Monday, January 25, 2021

Does my child have an eating disorder? What role does denial play in accepting the fact?

Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Yet, regularly those of us working to bring health and hope to families impacted by these deadly illnesses hear statements like these from parents and doctors:

“She/he is at a ‘normal’ weight so we don’t need to pull her/him out of college.”

“He/she HAS to play soccer!!

“Lots of people binge eat, I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, but he/she really should lose some weight.”

“But she’s so thin and looks great!”

“She/he isn’t purging every day, let’s just wait a few months and see what happens before trying treatment.”

Not only are eating disorders the most deadly mental illness – the earlier they are treated, the higher the chances are of full recovery.

And still…doctors and parents seem to be more afraid of fatness than death.

Why are some parents in denial?

For years I’ve been very puzzled about how and why parents are in DEEP denial when their child has an eating disorder.  I finally (after about 10 years here in this field) got the answers while observing a dad “come out of denial.”

How did he do this?

Basically he had:

  • Learned the basics of the illness
  • Found people to talk with who shared his GUILT, FEAR and SHAME
  • Heard from other families some very similar stories of suffering
  • Began to honor and acknowledge those feelings of GUILT, FEAR and SHAME
  • Grasped the seriousness and urgency to accept the facts and take action to improve the chances of recovery.

Some of us want all the facts (scary as they may be) right up front so we can tackle the problem quickly and effectively.  Others of us are frozen by that fear and are not able to move. – and don’t want to know all the scary information – “what if this really isn’t happening.”  “Then I’ll just be scaring myself.”

A friend once said to me, “Becky, quit reading all that information on the internet about eating disorders!  You’re just scaring yourself!”  I could not believe this.  How was I to help my child with this life threatening illness if I didn’t know anything about it?

It’s not that one way is right and one is wrong.  I now see we all adapt to change at different rates and in different ways. See Prochaska’s model for change to read more about acceptance of change.

AND the bottom line is –kids can and do DIE when treatment is delayed.  So, parents (and doctors) – do what you have to do to get out of denial. READ, LISTEN, LEARN.  Talk with other parents, go to al anon.  Get over worrying what the neighbors, soccer coach, fellow club members, community members, family will think of your child having a “MENTAL ILLNESS” and save your child’s life.  DAYLIGHT IS BURNING.

Learn as much as you can about anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS and learn it now before it’s too late. I’d love to hear how YOU got out of denial about the seriousness of your child’s eating disorder.

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