Don’t DO these SIX things if your daughter has an eating disorder


“My daughter has an eating disorder. What can I do to help?”


Parents email me nearly every week. Moms or dads share that their daughter has an eating disorder: anorexia, bulimia or other challenges with food and weight. They all want to know the same thing: what can I do?


Before I share what you, as a loved one, can do, I want to acknowledge that both sons and daughters struggle with eating disorders. If you are looking for signs or symptoms, here is a great article on what to look for. If you need treatment for your son, I’m happy to refer you to specialists who treat males with eating disorders.


Parents and loved ones can play a meaningful role in their daughter’s recovery! Below I’m sharing the six top things to do and what not to do!




1. Comment on your daughter’s appearance or weight. This includes compliments! Even “you look healthy” can be perceived as “I’ve gained too much weight” in the eating disorder mind. Also avoid talking about other people’s bodies or weight (including your own).


2. Try to convince your daughter that she won’t gain weight. You want her to know that you love her regardless of her weight. When she communicates she’s scared to gain weight, simply respond: “do you want to talk about it”? Let her talk. Validate feelings. Also, read what you can DO on #5 below.


3. Discuss calories, diets, exercise or her eating habits. Try to discuss things other than food. Try to discuss feelings. Do not compare dieting or someone’s weight loss to your daughter’s eating disorder. Eating disorder’s are mental illnesses. They have nothing to do with willpower or discipline.

diet plan exercise and food

4. Question her about whether she ate, what she ate or if she engaged in behaviors. Instead ask how her day was or about something specific she did unrelated to food.


5. Accuse her of lying about everything because she lies about the eating disorder behaviors. Understand that her lying about the eating disorder symptoms is from a place of guilt and shame and not wanting to disappoint you. If your daughter has an eating disorder, her lying is not indicative of her character but rather that she is struggling with a mental illness.


6. Talk during ‘sensitive’ times. Do not discuss treatment, your worries or important topics related to her recovery during meal time or other ‘charged’ times. Find a time outside of eating when your daughter is calm. Know that holidays can be especially triggering. Prepare for holidays by having any important conversations in advance of mealtimes.




1. Tell your child you care. It’s okay to share that you love her and feel scared. Always use “I” statements and make your feelings about you, not about your daughter or what she does. For example, saying things like “you’re hurting yourself” or “if you’d just eat more…” don’t help. Saying things like “I’m feeling scared and not sure what to do” are honest and reflect your feelings.


tell daughter with eating disorder that you care


2. Admit that you don’t know what to say all the time. Share that you can’t understand fully what it’s like to have an eating disorder, but that you will be there to listen and to help her get the support she needs. Always encourage her to reach out to her support team.


3. Validate your daughter’s feelings even if you don’t agree with them. You do NOT have to validate her actions. Your daughter with an eating disorder has feelings that are absolutely real and causing her pain. Your job is not to talk her out of those feelings but to empathize, reassure her that it’s okay to feel and encourage to write down her thoughts and share with her support team.


4. Role model. Take care of yourself. Eat foods that are fun to eat AND that provide nourishment. This means, eating ice cream when you feel like it. Let your child see that you don’t restrict, feel guilty or try to ‘earn’ foods through exercise or eating healthy other days. There’s no need tell your daughter about your habits, but rather show her. What we do is far more powerful than what we say.


5. Evaluate your own biases around gaining weight and fatphobia (see this video I made on how to respond when your daughter calls herself fat). Your daughter thinks she is scared to gain weight. The truth is that she is scared she won’t be loved if she gains weight. If you have any biases around ‘fat’ people or have commented on people being overweight, this can strengthen the eating disorder’s power in linking fat with bad.


food and exercise photo with weight band


6. Get help! Get coaching or therapy for yourself! This is not easy to navigate and you don’t have to do it alone. I offer coaching services for parents. Often one to two sessions is enough to help parents or loved ones feel equipped with what they can do. If you’re interested, email me:


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Finally, if you are a parent or loved one, I’d love to stay in touch. I created a special email group just for you so you receive only what’s helpful. Sign up below:

Showing 27 comments
  • Stefanie

    Great article! I will definitely share it.

  • lisa posdal


  • Deb Walker

    I am at my wits end. My daughter has suffered with anorexia for 9 years now (she is 25). Just one long roller coaster of being admitted to hospital/EDUs, sectioned, put on feeding tube. She’s been out of hospital for 5 months now, but has been restricting again and is looking very very frail and thin now. I fear she will be admitted to hospital again soon. I just don’t know how to help her. She is starving herself to death and I feel helpless, there is nothing I can do but watch her die. She just doesn’t seem to get any psychiatric help at all to deal with her thoughts. Can anyone please help before it’s too late?

    • George

      Hello, my daughter is just turning 13. She has been very fit her while life, she is an athlete and rides horses daily for 1 to 2 hours. Last 4 months she has been not eating and now if very very thin. I believe she has the start of an eating disorder. I think it has just began and I need help. I don’t want to say or do something to make it worse.

      • Lindsay

        Hi there, and thanks for sharing. Get her the help of an expert as soon as you can. An ED therapist, RD, etc. I’m happy to recommend some if you’d like to email me

      • Judy

        I sympathise with you tremendously as I also have a daughter who is struggling with this cruel illness,has had it for 6 years,she has been in and out of units then unfortunately relapses which is heartbreaking as she does so well,really feel I have her back then she struggles again so feel alone with it which can be so hard for all the family.

