"just one sentence"

Oh, for pity's sake!

"Just one sentence could put your daughter or son on a path towards an eating disorder"

Really, people? How is this sort of thing credible? Are people really SO mental health illiterate that they think one sentence can cause madness? Do they believe that mental illness is standing next to them at any moment like a devil?

"Why do women hate their bodies" is a good question, but one of the many answers can be a mental illness and nothing to do with experience. By continuing to see the body hating of a mentally ill person as the same as the body hating of the general population we serve neither well. In fact, we harm the most vulnerable of all without helping the rest of us.

Of course parents should be promoting positive self-esteem and body acceptance. Of course we can have a negative influence on healthy kids. But this absurd notion that parents can cause mental illness with a sentence - or even a whole lot of sentences - is dangerous stuff.

Why? Because 3-5% of kids are going to develop an eating disorder and the first question is going to be "why" and there is not a parent alive who has never said a negative thing about him or herself. Look no further: guilt, paralyzation, poor decisions ensue. And yet, there's just NO PROOF that "one sentence" or even a lifetime of body bashing causes this mental illness. Do patients say it does: yes. Does it "look like" it does? Yes. But what year is this? Do novels make young women go insane? 

This new word "Thin-heritance" is noxious, stale, and rancid. It's the exploitation of a very serious mental illness in the service of a (worthy) social cause that doesn't NEED a deadly illness to make it important.


  1. "By continuing to see the body hating of a mentally ill person as the same as the body hating of the general population we serve neither well. In fact, we harm the most vulnerable of all without helping the rest of us."

    I agree, 100%. In fact, you have said in two sentence what I have attempted to get across in about 5 of my 750-1000 word blog posts...

    For the record, I simply Do Not Believe that eating disorders can be prevented by changing culture.

  2. It is a SPECIAL honor and pleasure to share this elt!!!!

  3. I do think the article on the feminisation of madness is intended in a different spirit to that which you're suggesting - it argues that a patriarchal society 'creates' the idea of insanity in order to pathologise feminine behaviour or female emotions, rather than that genuine mental illness is created by culture. On the other hand I mostly agree on the first article - all the references to EDs should be removed from it in my opinion. Further to your own points about reducing understanding about genuine mental illness, it also damages the real and terrible price payed by women for 21st century culture by conflating it with an entirely separate issue which needs to be solved in a very different way.

  4. Hi Laura and ELT, I agree with you both. The post by Ms. Ross, linked above, is misleading for many reasons.

    It conflates body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, on the one hand, with anorexia nervosa on the other. They are not the same, as anyone who has suffered from anorexia nervosa, or her family, can testify.

    The study of girls in Fiji did NOT show an increase in anorexia nervosa after television was introduced. There was no anorexia nervosa in the study's sample group before TV became available, and no anorexia nervosa in the sample population afterwards. The problem with the study was that the sample population was too small to provide any statistically significant data about anorexia nervosa, since the study involved only about 100 teenage girls. Anorexia typically affects less than one percent of the population. So the absence of anorexia nervosa in the small sample population -- both before and after the introduction of television -- doesn't tell us anything about whether anorexia exists in Fiji in the broader population, or whether the prevalence was affected by the availability of television. If anything, the study supports the opposite conclusion, since it showed an increase in body dissatisfaction after the introduction of television, but no corresponding increase in the rate of anorexia nervosa.

    Ross also asserts that the problem of eating disorders has been growing. There is no reliable data, however, to support this contention. Nobody knows the prevalence of anorexia throughout the 20th century. Consequently, nobody knows whether the problem has been getting worse or not.

    Anorexia nervosa has been detected in both Curacao and Ghana at rates similar to North America and Europe (0.5-0.8%) Curacao and Ghana are cultures that generally do not prize thin physiques. The evidence from Curacao and Ghana tends to weaken the culture hypothesis.

    The most reliable studies to date have shown that parents of kids who develop anorexia nervosa did not, on average, criticize their kids' eating patterns or bodies any more or less than parents in the general population. If, as claimed by Ross, parental criticism increases the risk of developing anorexia nervosa, one would expect the opposite to be true. These study results cast doubt on the asertion by Ross that parental behavior increases the risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

    All in all, I'm afraid this article by Ross, while well-meaning, will simply tend to perpetuate myths, speculation, and confusion about anorexia nervosa.


