I feel like such a failure, wrote Betty Clifford," a 46-year-old woman from Los Angeles, California. "I may be a successful career woman but I have failed Judy. Why didn't I see it coming? Stupid question! I was too busy to see it coming."

Betty is talking about her 16-year-old daughter Judy who is suffering from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that basically has the person depriving herself of food to keep thin, though it also means going to extremes, like eating only a couple of apples a day. Judy, who stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighs a scant 95 pounds and refuses to admit that she has a problem. The dinner table has become a battlefield for mother and daughter, with Betty ending up screaming at her to eat more.

Eating disorders are becoming more and more common, all due to the pressures to be thin and beautiful. "You can never be too rich or too thin," Wallis Simpson said, and her remark sparked practice among her peers — at parties, at restaurants, the women left their food "fashionably untouched" so as not to burst out of their Mainbocher and Dior dresses.

Even designers of mainstream fashion today are somewhat to blame for the need for young girls to keep their weight bottomed out. Just check out the latest threads at the teen sections and you will see the likes of figure-hugging tank shirts, low-waist jeans, and tight halter tops that mercilessly cling to the body and could spell disaster for those with body fat percentage over 5%. They're what celebrity idols like Britney Spears and Hillary Duff wear, and naturally their fans — your kids — want to wear them too. Fine, but what if you notice your daughter is subsisting only on crackers and water? Do you act like Betty and start yelling at her to eat more meat and cereal? Or do you let it pass and tell yourself that it's only a silly phase that young girls go through and that she'll outgrow it eventually?

With an extreme case such as food deprivation, an extreme reaction from the parent is unwarranted. In both case, you would only be exacerbating the problem.

The Route to Recovery

It is possible to cure an eating disorder. Fighting your child or denying that there is a problem is not the solution. Help comes first and foremost from the parents and in order to face this crisis, the mother and father must come to terms with their own issues before they could aid their child.

Here are twelve steps to share with parents whose children have eating disorders.

1. First, admit that your child has an eating disorder.

2. Admit that you and your child can't cope by yourselves and that it is perfectly all right to seek professional help. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

3. Gather all the information you can about eating disorders.

4. Gather a list of doctors and support groups that could help you.

5. Share your concern with your child. Talk to her gently about it.

6. Persistently talk about it, even if your child is in denial.

7. Join a support group as early as possible.

8. Rely on doctors and other supportive parties to encourage you, boost your morale. You can't help your child if you are depressed or discouraged.

9. Change the way you deal with stress in the family. If you are the type who lets your frustration out on your loved ones after a tough day at work, control that urge.

10. Give up the guilt and blame and start experimenting with new ways of relating to each other.

11. Accept the fact that your family life could change if your child changed for the better.

12. Learn that change doesn't happen: it can evolve slowly, a little bit at a time, and each little bit is cause for celebration, because the big changes are made up of all the small failures and successes that are part of healing.