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What parents should know when summer comes for a child with an eating disorder:

What parents should know when summer comes for a child with an eating disorder:

Written by Amanda Turco, Licensed Therapist.

With summer approaching comes increased social pressure to exercise and change eating habits to obtain an “ideal” body image (bikini body ready, skinny for summer) in “preparation” for these warmer months. For children who struggle with eating disorders or body dysmorphia, this time of year can be particularly challenging. As a parent, it’s important to be mindful of your child’s needs and provide support and guidance during the summer months. Although you might not be promoting these messages at home, your child is probably hearing or observing this pressure and emphasis on body size and food from peers at school, on the sports field, or scrolling through tik tok or social media.

When someone is struggling with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, there is an overvaluation of body image and eating control on their self worth. It is easier for these individuals to get stuck on certain aspects of appearance they perceive as negative, and they may engage in more body/ mirror checking, avoidance, dietary restraint or restriction, and social isolation. While the behaviors are centered around food, and it can be tempting to tell them just to eat and get over it, remember, it’s not really about the food! We know how hard it can be to watch your child go through treatment and it can be hard to know what to do or not do. Here are a few of our tips for supporting your child through summer months:

  • Be mindful of and normalize body changes from the previous year. It is okay for clothes not to fit anymore! Instead of focusing on clothing sizes or appearance, try to focus on finding clothes that your child feels comfortable and confident in, even if that means a larger size. When you’re shopping, try to keep the focus off of sizes and appearance. Ask questions like, “do you like how that feels on your body?” or say “I love that pattern! It’s so fun.”
  • Avoid making comments about body image or body changes – towards your child, yourself, or about others. Kids and teenagers have a powerful skill of overhearing what you say, even if you’re on the phone or think you’re out of earshot. Instead, encourage your child to focus on other areas of self-worth, such as their hobbies, strengths, and abilities – and model this yourself! Encourage your child to engage in activities that aren’t motivated by the eating disorder (like certain exercise),, especially if you notice they are not enjoying something as much as they used to (reading, music,  time with friends/ family etc.).
  • Avoid following a restrictive diet or talking about dieting/ losing weight in front of your child. As we stated above, children are careful observers of what you do and you are the most important influence in their lives! Make sure you are promoting balanced nutrition including three full meals and snacks and allowing opportunities to experience food in a positive way (ice cream nights, family BBQs, snacks at sleepovers, lunch at the beach/ pool, etc.).
  • Be mindful of creating a positive support system. Modeling positive affirmations or reframes when you catch your child (or a family member) saying something unhelpful. If you’re not sure what to say, we encourage any body neutrality statements! This is a great way to reframe the importance of one’s body and model for your family as a whole.
  • Notice if your child is avoiding things they previously used to enjoy. Examples include certain foods, going out with friends, pool parties. These can be scary for someone working through an eating disorder and bring lots of emotional triggers and therefore lead to your child wanting to avoid these experiences completely. However, it’s very important not to reinforce or accommodate this avoidance and instead offer support in doing the hard things anyway, particularly when we know they will be valuable opportunities for connection.

If you notice an increase in these concerns and they are interfering with important areas of your child’s functioning (health, school, friends, daily functioning) then reach out for help! The earlier a person gets treatment, the sooner they will be able to recover. Recovery is possible, with evidence based treatment, hard work, and support. We’re here if you need us.

Written by Amanda Turco, Licensed Therapist. To schedule with Amanda, email us! 

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