Feed, love and heal – the role for parents when their child develops an eating disorder

Feed, love and heal – the role for parents when their child develops an eating disorder

What to do When Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder

by Lauren Muhlheim

(Introduction by June Alexander)

I wish my parents had access to Dr Lauren Muhlheim’s new book When Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder when I was a kid. Lauren takes family-based treatment by the hand into the family home, providing guidance and support to parents who, for whatever reason, are having to go it alone in treating their child. Getting a teen to do anything can be difficult, but getting them to eat when they have an eating disorder is the hardest thing of all. Lauren explains how to manage these difficult times. I feel sure her book, which builds on and complements My Kid is Back and How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder, will help parents to help their teen get their life back on track. Such is the destructive power of an eating disorder, I also feel sure When Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder will help to save lives, save relationships and save families. Nothing is more important than this.

Lauren shares insights into When Your Teen Has An Eating Disorder:

 Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

Family-Based Treatment (FBT) is now the leading treatment for child and adolescent eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and atypical and sub-threshold eating disorders. This treatment puts parents in charge of the nutritional and behavioral aspect of their child’s recovery. FBT represents an about-face from traditional treatments that blame and exclude parents. In FBT, the therapist charges parents with the task of renourishing their child.

Working title for the book

Feed, Love, Heal was my working title. Ultimately, my publisher chose an SEO-optimized title. The working title reflected my belief that taking charge of meals for a child with an eating disorder is not an act of control, but one of love. Feeding a child is the fundamental job of parenting. It’s what parents are uniquely qualified to do. When eating disorders emerge, they hijack not only the teen but also the parent’s confidence in performing this basic task. Feeding and helping a teen to recover is an act of love. With the right support and guidance, parents can reassert their important role in feeding children with eating disorders.

Why this book?

In FBT the therapist’s stance is encouraging but is not usually explicitly directive. Parents attempting FBT have commonly complained that they are not given enough guidance to accomplish this task and wish they had more direction. At the same time, there is a shortage of therapists trained in this treatment, leading many parents to attempt implementation of the strategies without the support of a therapist. Though there are various online parent forums and organizations to assist with this, there is an undeniable shortage of published material.

This book attempts to solve these problems and fill a gap for families living in areas with limited treatment. The program outlined in my book, based on FBT, provides the tools for parents to help their child and family reclaim their lives. Loving parents are uniquely qualified for this job.

Food is medicine

The reality is that eating disorders are, in large part, a biological issue. Teens with eating disorders need food. They need to develop eating habits that include regular balanced meals in adequate amounts. In most cases, an eating disorder will prevent a teen from making healthy decisions on his or her own.

In FBT a parent’s primary job is to take charge and help their teen take his or her medicine. Their goal is to restore their teen to optimal brain and body health so they can flourish and become an independent adult.

Parents are charged with planning, providing, and supervising all meals for their children, much as would the staff at a residential treatment center. In the context of their own home, with familiar foods, and the comfort of family, parents nourish their teens back to health. They are taught that food is medicine for an eating disorder.

Who will benefit from this book

Specifically, this book is aimed at caregivers of teens with eating disorders who are in any of the following situations:

  • They have no reliable access to treatment and are looking to help their teen recover without the help of specialists. Many parents attempt to help their teens recover on their own without appropriate therapeutic guidance. This book attempts to bridge the gap for families living in areas with limited treatment.
  • They have a teen in some other non-FBT treatment. I believe you can still provide meal support and structure to support your teen’s recovery (but please discuss this with your treatment team!).
  • They have a teen already in FBT and want to supplement with additional knowledge and guidance.

As one reader has said, “This is also a great book for other clinicians to read if they want to learn how to help families support their child’s recovery from an eating disorder.”

How the book is organized

The book is a concise, user-friendly guide for parents on how to “do FBT.” Some of the key aspects it addresses include understanding recovery weights, how to unify as a family to tackle the eating disorder, how to achieve weight restoration, how to prepare meals, strategies for preventing bingeing and purging, managing mealtime distress, managing extreme behaviors such as self-harm, and practicing food exposures. It answers all the frequently asked questions, including managing difficult relationships between parent(s) and teen during recovery and how to involve siblings. It also discusses how to move your teen from dependence on you for meal provision to independence.


Early readers have described the book as “empathetic and compassionate,” “supportive and empowering,” and “clear, easy to use, and well-organized.”  There are additional online resources and worksheets that offer practical assistance with tasks such as setting treatment goals, meal planning, addressing body image concerns, and reading growth charts.

     About Lauren

Lauren Muhlheim, Psy.D., FAED, CEDS is a psychologist and eating disorder specialist who provides evidence-based treatment for eating disorders in the outpatient setting. She directs Eating Disorder Therapy LA in Los Angeles and is able to provide teletherapy in California and New York. She is active in several professional organizations and presents nationally to parents, professionals, and trainees. She is the author of When your Teen Has an Eating Disorder: Practical Strategies to Help Your Teen Overcome Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating, published by New Harbinger Publications in September, 2018.

Find out more

Book page on Lauren’s website: https://www.eatingdisordertherapyla.com/book/

Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/When-Your-Teen-Eating-Disorder/dp/1684030439/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1526262962&sr=1-1&keywords=muhlheim

Youtube page where Lauren has been sharing short (2 to 4 minute) informational videos for parents on topics from the book: https://www.youtube.com/user/drmuhlheim/videos?view_as=subscriber

Diana has experienced eating disorders and recovery firsthand, with herself and her daughter. She co-founded The Diary Healer website with June Alexander and has written several blog posts based on her personal experiences in the hope that sharing her stories will give others a sense of community and connection, and give herself some perspective and healing along the way. If you would like to contact Diana, she can be reached at dbeaudet@gmail.com.

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