Eating Disorders

Calling all Dads

October 18, 2016

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

A recent episode of Dr. Phil featured a set of twins who were both suffering from an eating disorder.  The triggering aspects of the show have already been brilliantly addressed elsewhere.  (Angie Viets)  What I'd like to hone in on here is the "father hunger" that was ever so present and the role of father hunger in eating disorders. 

The twins, Taylor and Tricia, both expressed deep pain and desire for a relationship with their father who had been distant since their parents divorced.  With tears streaming down their faces, they each expressed that they wanted to make their father proud and for him to spend time with them.  A powerful moment transpired when he apologized individually to both Taylor and Tricia and gave an affectionate hug.  The healing of their wounded relationship began on that stage.  Now, the girls still had much broader healing to do, both physically and mentally, which was set up to occur in residential treatment after the show.

"Father hunger" is a term coined by Dr. Margo Maine, a psychologist and icon in the field of eating disorders.  Her book, Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and the Pursuit of Thinness is one of the richest books I have ever read.  

What is father hunger?  According to Maine, it is "a deep, persistent desire for emotional connection with the father that is experienced by all children."  Throughout her book she refers to the "unfulfilled longing for father" that females with eating disorders often experience.  

"If only I were skinny" reasoning that this will make Father proud and gain his praise and approval.  

"If only" reasoning is a common way we express our desires.  We want simple explanations.  Assigning cause and effect in difficult situations helps us make sense of life and put order into an often confusing existence. It gives us a feeling of control by suggesting that if we do a certain thing, we can change other things.  A young woman thinks: "If I lose weight, Daddy will respect me and be proud of me."  Manipulating her eating and body size is seen as a socially acceptable cure for her father hunger." — Margo Maine, Father Hunger

So what can fathers do?

  • Give your daughter positive messages about being a woman that aren't tied to her appearance.
  • Help her discover her passions, values, and interests.  DO things together.  Spend time with each other. 
  • Resist the temptation to pull away and withdraw as she goes through puberty.  She needs you more than ever at that time in her life as she is transitioning from child into woman.  
  • Look for opportunities to challenge the status quo in our culture.  Point out when you see examples of women being objectified or pressured to be thin.  Take a stand against weight stigma.  Eliminate the word "fat" from your household.  
  • Make sure that your work promotes stability and unity in the family, instead of division.  Fathers play an important role in providing financially for the family, and often they also find work rewarding and fulfilling.  That's great – just don't let it become a way to avoid your family or tear them apart.
  • "The single most important thing you can give your children is a sense of safety." — Fr. John Riccardo.  You give them this safety by treating them and their mother with dignity and respect.  You spend time with your children.  You show them they are important to you by being present physically and emotionally.  


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