Grandparents as Primary Caregivers for Children with Eating Disorders

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

Rules really don’t change when you’re caring for someone with an eating disorder – whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or spouse.

If you are the primary caregiver of a grandchild with an eating disorder, you must stand your ground, maintain the child’s treatment plan, and take care of yourself.

First and foremost, remember the eating disorder is not your grandchild.

What is an Eating Disorder?

An eating disorder is an illness, like cancer or diabetes, that has encumbered your grandchild and requires certain treatment methods you and your grandchild may not like.

Try not to blame your grandchild for this struggle. And don’t blame yourself. Eating disorders are a daunting mix of genes, media, and brain chemistry. It’s not your fault. It’s not your son’s or daughter’s fault. And it’s not your grandchild’s fault.

girl with smile-885243_640x426I have encouraging, amazing parents, and I had anorexia. Believe me, I wanted to get rid of the eating disorder as much as I clung to it. I was stuck. It took a lot of tough love from my family and treatment team for a lot of years before I shook the eating disorder.

So, for you, supporting your grandchild with an eating disorder will likely be a juggling game of empathy for your grandchild and your determination to stop it. It may not take a lot of years. It may take a few months. Still, the game plan is the same.

Know the plan

Make certain you know your grandchild’s treatment plan. This includes his/her meal plan, exercise regime, and appointment requirements. You will likely want to meet with the treatment team to learn, first, what the plan is, and second, your role in the enforcement of it. Define your role in their recovery to avoid conflict later.

Help your child maintain support

Know when your grandchild has appointments with the treatment team and how he/she is going to get there. If your grandchild is able to drive, put in place an accountability system for him/her to make the appointments.

Create a supportive schedule

man on computer-593378_640x426Help your grandchild create a healthy a schedule that allows for meals, snacks, exercise, journaling, and other personal exercises he or she may have from the treatment team.

The early stages of recovery require a schedule. We want to know when, where, and what we are going to eat. Remember, your grandchild has used food, in whatever way, to control his or her life. Initially, it’s okay for them to control a healthy version of it.

Give a listening ear

Encourage your grandchild to express his or her feelings and internal experiences, if not with you, then a friend or someone nearby. This will help put out little emotional fires that may arise. If your grandchild does share with you, be intentional to listen without judgment, even when it’s hard.

Be gentle with yourself

Caring for someone with an eating disorder is extremely challenging. Try to find a therapist to whom you can vent the frustrations. This will help you go home prepared to fight for recovery.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Are you the grandparent of a child struggling with an eating disorder? What resources have your found helpful in supporting the child while in your care?


Leigh BellAbout the Author: Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 26, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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.