How parents can be wrong and still not cause eating disorders

Parents don't cause eating disorders. That doesn't mean parents are good. Parents vary. Some suck. Some do horrible damage. Some just fail to show up. We have an enormous influence over what happens to our kids and when they have a mental illness our influence over their outcome can be lifesaving (Case History #2: Young Man with Restricting Anorexia Nervosa), or tragic: (Case History #1: Young adult woman with severe anorexia nervosa).
Parents deserve, and need, the benefit of the doubt. Too often, the bad experience of dealing with parents like those in the latter case history can lead society and treatment providers to hold parents like those in the former history hostage to assumptions that would keep them from responding in the best way possible.

Parents need to be held accountable for their harmful actions and beliefs - to help the patient and the family. It should not be ignored or worked around. I'm not excusing or ignoring anything when I say parents don't cause eating disorders - just asking people to stop using "cause" as the only reason to care or intervene.


  1. Just keep on saying this, Laura, loudly and clearly.

  2. I think it's silly to even pass judgments such as "good parent" vs. "bad parent". Rather, I would say that different types of treatment need to be developed for different types of families. Otherwise, people will feel obligated to prove they are one of the "good parents" whose child developed an eating disorder. That shouldn't be necessary.

    In other illnesses, if a family does not have the financial, emotional or cognitive ability to help their child, then other resources are sought to help. You better believe it that there are many families who don't want to put a feeding tube in their baby, who don't give insulin shots as prescribed to their diabetic child, who miss their chemotherapy appointments, who smoke in front of the asthmatic child. This doesn't mean they have caused these diseases, just that they are ill prepared to help their child.

    The first question should always be whether the family was truly prepared to take care of these special needs, do they need training and education, is there any way to simplify cares for them, can they get any help outside of the home, etc. Failure to look for other ways to help is the failure of the professionals, not the family. Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done, but this is rare. For those instances, there is something called child protective services. I think if ed professionals truly thought that parents were the cause of the disease and were keeping the child from getting well, they should be using all possible methods in their power to find a way to help a child and then calling child protection to have the child removed from the family. But I don't think that happens very often. So that tells us something. They can't prove their allegations vs. the parents and they aren't confident about others being able to better parent this child either.


  3. My son is almost 18 and has gained 35 pounds over the last year after 2 ER visits, a trip to a Psych Hospital for eval. and 2 months in a behavior "house" which did not help at all as he was not with ED kids and forced to go to AA classes for over-eating and drugs when he is anorexic/orthorexic. He is misdiagnosed I believe with psychosisNOS which they have prescribed Respiridal. He is taking it, but at a super low "underdose" in the Dr's opinion.

    We were in Maudsley treatment until things said during treatment about my husband's anger was reported to CPS. I had hoped for anger management classes but the case was closed and my husband, who was not helpful at all with refeeding, out of spite and pride now refuses to pay for therapy or to seek marriage/family therapy for himself.

    Just the last 2 weeks my son has been under the influence more with ED, refusing supper one night, extreme control of types of food he will/won't eat. My husband does nothing and insists we don't argue at the table, etc. His role was to be supper "sitter" encouraging my son to eat, but after only one sitting refuses to "be a babysitter" and let my son sleep at the table. The Maudsley therapist (the only one in the area) refuses to see us until my husband seeks marriage therapy.

    What do I do when he refuses to eat? He says if we limit exercise he must limit eating b/c that makes him hungry to eat. I HATE this, and am afraid my husband will drop all care when my son turns 18. I am going to do a bio-scan on my son in the near future and try to get him to take more nutritional supplements, but even those he is so very picky about. He has increased vegetables and I am afraid I am seeing what we went through last year. Please pray for us. Dee in Calif.

  4. Dee,

    Alliance among the adults is more important than anything, in my opinion. Even if everything you are doing is "right" it will still be counterproductive if your husband isn't on board. That is the first priority - to get all the adults on the same page. This may sound weird but I'd rather be on the wrong page together (if that's the only option) than both pulling in opposite directions. I would focus on that.

  5. That is what it would be: the wrong page. Are you saying you would agree with and condone the parent in "case history #1" who sabotages her daughter's progress? That would be 2 paretns against, 0 for her. Case #2 there was no father mentioned at all, just the mother. Here the only page important according to husband is one: his, and it is not for saving Life, only money and his false reality. D.

  6. Anonymous, here's what I see so often. A parent knows what the "right" thing to do is and he or she burns out doing it without the alliance of the other partner. ED uses this, and the providers end up triangulated, too. Often, the "right" parent grows more and more extreme to compensate - and it doesn't help the patient. In fact the opposite. Continuing to go it alone, even if in the right direction, makes us part of the problem. Alliance is the first place to start. Whatever is being done it needs to be agreed upon or everything stops until it is. It is the "wrong page" no matter what if everyone isn't on it.


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