      • Lola Holcomb

        Hello, my 16 year old daughter wanted to loose weight so a few years ago we started the gym, then she started doing an intermediate fast, next thing I know she’s cooking for herself, won’t eat with us , won’t eat my food and is overly obsessed with wanting to be skinny now (not slim but skinny)!a few days ago she confessed her symptoms to me and that she might need help and that she’s been keeping her intake to under 500 calories. Yes she’s loosing weight but she’s hurting, her period is missing, her hair is falling, she’s lethargic all the time and moody, among other symptoms. I’m really scared and worry about her health I’m uneducated on the subject I need all the help I can get. Please help!!

    • Mel44

      New to this site and my daughter is going through the same.
      How’s your daughter doing now ?
      How are you ?

  • Victoria Almond

    I have tried to subscribe it won’t let me

  • Michelle ?

    My Daughter is 14 and is obsessed with calorie counting weighs everything she eats, she goes to gym for an hour everyday…
    She gets upset if she puts on 0.1 of a kg, she’s going 2 weeks sometimes longer before going to the toilet, she’s constantly tired, moody, very pale,
    She was 15 stone in March this year 2021, today she weighs 12 stone is this healthy to be losing it this fast as she just seems constantly worried all the time and I’m concerned but she doesn’t take anything I say in…
    I had an iron deficiency a few years ago and my weight went down to 5stone I’m back up to 9st now and getting healthier everyday so this is why I worry more as I don’t want this to happen to her

  • Diane

    his was very helpful. Thank you so much!

  • Marjorie Richardson

    Need help. My daughter is 37 and struggling with an eating disorder for 25 . I only really knew about the last 15. She’s 100 lbs and kidney level is at 42. She is no longer in denial. She wants help. She’s scared because this is all she has known.

    • Julie Friswell

      My Beautiful daughter Lily is in the grip of an eating disorder.
      She has a GP, psychologist, dietitian and soon a psychiatrist. She doesn’t like any of these professionals and is very resistant to treatment/advice.
      It’s tearing me apart. She is surrounded my a strong team but I feel like I need a team of my own to help me through this. It’s devastating and is damaging other relationships in my life
      Any advice would be so welcome

      • Lindsay

        Hi Julie – it’s so smart of you to get help for YOU. I offer parent coaching sessions so you can learn how to show up for yourself and better support your daughter. If you’d like to book that call you can do so here

      • Caterina

        I also have a daughter that’s been sick eating disorder for 20 years wats the help, but has no doctors or uses excused it’s my period or my sinus I just don’t know how to help her anymore

  • Kori

    My daughter is 14 and was diagnosed with anorexia in June. I’m so scared and I just want her to be ok. I don’t know what to do anymore to help her. Please, any info would be great. I don’t want to lose my daughter.

    • Ocean G

      Hi I’m 18 and just got into recovery after a battle with anorexia for 8 years
      Is there any way I can help? I know sensitive and sometimes illogical aspects to this disorder..

  • Dnice3416

    My daughter is 23,and she looks really frail.I hadn’t seen her in 6 months,we go to dinner tonight and I notice she barely ate her food.She goes to gym fir like 3 hours.She may be. Good 90lbs..if that..I’m extremely worried,don’t know what to do because she is grown and if I say something she will get upset.She says she is happy and peaceful but she looks so thin,I know my child and I know something is wrong.I do t want to stand by and not do nothing..please help!

    • Natasha mcpeek

      My 13 year old daughter was diagnosed with anorexia last Friday. I don’t know how to help her she has been eating as little as possible but she is struggling with guilt and idk know what to do to help her please help we are seeking help but she doesn’t want help. she wants to keep restricting. She even asked me if she can not eat anything tomorrow. I the dr told her to eat 3 Meals a day and snacks but I have been luck to get her to eat 1 snack and a meal aday. And the guilt is really making it hard.

      • Lindsay

        Hi there – I recommend scheduling a session for you to learn how to better support your daughter – on the call you’d learn what to say/not say and how to create a safe space for her to share, etc. You can email me to learn more or book a call with me here

        • 'Rachel Penwarden'

          Hi there. My 14 year old has been diagnosed with Anorexia. We have been seeing both a related therapist and nutritionist, but cannot seem to get over the hurdle of her actually wanting to gain weight. We are on 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, with 3 puddings if we are lucky. All heavily controlled by her, so restrictive.
          Whenever she gains a little she always tries to cut back saying but I don’t want to gain weight. We are not sure what to do now and how to get her to accept recovery. Does anyone have any ideas? Thankyou

  • Toula

    My daughter is 18 and has a eating disorder also suffers anxiety and panic attacks I am frightened for her . This is causing problems in my marriage . I feel sad all the time I want to help but I don’t know how to . I am supportive to my daughter there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to help but she doesn’t share so I find if frustrating!

  • Carol

    My daughter and granddaughter very thin. Eating disorder and mental illness. Please help

  • Meera Dewan

    Thank you for this valuable information.

  • Colleen

    Great article

  • Jennifer Pilgrim

    Thanks for this great advice

  • Jill Taylor

    For those of you who have recently had a child diagnosed with an eating disorder. The first thing you need to do is get the child in a medical program. If you are able to weight restore within a shorter amount of time your child’s odds will benefit. Even if this is FBT the medical check ins will help keep structure to this first step.

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