience.
  • Say, “just eat it” or “it doesn’t matter.”
  • Do not comment on your child’s food choices, body shape, or size.
  • Do not say foods are “good” or “bad” for you.
  • Do not align morality with food.
  • Do not talk about dieting and expect your children not to diet.

Once you and your child are ready to seek help, you want to feel comfortable with your RD and trust them to help your child through this tough time. RDs will work with you and your child to develop a level of care that is most comfortable for both of you. Keep in mind, throughout the process you can evaluate YOU. Are you contributing to triggering thoughts and talking about how foods are good and bad for you? Or are you supporting your child on the journey to create a positive relationship with food and their bodies?You can be an advocate for your child even outside of counseling sessions. Normalize shutting down body talk and food talk. During the holidays, you can tell your family members, “do not say comments about food in front of my child.” You are their biggest support system. What is your child comfortable with? Make sure you are on the same page with how to handle things in public. If you think your child may have disordered eating and you want to minimize further disordered thoughts, you can schedule an appointment to speak with a dietitian by emailing scheduling@casespecificnutrition.com.

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