TIP 1: Choose the right treatment team from the start
So many of the parents I speak with wasted precious time taking their child to therapists and doctors who had little to no experience in treating eating disorders.
It wasn’t their fault!
Specialists can be difficult to locate, and when you are worried, desperate, and need to get help fast for your child, it is common to take a wrong turn.
If you choose a top notch outpatient treatment team from the start, not only will you avoid the disruption and the cost of going to the hospital; you will help your child learn how to cope in a healthy way with the stresses of everyday life.
TIP 2: Ask these secret superheroes in your child’s life for guidance
The best place to start is your child’s pediatrician. They’ve most likely done the legwork and have a vetted list of trustworthy treatment professionals to whom they refer over and over again because they know they are qualified and successful at what they do.
Your child’s school counselor or guidance department is another potentially valuable resource. Did you know that many colleges and universities have eating disorder treatment teams on campus and that your child may be able to receive free counseling there? It’s definitely worth a call.
Currently, up to 20% of individuals suffering from an eating disorder will do so for the rest of their lives. This staggering statistic would be greatly reduced if the person received the right form of treatment from the start.
Try hard not to panic, and take extra time at the beginning finding a qualified treatment team.
And don’t be afraid to ask for help from your secret superheroes!
TIP 3: Don’t express your worry as anger and blame
When parents are worried and afraid, it can come out the wrong way, including blaming your child. Remember that anorexia, bulimia, emotional eating and other eating problems are all powerful ways to soothe stress.
If you’re a parent and you feel powerless and overwhelmed, it’s OK! Better to admit it and ask for help rather than blame yourself or your kid. Luckily, there are many therapists, nutritionists and doctors who can help your family, and once you locate them, they will know how to help quickly.
Repeat to yourself: “My child does not lack willpower, she is not lazy, and she is not self-destructive. She is not doing this on purpose and she would stop if she could.”
TIP 4: Bring out that Mama or Papa bear when interviewing treatment providers
A good doctor, therapist, nutritionist or psychiatrist will answer any and all questions you have about your child, and do so with patience and respect for YOU. If they try to make you feel awkward or ashamed, it’s time to look elsewhere!
Don’t be afraid to be assertive with doctors and other treatment providers. Most of us grow up learning that doctors are absolute authorities who are not to be questioned. Don’t let your fears of standing firm with authority figures keep you from asking providers perfectly reasonable questions about how and if they can help your child.
If you’re wondering what questions to ask potential treatment team members, I provide several thorough lists in my parent guide.
TIP 5: Your child’s opinion counts!
Just because you feel comfortable with the therapist does not necessarily mean your child will.
Make sure to ask for your child's input when interviewing and selecting qualified treatment providers. It is important that she feel comfortable with and supported by the treatment team.
Don't be afraid to ask how a potential provider works with children as opposed to adults (the approach can be quite different in order to gain trust).
Having said that, keep in mind that many children and teens are afraid to give up their eating disordered behavior at first and can be resistant to treatment even with the most kind, qualified and supportive professionals.
A good rule of thumb is to observe whether your child feels uncomfortable with everyone you have interviewed, or just with one or two people. In the latter case, it will help build trust between you and your child to address her concerns and allow her to meet with additional candidates.
TIP 6: Yes, you DO need both a therapist and a nutritionist!
One of the most common questions I hear from parents and individuals seeking eating disorder treatment is: Do I really need both counseling AND nutrition coaching? Can’t I just do one or the other?
No, you can’t! Therapists, doctors and dietitians are trained differently. Therapists are not allowed to give nutrition advice and nutritionists are not allowed to provide counseling. And therapists and nutritionists are not allowed to give medical advice, ever! If one of these professionals routinely gives advice out of their area of expertise, run the other way and look elsewhere – it’s a bad sign.
You need the experience and guidance of professionals in all three areas for you or your child to get better. If you invest in a full treatment team from the start, recovery is much more likely to occur faster.
Don’t skimp on treatment by hiring a nutritionist/dietitian who is not an eating disorder specialist, or by not hiring a dietitian at all; you and your child will pay more financially and emotionally in the long run.
TIP 7: You don’t have to settle for the first therapist you see if it’s a bad fit.
Hiring a therapist (or a doctor, nutritionist, or psychiatrist) is like buying a pair of shoes. If you try a pair on and they do not fit, do you pay for them and wear them out of the store? No! You try on more shoes until you find THE BEST pair.
The same goes for hiring health care providers. If the fit doesn’t feel right, keep interviewing! You don’t have to buy the first pair of shoes you try on.
Remember the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”?
You cannot afford to have even one weak link in your child’s treatment team.
The stronger the links, the faster and more successful his or her recovery will be. If you receive good recommendations as outlined below, it should only take you a few days, weeks or less to shop around and find the right providers.
TIP 8: Don’t be afraid to listen to you parent alarm.
As parents we sometimes ignore our internal alarm with doctors and other medical professionals because they are the experts. But not all treatment providers are created equal and your alarm is your best defense if you listen!
Before you make an appointment with a potential treatment provider, have a list of questions ready that you can ask them by phone (refer to the lists I mentioned above for help). Be aware if the person rushes you off the phone, seems annoyed, or does not have specific answers to your questions.
At the same time, your alarm should sound if the provider assures you they can help without giving you a specific plan about how. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their qualifications, their success rate, and other indicators of expertise.
TIP 9: Get in the know about these insider insurance secrets
Did you know that insurance often provides partial reimbursement for out-of-network eating disorders treatment?
Call your insurance company and ask if they provide partial reimbursement if you use a therapist that is a specialist but out-of-network.
If there are no eating disorder specialists listed your insurance company’s list of providers, ask if they will create a single case agreement that will pay for the treatment sessions.
Additionally, ask your child’s providers if they offer discount packages to help ease the cost of treatment. It may take a bit of extra time, but if you combine a discount package with sending insurance claims in on your own, you are likely to be rewarded with a savings on quality care.
TIP 10: Know the difference between hospital, residential and intensive outpatient care so you can get the best insurance coverage.
If your child needs a higher level of care than an outpatient treatment team can provide, but you cannot afford the hospital fees, consider placing her in what is called an “intensive outpatient treatment program.”
In these types of programs, your child sleeps at home every night, but goes for treatment at the hospital or residential setting during the day. These programs can be a lot less costly than inpatient care, and provide daily support.
You need to be assertive with your insurance provider and ask them what types of eating disorder treatment programs they cover, and which ones they do not.
There is a difference between hospital based programs, residential programs and Intensive Outpatient Programs (also called IOPs). Sometimes one type of program is fully or partially covered. It is your insurance company’s job to explain the difference to you fully, but you need to ask them.
This list of power tips will give you strong guidance on how to secure effective help for yourself or your child when fighting an eating disorder!