Eating Disorders And Family Life: How to Avoid Passing On The Problem

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Struggling with an eating disorder is a scary and confusing time, and one that stays with you from the rest of your life. Although it is possible to recover from an eating disorder, the scars this leaves on your eating habits and your attitudes towards food may stay with you forever. This is particularly concerning is you are a mom with an eating disorder, or a mom who has previously struggled with disordered eating. All moms want to be the best moms they can be and do the right things for their kids. But if you have struggled with an eating disorder, you may find it difficult to make those huge decisions about what the right thing is.

mothers eating disorder

Many moms who have suffered from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia worry about passing on their eating disorders to their children. These concerns are valid; the data surrounding mothers with eating disorders and the relationships that their children have with food is worrying, and suggests that it is likely their children will pick up on their disordered eating habits and also that because of their skewed perspective towards portion control, that those same moms simply won’t feed their younger children the right amount of food that they need.  Concerned that your children may pick up on your disordered eating and that their lifelong eating habits may be affected? Here are a few ways you can prevent that from happening:

Be Honest And Open

Struggling or having struggled with disordered eating is nothing to be ashamed of. Up to 24 million American people from all walks of life and from all ages and genders will struggle with an eating disorder[1], so it is a very common problem and one that can affect anyone. One of the best ways you can use your experiences of having an eating disorder in a positive way is to share it with your family. Many moms want to appear infallible to their children and try to hide their disordered eating past, but it is likely they will pick up on it anyway, and is much better to be open and honest. We live in a society where the quest for thin is glamorized and one that many young people, particularly young women, aspire to. By sharing the harsh realities of your struggle with disordered eating with your children, you will quickly remove any of the glamor associated with it and decrease the likelihood that they will choose to follow the same path. Research has shown that [2] family based therapy for anorexia, in which the whole family is aware of the sufferers problem and committed to helping them overcome it, is much more effective than personal therapy. So if you are currently struggling with an eating disorder you may well find that sharing this with your children aids your recover as well as being beneficial to them.

Don’t Mention The ‘F’ Word

Children are very sensitive and pick up on the moods and attitudes of their parents. Therefore if you are overly concerned about your weight and constantly refer to yourself as ‘fat’ then your children will quickly pick up on this and begin to do the same thing. [3] This is something commonly referred to as ‘thin inheritance’ and it is a worrying trend that is growing quickly. Try not to discuss weight around your children and certainly don’t mention the ‘F’ word. If you’re children express concerns about their own weight or want to change their eating habits then instead promote health messages rather than weighty ones: it’s important to eat all your dinner because your body needs to be strong so that you can go dancing on Friday night, for example. By explaining that food helps give you strength and energy to do the activities you enjoy, rather than presenting it as the enemy that will affect your weight, you will quickly find your children enjoy eating and you may find their enthusiasm rubs off on you too! Anorexia is a difficult disease to recover from [4] and one with scars that run deep. But with determination [5], a positive attitude, and an awareness of any potential problems, it needn’t be an illness that you pass on to your children.

Helen Freeman is a writer who left the hurly burly of working in finance when she became a mom to her two children. She and her husband, Phillip decided to home school them as soon as they were of the right age and feel it’s been the best decision all round

Further Reading

[1] “Eating Disorders Statistics”, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders,

[2] “Family therapy for anorexia more effective that individual therapy, researchers find”, Stanford Medicine News Center,

[3] “I’ve made my daughter hate her body; they call it ‘thin-inheritance. How mothers pass on their dieting obsessions”, The Daily Mail,–mothers-pass-dieting-obsessions.html

[4] “Find the best anorexia treatment programs and dual diagnosis rehabs”, Bulimia,com,

[5] “How can I not pass on my eating disorder?” Pysch Central,

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