Family Matters: Confront eating disorders with counseling, treatment

Diana Boggia

Dear Diana: I’m concerned for my 17-year-old daughter. We recently discovered that she is bulimic. I am so afraid for her. My husband feels like she is doing it “just to be a brat,” but I know there is so much more to it. I want counseling for us so that we know what to say to her, and I want counseling for her before she further harms herself. When we told her we were taking her to counseling, she said she wouldn’t cooperate. If you could please point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it.  

Dear Mom: It is so important that you are reaching out and looking for answers for your daughter. Although she does not view herself as a child who needs help, she is spinning dangerously out of control. Bulimia is not something that will just go away. The longer she remains ill without treatment, the more difficult it will be to remedy. You are right to seek counseling for your family. She will not recover without help.

Eating disorders can stem from triggers and are not simply identified as a lack of willpower. Psychological triggers can emerge from a trauma, or from emotional, verbal or physical attacks or abuse. Preoccupation with weight also may stem from anxiety about weight gain or from various media that emphasize the “perfect body size.”

Bulimia is one of the more common eating disorders as an estimated 24 million people suffer from it. Anorexia and bulimia are very similar in that those who experience either disorder also experience a lack of control in their lives. Both are related to emotional issues, focused on weight, diet and image. Bulimics eat large amounts of food and then purge through vomiting, laxatives, excessive exercising and/or fasting. Long-term, permanent physical damage occurs to teeth and gums, as stomach acid washes over and deteriorates tissue and enamel. An irregular heartbeat can develop, and heart failure can occur with continuous purging.

You seem to know enough about bulimia to know that your daughter is in danger. Although she may not believe it, she is very fortunate that you care so much, and recognize that she can’t stop without help. Do not allow her to talk you out of counseling, because her health is definitely at risk. People with eating disorders are often unwilling to admit that there is a problem, or that they have a diagnosable, treatable illness.

Your daughter needs a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medical care, nutritional education, specialized therapy and, perhaps, medication. Treatment programs vary according to need, but you might begin your investigation by contacting a nearby hospital or your pediatrician for a reference. As you begin your search, your daughter will begin her journey to recovery.

Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting expert. Find additional parenting resources at her website,