How Can I Not Pass On My Eating Disorder?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I need help on how to raise my daughter while struggling with Anorexia. I’m a 26 year old mother to a 7-year-old girl. Her father and I separated and eventually divorced when she was 2 years-old. She has always been under my primary care. I was diagnosed with Anorexia when I was 14 years old (I also have diagnoses of Borderline Personality, Depression, Self Injury, and PTSD). I have been inpatient for short stays, completed day programs and been in individual therapy. I have also been on over 10 different medications. Recently my eating disorder has flared up. I have for the most part stopped self injuring (I slip occassionally, but always get right back on track). My daughter is now at the age where “I’m not feeling well” isn’t going to cut it and I know that. I want nothing more than to prevent her from following my footsteps down this path of physical self destruction. I have good days and bad, but no health insurance and can’t afford to get the treatment I know I need to truly recover. I eat dinner with her every night and have been doing well with keeping that one meal down. I don’t eat anything but the meal usually. I go to the gym as often as I can and run 5-10 miles with no food in me and only 4 oz of water allowed. I am spiraling and I don’t want her to follow. I love her and we have a great relationship, but I need to know how to talk to her or not talk to her about this issue and what I can do until I reach recovery to lessen the likelihood that she will embrace this disorder that I can’t seem to rid myself of. Please help.

A. You have asked a very good question. It is important to acknowledge that you are in a challenging situation. You are not yet stable but you recognize that it’s important to teach your daughter how to be stable so that she does not follow in your footsteps.

One of the ways children learn to behave is through modeling. This means that they learn how to behave usually by mimicking the behavior of their parents. This is also true with regard to developing a relationship with food. If your daughter sees you eating only small amounts of food then it’s very possible that she will model your behavior. Generally, the best way to show your child how to develop a healthy relationship with food is to model it for her.

You are currently not in treatment because you do not have health insurance. Unfortunately, many people are in a similar situation. Even so, there are ways to access treatment that are affordable and in some cases, free. Community mental health centers usually offer sliding scale fees or free services based on income. Your daughter may also be able to be seen by a therapist at a community mental health center. Perhaps the two of you could try family therapy. The therapist can help you be a better model for your daughter in terms of eating. He or she could also advise you about how to prevent the development of the disorder in your daughter. You may find family therapy to be very effective.

The bottom line is that you need to be stable for your daughter. That is going to be the best way to prevent the development of any mental health disorder in your daughter. When instructing passengers before a flight, the flight attendants prepare passengers in the event of an emergency. They advise parents to first secure their oxygen mask before attending to their children. Why? Because they recognize that a parent who can’t breathe, who essentially is unstable, cannot effectively help their child. The point is that to effectively help your child you first need to be well yourself.

You clearly are a caring mother who’s worried about her daughter. Accessing effective treatment needs to be your priority. Your motivation could be that you do not want to pass an eating disorder on to your child. The best way to find a community mental health center in your area is to search through the white or yellow pages in the phone book. Call different agencies in your community and ask where you could find help. Thank you for your question. I hope you’re able to find the help that you need.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 11 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). How Can I Not Pass On My Eating Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/11/how-can-i-not-pass-on-my-eating-disorder/