Published: Sept. 27, 2011
Updated: Sept. 27, 2011
Duke encourages parents of kids with eating disorders to support each other
“You suddenly go, I’m watching her die, I’m literally watching her die, and you think I can’t do anything about it.”
This is how Jim Brown [the family’s names have been changed] described his realization that his 11-year-old daughter had an eating disorder, and that he had to try anything and everything to save his daughter’s life.
He and his wife, Sarah, turned to Nancy Zucker, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, for help.
Once their daughter was in treatment, Zucker suggested the Browns participate in a parent support group. The support group allowed them to see that their family was not alone in the fight against an eating disorder -- and that to help their daughter recover, Sarah and Jim would also have to learn to take time for themselves.
“Self-care means making a mental decision to care for yourself, because you understand that it will help your child recover,” says Zucker. “It requires physically taking time to do things that help you feel more relaxed and less stressed or anxious.”
Jim Brown says it wasn’t easy to accept that idea. “There are times as a parent you almost feel guilty for engaging in self-care,” he says. “You go, ‘Look, if she is suffering, I need to be suffering.’ It’s almost a martyr complex.”
The parent support group helped the Browns realize that taking time to do things that helped them manage their fear, stress, and anxiety would enhance their ability to help their daughter.
Jim says, “Nancy’s group was good in that it was like having a doctor tell you, ‘You’ve got a job to do, and for you to do this job you’ve got to be strong.’ It was somebody independent of you saying, ‘That’s the right thing to do.’”
Zucker notes that the act of self-care can be easier than it sounds.
“You do it one step at a time,” she says, “and it can start as simply as by going for a five-minute walk or leafing through a fun magazine.”
She encourages parents to take time alone and also to seek support from others, whether that means lunch with a friend or a date with your partner.
“It means making your health a priority and not letting anything get in the way -- because taking time to care for yourself helps you take care of your child.”
Fearing a relapse is the hardest part of his daughter’s recovery, says Jim Brown. However, he knows there are many parents who watch their children suffer, feeling helpless.
To other parents Jim says, “Seek help. Don’t just try to do this by yourself.”
Some 11 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. The Duke Center for Eating Disorders specializes in the outpatient management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other forms of eating disorders.