Eating disorders and icebergs are more alike than one might think. Picture an iceberg floating in a vast ocean: You can only see the tip of the iceberg and have no idea of what is under the surface of the water. Most people look at an eating disorder the same way, only seeing what is on the outside. This generally represents the behavioral parts of an eating disorder – changes in weight and eating patterns, excessive exercise patterns, purging, restricting, bingeing, selective eating, and so on – the things that, for the most part, you can see, measure, and quantify.
The most dangerous parts of an eating disorder (and an iceberg) are what you cannot see. Below the surface of an eating disorder are a host of maladaptive thoughts and mental preoccupations, shame, distress, and often feelings of deep isolation. Parents sometimes say, “Well, she gained her weight back or stopped bingeing, so she must be better.” Unfortunately, that is not usually the case. Despite looking better on the outside, they may still be plagued by eating disorder thoughts and feelings.
For people with eating disorders, the holidays—the eating, the socializing, the changes in routine—are often an annual stressor.
No matter what your holiday plans may be this year, supporting your teenager with an eating disorder can be a meaningful part of them. Consider these suggestions to help your teenager navigate the holidays ahead in recovery.
For people with eating disorders, the holidays—the eating, the socializing, the changes in routine—are often an annual stressor. Intensifying the challenges again this year are the still-high levels of anxiety, discomfort, and fatigue hovering over this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether your family’s 2021 holiday plans are virtual, in person, or some combination of both, supporting your teenager with an eating disorder can be a meaningful part of them. Consider these suggestions to help your teenager navigate the holidays ahead in recovery.
Kelsey is a pediatric registered nurse working on her master’s degree in psychiatric nursing. In this episode of Peace Meal, she shares her eating disorder and recovery story, including the impact of her faith and her college environment on her experiences of illness and recovery.
Though Kelsey had seen many medical providers growing up, she says her relationship with food long went unquestioned. She had concerns about her eating but struggled in silence for years. She didn’t yet have the language to name her disordered eating, often describing her anxiety and stress more generally instead. She faced barriers getting help in college—a stressful environment already—but only found lasting support after an interaction at church. A person of faith, Kelsey turned to her pastor, who told her that her illness required professional support. Prayers alone would not heal her. After being connected with new resources, she says she became honest with her secrets with her family and made a “no more lying” rule with her parents. Her sister and niece were also strong motivations to help her recover and to model and practice body positivity. Kelsey leaves us with insight and hope for college students, people of faith, or anyone struggling with an eating disorder.
Kathryn is a 31-year-old woman who enjoys cooking, hosting friends, teaching music, and getting lost in nature. Best known for her big heart and passion for life, she lives in a larger body and advocates for people to take up more space. Kathryn joins us in this episode of Peace Meal to share her eating disorder story, including how living in a larger body has impacted her recovery.
For over 20 years, food was the center of Kathryn’s life. She kept trying to figure out what was happening on her own, blaming herself for her struggles. After talking with the people closest to her, she decided to seek help even though she didn’t have a lot of hope that anything would work.
As soon as Kathryn reached out for help, however, she says it felt like a “warm hug.” In speaking with an eating disorder specialist, she discovered that she did, in fact, have an illness. It was not her fault. While she experienced many barriers throughout her recovery living in a larger body, she grew to learn that all food is good food and that you should take up as much space as you need. With the support of her treatment team, friends, and family, she learned how to take care of herself, live as the most authentic version of herself, and make sure all her needs are met.
As a parent, you just want the best for your child. You would do anything for them. And when they are struggling or in pain, it is likely that what you want to do most is to simply make the problem go away.
While parents and families cannot “fix” an eating disorder any more than they can fix another illness, they can take an active role in a child’s recovery. In fact, support from loved ones is integral to the healing process. As your family transitions back to school this year, there are several things you, as a parent, can do to support your child’s recovery. In this blog, we’ll cover some challenges commonly experienced by students with eating disorders and provide strategies for parents supporting them in recovery.
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