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My Child Has an Eating Disorder, What Do I Need to Know? From an Eating Disorder Dietitian

Being a parent is complex; there is no perfect manual for handling challenging situations in your child's life. As eating disorder dietitians, we know how confusing and overwhelming it can be when your child is facing an eating disorder. That is why we are here to help support you and guide you through your child’s eating disorder journey.

Here are 7 things parents need to know about their child's eating disorder:

There is no one to blame. It is not your fault, and it is not your child’s fault, either.

Your child’s eating disorder stems from an interaction between your child’s genes, unique personality traits, and environment. Genes and environment are largely uncontrollable, as there is no singular cause of an eating disorder. Although some interactions with parents or siblings can be included within the environmental influences category, we want you to know that as a parent, it is not your fault. Your child is born into their own set of unique traits and tendencies. Eating disorders are more common in children who have traits such as perfectionism, stress reactivity, high sensitivity, low distress tolerance, and more. And just as parents do not cause eating disorders, your child did not choose to have an eating disorder, either.

Eating disorders can be hereditary.

Genetics can be a big risk factor for the development of an eating disorder. When a child has a close family member who is diagnosed with an eating disorder, they are significantly more likely to be diagnosed as well, compared to the general population. Although, it is not to say that if you or a parent has struggled with disordered eating, your child will automatically develop it as well. As we noted, multiple factors play a part.

Many factors play a role, including the environment and society.

It is not necessarily how a child has been parented that matters, but how a child has internalized their experiences. Environment and developmental rate of processing information play a role in if your child has an eating disorder. In addition, society's view on diet culture also is a key factor. Society and media promote and encourage the ideal body type to be “thin” and “skinny.” Diet ads and quick weight loss strategies engulf our social media inciting a “compare and compete” culture for our youth. Sadly, many of our youth lack the developmental and coping skills necessary to process the images in a realistic way, and this especially puts perfectionistic and high-achieving individuals at risk of developing an eating disorder.

Disordered eating and other behaviors can change the brain.

The altered nutritional status (starvation and nutritional chaos) that occurs with eating disorders triggers a neurobiological response or “brain change,” which can have lasting impacts for some. Brain changes from eating disorders include

  • Cognitive changes (thinking differently)

  • Psychological changes (processing information differently)

  • Emotional changes (feeling differently)

Binging and purging behaviors are also known to add layers of “brain change.” Gateway behaviors (like over-exercising) must also be viewed with caution for those who are susceptible because even these behaviors can potentially change an individual’s brain structure and function.

The brain can recover.

Thankfully, the brain is malleable and can recover. We can bring the brain back from a compromised state. But, the longer an eating disorder continues, the more serious the resulting brain change will be. This is why it is so important to seek treatment early on. Early recognition and timely intervention are the best tools for a successful outcome. There is always hope for recovery — no matter how long an eating disorder has been in place.

Full weight restoration is KEY to recovery.

Weight restoration helps us achieve many goals in treatment, including

  • Bringing the brain back from its compromised state

  • Switching off starvation signaling

  • Promoting tissue repair, and repairing organ system function

Once the above takes place, one’s hormones, body composition, growth, development, and stress response will normalize. Complete weight recovery (as close to 100 percent of ideal body weight as possible) by the end of treatment is the best predictor of recovery for adolescents with anorexia nervosa and is what we strive for in all patients. Thankfully, there is more hope in the world of eating disorder treatment today than ever before, supporting the full recovery of your children.

We are here to help.

At Branz Nutrition, we provide support, resources, and treatment options to help your child receive the best care. We know that as a parent, you can feel helpless when your child is suffering, and we are ready to work with you and your child to meet your treatment needs and get on the path to recovery.

Contact Branz Nutrition today to connect with a supportive space where you can receive compassionate care from certified eating disorder dietitians who are here to walk alongside your journey of health and healing. Our team of Dietitians offers online support as well as in-person appointments at our St. Louis, MO, and O'Fallon, IL, offices.


As a reminder, the Branz Nutrition blog is nutritional information, not medical nutrition therapy or professional consultation. Branz Nutrition cannot provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals who are not our patients. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please schedule an appointment with our team.


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