Supporting a Child Struggling with an Eating Disorder

Mother and daughter hugging and working on Eating Disorders in Mothers and Daughters and pursuing treatment for anorexia

This blog is intended for the parent who is tired, the parent who is heartbroken, who is burnt-out, and who is at their wit’s end.

This blog is for the parent who is feeling defeated and discouraged for their child, despite years-worth of effort.

Your Feelings of “Do I Give Up on My Child” are Valid

There are many negative, overwhelming feelings that can overtake you in your struggle. That’s right – you’re struggling.

Yes, your child is battling an ugly eating disorder. However, this disorder is also all-consuming, meaning, it overcomes the individual and their entire lives, including those in it.

Many parents who have a child with an eating disorder report experience perceived stress due to their caregiver status, also known as the “caregiving burden.”

Studies show that many parents of children with an eating disorder report having unmet practical and emotional needs as well as experiencing psychological distress and caregiver burden [1].

Your child is destroying themselves, and you have to watch, spending all of your time, money, and energy attempting to save them. No wonder you are fighting with the thoughts of how do I not give up on my child.

It isn’t easy, and it is okay if you are tired. It is okay if you feel at a loss. It is okay to question whether or not your help is doing your child any good.

It is okay to feel bitterness, resentment, frustration, or annoyance. It is okay to be overwhelmed and at your wit’s end. Your feelings, good and bad, are valid. Don’t get down on yourself because you are struggling with support and ask “should I give up on my child.”

You Are Not Alone

It may not always feel this way, but, trust that you are not the only parent who feels challenged and discouraged by their child’s eating disorder.

Just as your feelings are valid, they are worth expressing.

Picture of mom and daughter with mom fighting to not Give Up on My Child and her eating disorderI encourage you to reach out and more than likely, you will be surprised by the number of parents of children with an eating disorder that can help you feel seen and understood.

Your Effort Matters

I know that you feel downtrodden and that anything and everything you have done is not helping. Please believe that this effort makes a difference in your child’s chances of recovering from their eating disorder.

Numerous studies indicate that attachment and familial closeness is vital to the recovery process and can be a short-term predictor of recovery [1].

Further, parents of recovered adolescents report more closeness than those of non-recovered adolescents, indicating that the distance you may be feeling is normal but that it is not permanent [1].

Research also indicates that the more caregiver burden and distress experienced by a parent, the lower the likelihood of recovery for their child due to the family environment this creates [1].

You and your child can heal.

However, you must prioritize taking care of yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup, and you don’t have to.


[1] Nilsson, K., Engstrom, I., Hagglof, B. (2012). Family climate and recovery in adolescent onset eating disorders: a prospective study. European Eating Disorders Review, 20:1.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: 

Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published June 17, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on June 17, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.