Am I to blame for my eating disorder?

I work hard to lift guilt and blaming from parents so they can be helpful to their kids. Yet the most heartbreaking guilt and blaming is of patients:

Am I to blame for my eating disorder?


  1. As someone who still has an eating disorder after 18 years, I must admit that I do blame myself for having an eating disorder. Especially when I hear all the "uplifting" stories of folk who have beaten their own ED demons. The very stories that are supposed to give me hope make me feel inadequate!

  2. Overcoming 'guilt' is something I feel is not only necessary to do in order to recover from ED and all its pains, but also for learning how to live a fuller, happier, and more humbling existence after ED. I also feel that learning what is 'appropriate' guilt is important; those affected by ED seem to bear the burden of 'over-guilt' --taught they should feel guilty for suffering and/or for causing ED.
    I think for a long time I was afraid to release my 'guilt' b/c I thought people would judge me for NOT feeling guilty after all I'd "done wrong"--the tricks ED tries to play with your mind! <--that kind of thinking kept me bound in suffering for years.

    I learned alot about overcoming guilt in my final recovery years (I felt guilt for: "ruining my parents' lives", my sister's life, my life, wasting my parent's money on college when I was sick, ruining the gifts of my healthy body, destroying relationships, lying, lying, lying, killing myself via ED, etc...) Two things I learned about overcoming guilt in recovery were this: a) if I did not learn how to move thru and overcome guilt, I would never fully recover and b) by learning to move thru and overcome guilt, I was freeing myself to feel happiness again. (I hadn't felt happiness in 16 years of life...and a major cause of that was what I thought was GUILT (and under-nutrition, of course.)

    And the two most important lessons I learned about guilt in my final recovery were these: There is no guilt b/c you suffer a deadly mental illness. And to quote my former doctor, now colleague in field, "There is no shame in suffering." --those were two very humbling truths that I had to wrap my head, heart, and guilt around. But I finally did it. And I hope everyone currently suffering can do that, too.

    As always, thanks for posting, Laura.

  3. There is no reason for anyone to blame or shame someone for their illness. We all need to shout this as loud and as often as we can.

    I know it doesn't "fix" the feelings, but at the very least we can create an environment that alleviates it.

  4. Laura,
    We had some sessions early in my daughter's treatment where the therapist asked our family "why is this happening". This was so upsetting for all, especially my daughter who asked me "Why am I doing this?"
    Shortly after beginning her treatment, I read your book and found the ATDT forum. I learned about the biology of EDs, and I can still see the look of relief on my daughter's face when I explained that AN was something she had inherited a predisposition for and not something she was choosing to do. She was only 12 at the time, and it made a huge difference in her recovery.
    Thank you again for all you do.

  5. After eight years of looking for the underlying causes of my eating disorder, the most important part of my recovery was realising that the main underlying cause was biological. I do think that understanding personal triggers and fears about recovery is helpful to recovery and relapse prevention, but I also think that it should be a routine part of ED treatment to explain the fact that a) people who develop eating disorders have a biological predisposition towards them, and the illness would not have developed without that, and b) eating disordered behaviours affect the brain in such a way as to perpetuate both eating disordered thoughts and behaviours. Although weight restoration did not make me all better (I also had to work on the complicating factors of PTSD and OCD), equally recovery is impossible without the first step of weight restoration.

    It drives me insane to see professionals perpetuating the myth that there is always a root cause of anorexia, and once you understand the illness you will be able to recover. Like I said, understanding your own interpretation of your behaviours is helpful, but recovery is impossible unless the illness is tackled physically and behaviourally as well as psychologically.

    One of my blogging friends posted about her therapist doing just that yesterday and it took all of my self restraint to walk away from the computer and calm down for 24 hours before replying. I'm sure I've said this before on your blog Laura, but I just want to go storming into ED units, hand out some current research and shout at the lot of them.

  6. Perhaps I'm coming at this from a different perspective to others (due to my age??) - but I don't think I can fully exonerate myself from this mess I'm in - *and I'm only speaking of my own situation here, everyone's situation is different*.
    I knew exactly what I was doing when I started down this path again. I knew where it could lead. I could have told someone about the stress and fear I had, but I chose not to - I never do. I chose to use restriction as a means of dealing with it, when I have other coping mechanisms I could have relied on - but didn't.
    But I don't think admiting that I have stuffed up royally is the worst thing in the world as knowing that I am responsible for this mess is giving me the power to fix it.

  7. Cate, I hear you. You want to - and at some point need to - take responsibility for your wellness. That motivation IS power.

    But I'm not sure that I can go there with you on you choosing it. Yes, we can choose to pick up the bottle, the cigarette, the needle - or skip the meal - but I think that isn't the same as choosing how that step, once taken, consumes and has a life of its own.

    I also don't think anyone should HAVE to take responsibility before they are truly ready - because for many if not most people the readiness is a function of the illness. The brain condition itself blocks and stymies and lies about readiness. Most people who are forced to do the work to recover - put in the hospital or made to eat/stop purging by others, and go to treatment - are later grateful that they were not given a choice.

    I wish you didn't have to take responsibility for it until you are truly you making that choice - I want for everyone that the treatment professionals and care providers and family and doctors stop arguing and cajoling and blaming - and start creating safe harbor for those who are, and are not, "ready."

    You don't have to be blamed for something to also have to take responsibility for recovery, eventually. There's nothing to exonerate yourself from - just gain insight about. Same for parents - not being to blame for the illness doesn't mean we don't have to take responsibility for what we have done and must do now.

  8. I just wanted to come back and say I was wrong! I am not to blame for my eating disorder in any way - regardless of my age. It is the eating disorder itself that makes one feel as though they are to blame - it tells us it is our fault simply to make us feel bad. Because it thrives on that. And I can see that now - and I would hate for anyone to read my first comment and relate to it, and think that they are powerless and to blame...because they are not.


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