The Monster in the Closet

I have received countless emails and requests from readers and young women, asking me to write something addressed to parents. Knowing that I am not qualified to address the topic I asked Catherine, Made in His Image’s counselor to write something for you to give to parents or caregivers. Please use her article and share with all you know.

“The Monster in the Closet” – by Catherine DiNuzzo, LPC MS

(An Article for Parents of Children with an Eating Disorder)

Some situations scare parents.  Other situations REALLY scare parents.  Imagine that your child, who you have spent every moment protecting, comes to you and says “Mom and Dad, I need to talk to you.”  Your mind begins to race, frantically traveling through every scenario that could follow a statement like this.  You attempt to remain positive.  You think that maybe they are going to tell you something about school, like “I’m flunking algebra.” Not that? What if they tell me that they’ve met someone?  Or maybe something completely different, like “I want to be a doctor.”

As you stare at your daughter, a beautiful young woman, standing there in front of you, you notice the scared look in her eyes.  This isn’t about school, a relationship, or her future career.  You can tell that this is something much bigger, which obviously pains you greatly.  You venture back to the nights, many years ago, when she used to come to the side of your bed, with the same scared look in her eyes, asking for you to save her from the monster in her closet.  You realize that this time the monster is not a figment of her imagination.  The monster is real and even scarier now.

She then tells you that she has an eating disorder.  You are shocked, devastated and you experience a waterfall of emotions.  Fear, denial, and guilt top the list.  Then you question yourself… Wasn’t I a good parent?  What did I do wrong?  Did I not tell her ‘I love you’ enough?  How could I have not known or seen the signs? What now?

As we look at the answers to these questions, it is vital for parents and loved ones to understand that eating disorders are a very tricky subject.  There are many factors that go into the development of an eating disorder.  A child can come from a very loving, affectionate and affirming family and still develop an eating disorder. There is no proof of causation between good parenting and destructive eating habits.

In difficult situations like this, it is very easy and natural to focus on the past, rehashing various scenarios, incidents, relationships, and arguments.  This can be very dangerous and detrimental to you and your daughter.  By focusing on the past, we forget about the future.  To truly help your child, it is important to accept the past and focus on the future.  Therefore, the new question should be “What can I do now to help my child exterminate this monster?”

First it is important to have a basic understanding of eating disorders and some of the factors that feed this monster. In much of the research that has been done on eating disorders, it has been consistently shown that eating disorders are complex and that there are numerous contributing factors that can lead someone to an eating disorder.  These contributing factors include psychological, interpersonal, social, and biological.  The following information is from the National Eating Disorders Association and can by located online by clicking HERE.

Psychological factors that can contribute to eating disorders:

• Low self-esteem

• Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life

• Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness

Interpersonal factors that can contribute to eating disorders:

• Troubled family and personal relationships
• Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
• History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
• History of physical or sexual abuse

Social factors that can contribute to eating disorders:

• Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
• Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
• Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths

Biological factors that can contribute to eating disorders:

Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders.  In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be unbalanced.  The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remains under investigation.  Eating disorders often run in families.  Current research indicates that there are significant genetic contributions to eating disorders.

With the complex nature of eating disorders, it can be intimidating for loved ones to know how to help those in their life who are suffering.  Fear of not knowing the right thing to do or say can be paralyzing to some, which may lead them to do nothing.  In actuality, the best thing to do is simple.  What your daughter needs more than anything right now is to be reassured of your love.  This may be a new scary road for you, but it is even scarier for her.  It is vital for her to know that no matter what, you love her and that you will be there to support her on the road to recovery.

As parents we want to take all of our kid’s pain away.  We want to shoulder the burdens of life for them.  This is a natural response.  Yet, in order for someone suffering with an eating disorder to fully heal, they must take the reins of their own recovery… we cannot do it for them.  Your role can be to stand strong beside them and offer the continual support they need to stay on the path to recovery.

The path forward may appear narrow, with high hills and deep valleys, but it is important for you know that you are not alone on this journey.  There are support groups, counseling, and informational websites that are created specifically for parents of a child with an eating disorder.  This “eating disorder monster” is big and scary, but there is hope!  With a dedication to recovery and a solid support system, just like the monsters of your child’s past, this monster can be conquered, with new and brighter days are on the horizon.

To contact Catherine, please click HERE.

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