Key ways to help young sufferers of eating disorders include assuring them that they don’t have to earn their parents’ love and encouraging them to be responsible, says Rev Ken Anderson
Eating disorders are on the rise around the world, from Pakistan to the USA. There are many theories and means of treatment and no one-size-fits-all cure. But we suspect many people may find this take from Rev Ken Anderson helpful. Ken has counselled thousands of people with psychosomatic and depressive problems for over 50 years

Ken (80) was born in Zimbabwe, read theology at Cambridge University and trained alongside psychiatric experts at the UK’s Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for four years. He was school chaplain at the UK’s Sherbourne School and Zimbabwe’s Peterhouse and, more recently, chaplain at Durham University in the UK. Ken is married to Polly, has two children and seven grandchildren, and they live near Cambridge. He still counsels people and has never charged for his services

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Rev Ken: ‘Children must know that no matter what they say, do or think, their parents will never stop loving them.’

‘Eating disorders come about for many reasons, but usually have the same root cause. Very often, the behaviour that brings them about, including perfectionism, is caused by people trying to establish their self-worth because they don’t believe they are lovable.

At the heart of my ministry is a profound belief that in the eyes of God, every human being is infinitely lovable. If I can convince someone that this is the truth, very often he or she can turn their life around and become a much happier person.

Part of the therapeutic work I do, particularly with people with psychosomatic diseases, is to convince them of that truth to set them free to lead a psychologically healthy life.

‘Half my job is teaching the parents who can become frightened of their children,’ says Rev Ken

In the case of children, every child has to know they don’t have to earn their parents’ love. Some parents have difficulty in expressing unconditional love, feel guilty about it and compensate by spoiling the child. The child becomes manipulative and does everything to control the parents.

‘you can set up new patterns’

Half my job is teaching the parents. You can’t treat a child with a psychosomatic condition without treating the parents as well. They become frightened of their children and confused as to what to do, but you can turn them around and set up new patterns.

‘If you or your child are struggling with erratic eating, I urge you to get help before things get out of hand,’ says Rev Ken

It’s important to keep looking at a person’s sense of self-worth. I counselled a 17-year-old girl who had been badly bullied at the age of eight. She became very depressed later on because she felt worthless as a result of what the other girl did to her. When people said nice things about her, she never believed them.

When I asked her about that experience, she had no memory of it because it was all locked away in her subconscious. The experience was still controlling her without her knowing it. By getting her to see that the problem lay with the other girl, not with her, she slowly began to see this and believe it, and to remember what happened.

If you or your child are struggling with erratic eating patterns, I urge you to get help before things get out of hand, and before you or they start to want to control life via eating patterns.’

So how can a parent give a child a real sense of self-worth? 5 principles from Rev Ken

a) Children must know that no matter what they say, do or think, the parents will never stop loving them. They need to feel total trust in somebody. One way to show unconditional love is by trying not to lose your temper because when you lose it, the child is taking control of you. So if your child says, ‘I hate you’, try saying, ‘Isn’t that funny because I love you!’.

b) Children must be listened to very carefully and have their behaviour and reactions explained to them carefully. As Jesus said, only the truth will set us free. They need to understand that expecting people to do everything for them or losing their temper won’t make them happy in themselves or enable them to make other people happy.

c) Equally importantly, children need discipline and to be taught to take responsibility for themselves and do their own thinking and decision-making. This will free them from any kind of co-dependence or desire to manipulate.

d) If the children feel their parents have failed them, they still need to learn to love them. Rather than seeking revenge, at the end of the day they need to say, ‘My parents have their faults but I love them’. When parents are rejected or embarrassed by their children, they often go over the top, spoil them outrageously and the whole cycle continues.

e) If the relationship between the parents and the child is problematic, a child needs to find someone else in whom they can put their trust, be totally open and develop a therapeutic relationship.

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