Supporting a young person with an eating disorder: Sarah's story

January 14 2022

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Supporting a young person with an eating disorder: Sarah's story

Jenny Langley is one of Charlie Waller’s longest standing mental health trainers. She does vital work with the parents and carers of young people experiencing eating disorders, delivering workshops using the New Maudsley method.

They are designed to help carers develop self-reflective skills in order to model to young people confidence, compassion and the courage to take risks. They encourage participants to experiment with changing their own behaviour so they can be more helpful to their loved one with the eating disorder, and to role model that change is possible.

Sarah attended a series of Jenny’s workshops to learn how to help her daughter Amelia whose eating disorder was having an extremely negative effect on her life. Amelia said:

“My life stuck with my eating disorder was hell. I definitely felt I had two very distinct personalities. My eating disorder tried to take my identity. I really needed my parents to remind me that I had my own identity as Amelia.”

Attending Jenny’s workshops helped Sarah learn how to better support Amelia. Sarah said:

“We quickly learnt that a mix of our encouragement, gently cajoling, unconditional love was the best formula to stay connected with Amelia and to support her.

“An eating disorder is not a choice – it happens and we needed to support Amelia, not find endless battles with the eating disorder that we couldn’t win.”

The workshops provide very practical advice and tips, including communication skills to connect with their loved one through all stages of recovery and how best to navigate access to appropriate professional eating disorder support. They also focus on the need for parents and carers to take care of their own needs, as Sarah found out:

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“I regret hiding away from all my friends – I became a recluse. Keep your door open. You need others around you.

“I didn't do nearly enough self care. I am suffering now because of this. I was like a bull with my head down fighting a battle I was never ever going to win. I hated how I believed being mean and unkind, constantly reminding and nagging Amelia, thinking she may suddenly turn around and say ‘you are right’ and simply stop all the anorexic unhealthy behaviours.

“On occasion I still do it today and it never ends well. Love, compassion and kindness are so much more effective. But when you are in the thick of it, scared and worn out, you can't see this. You just want it to stop.”

“I will do anything in my power to support my daughter whilst also looking after myself and role-modelling self care. It is so important.”

Amelia’s recovery journey has helped give her the confidence to talk to other families struggling with eating disorders. The support she has received from professionals and, vitally, from her parents, has been crucial in her recovery from the eating disorder that impacted her so negatively. There is, she now says, “so much more to life.”

Free webinars

If you or someone you know is supporting a young person with an eating disorder, you may be interested in attending our free webinar, The Teenage Brain and Eating Disorders.

This webinar covers how to spot signs of eating disorders, and ways to support teens through it. It combines the latest understanding of neuroscience and developmental psychology, with practical strategies to help parents and carers to understand the changes teenagers are going through, and what they can do to help support them.

The original session was developed for The Charlie Waller Trust by Dr John Coleman OBE, a psychologist with an international reputation for his work on the teenage years, and we have adapted it to weave in what we know about the impact of eating disorders on the brain.  

For information on our upcoming webinars and dates, please check back on our website or this page soon or follow us on social media. 

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Thank you to all who attended.

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