Practical steps to help your child beat the eating disorder: magic plate and other ways to take charge of treatment

This is a section from Chapter 6 of ‘Anorexia and other eating disorders – how to help your child eat well and be well’


An eating disorder affects almost every aspect of our children’s lives. Here is an overview of what you can do to systematically weaken its grip and get your child back.

Helping a child with an eating disorder ought to be pretty intuitive. You just want to get your child to eat, right? Or you want her to stop bingeing or purging. But she fights you. She tells you you’re making it worse, that she doesn’t have a problem, that she hates you, and then she freaks you out by behaving totally out of character. You’re at a loss for what to do next, and you’re scared that whatever you do will make her worse.

I want to offer you an overview of what treatment means in practice. Every day you have decisions to make: what to allow, what to prevent, what to try next. I’m going to tell you what worked for us and for other parents.


For every step you take, even when you encounter resistance, you are moving forward. If right now the journey I propose seems impossible to you, hang in there. Even a single tool, if it works for you, can make all the difference.

Now I don’t want to overload you with things you ‘should’ do. I hope that one or two suggestions will stand out: things that make sense to you and that you really want to try. Things you have the energy for. Go for those and leave the rest for another time. One step at a time. Build on successes. And I want you to know, based on my very considerable experience, that it’s OK to screw up sometimes. Even often.

Perhaps, part way through reading this chapter, you’ll want to jump in and make big changes. I’m all for prompt action, but take care so that your interventions land well. At the end of this chapter, I suggest ways to help you plan exactly what measures and support you want to put in place. That way you’ll be ready to deal with the obstacles you may encounter.

I want to give you tools, not fear. If you read about behaviours here that your child doesn’t have, be glad: there’s no reason he’ll ever have them. And if he does, you’ll see in what follows that many don’t need to be tackled right away – you can take your time, see where your priorities lie. Besides, you may get some freebies in this business: as your previously starving child regains weight, many issues can fade with no work on your part. In our case, they eventually all disappeared and we were granted every parent’s wish – to get our kid back.

Severely affected by an eating disorder? You son/daughter need you to intervene

[Jumping to the end of the chapter:]

Conclusion: parents take charge

These days, it is good to see our child fly with her own wings. She’s got her autonomy back to the level that is appropriate for her age. In the same way as our specialist empowered us to care of our child, we are now empowering our child to take care of herself.

Parents, never doubt that your child needs you to take charge of his or her recovery. Here’s one young person’s account, which I think says it all:

“Before, I’d say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’ll just eat more, I really will. I don’t need any more help.’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, good, glad to hear that.’ And they’d believe me. Now, I say that same thing, and they don’t believe me. They know they need to help. And knowing that they don’t take my ‘bullshit’ is SUCH a relief. It makes me KNOW that this will end. Knowing that I can’t convince my parents that I can do it on my own makes me know that I will be able to do it with them – and it all will end … thank goodness.”[1]


* Go to: Table of contents *

More in this chapter of the book:

  • Food and love
  • Give your child containment and ammunition against the eating-disorder voice
  • Hear how your child speaks in code
  • Remove choices: Magic Plate
  • ‘I will not make you fat’
  • Meal plans: should your child determine the menu?
  • What if my child doesn’t eat?
  • How long should we persist with a meal?
  • How much food? Which foods?
  • Target body weight
  • Should parents weigh food and count calories?
  • Hiding food and lying
  • Eating rituals
  • Exercising and standing
  • School
  • Bedtime
  • Purging and bathroom visits
  • Bingeing
  • Post-meal anxiety
  • Running away
  • Self-harming
  • Being cold
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Body-checking and fat talk
  • Weighing your child: open or blind?
  • Clothes
  • Protection from the internet
  • Baking, recipes and images of food
  • Triggers
  • Planning how you will take charge
  • How to make U-turns while still being a rock
  • Conclusion: parents take charge



[1] From L’s letter to the F.E.A.S.T website

Next  chapter: How do you get your child to eat in spite of the eating disorder?

2 Replies to “Practical steps to help your child beat the eating disorder: magic plate and other ways to take charge of treatment”

  1. At last a truly inspiring and wonderful piece of work from a parent who really gets it. I congratulate you Eva and just wish the professionals would signpost your information. We’ve struggled for over two years in a hell I don’t even want to think about.
    Very warm wishes and heartfelt thanks for your hard work in putting this together for all of us.

    1. Well thank you, and I really hope the hard times are behind you now and that you are enjoying good doses of hope.
      As for therapists signposting this information, I know some do most enthusiastically and are pleased that this supports their patients. Which makes me very pleased.

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