    1. Can you point me to studies about this:

      "The most reliable studies to date have shown that parents of kids who develop anorexia nervosa did not, on average, criticize their kids' eating patterns or bodies any more or less than parents in the general population. If, as claimed by Ross, parental criticism increases the risk of developing anorexia nervosa, one would expect the opposite to be true. These study results cast doubt on the asertion by Ross that parental behavior increases the risk of developing anorexia nervosa."

      I experienced no criticism of my body, or eating habits, when I was growing up. No one in my family or my friends, dieted, or was weight conscious, and everyone is of normal weight. Of course, I'm an n of 1, which means nothing, but that experience has made me interested in the statistics of body criticism/dieting, etc.. with EDs. Though I'd hypothesize there's a link (in that, more people diet, so a higher %age of people with a predisposition, might fall into the disorder, if that makes sense).

  5. I agree with you, Chris, that the famous "Fiji study" is flawed in many ways. I actually never understood why it was so famous or so highly regarded, as it seems to display such poor research methods and the conclusions drawn are borderline absurd. I didn't realize this until I went and actually READ the original paper. Sad it is so often mentioned as support that culture "causes" or even just "contributes" to eating disorders because there is no way the data points to that at all.

  6. Chris, thank you.

    One of the reasons why I have argued that the axiomatic link between culture and AN is erroneous is because it leads to dangerous solutions; e.g. 'if we can change culture we can prevent AN' - and worse still, AN is not always treated seriously by health insurers or the NHS because it is viewed as a reaction to culture, or even some sort of choice.

  7. I wonder if people want to blame culture or society because it seems like it is easier to fix? Maybe, it seems, if we blame society and culture, it is easier to understand, in a way, and maybe, easier to fix? Maybe some people think that? That it is harder to fix if it is genes. What can we do about that?! Nothing, it seems. Of course that's not true. And I guess I forget that maybe some people think that our brains are static? Our thought patterns can't change? I don't know, it is hard for me to step out and forget what I was like prior to my degree, of course. I just think I take too many things for granted now. Our brains are pretty malleable and flexible. We can change things. We might not be able to changes genes or early development, but, our serotonergic, dopaminergic systems: they are not static. They change, in response to stress, hormones, environment, nutrition, etc.. Do you think that people who are very attached to the idea that environment is much more important, or much more causative, are afraid of saying genes and neurobiology is important because it makes it seem like it is unchangeable?

    But, that is why I like the harm reduction philosophy, actually. I need to accept that my desire to look emaciated might never go away, it might, but it might not. Or my desire to eat and puke as a way of dealing with things, because purging is somehow relaxing. But it is not a viable way of getting through life and doing all the other things I want to do, so I need to fight it. All the freaking time.

    I guess I have a problem, coming from a genetics/neuroscience background, in that I take it for granted, that yeah, of course, high heritability doesn't mean genetic determinism!! Duh. I am starting to realize it is not "Duh" to other people. Some people think highly heritable means impossible to change. And, I can see why, but that's not true. I think that's my personal problem of just specializing in this area, and kind of forgetting what non-specialists think and how they interpret commonly used words that mean different things to specialists. (Not that I'm a specialist in these things, ha!)

  8. Tetyana, you've nailed it, I believe. It is not "duh" to most people. Most people don't believe a thought or behavior can be a sign of brain function, and - oddly enough - they think that everything involved with brain function is fixed. Heritable sounds permanent to them, which of course it is not.

    Tetyana, I would assume that your desire to look emaciated and compulsion to eat and puke are biological in nature, for example, and that with 6-12 months of normalized nutrition, weight, and behaviors your brain would be operating very differently - including the desires and compulsions.

  9. With regard to you second paragraph, I'm not sure. My most functional and most mentally recovered time, when I was eating 3 meals a day, snacks, not binging and purging, was when I was underweight. Even prolonged times at normal weight, whether the result of normal eating or bulimia (which always makes me gain weight), I'd relapse into restriction because it seems like my "natural" state. It doesn't lead to fat-phobia, or desire to keep losing weight, for example, not anymore. I'd like to think I can handle normalized weight, but, in the last 9 years, it is always been due to bulimia, or led to bulimia and then restriction. I've had 6+ month or normal eating, and weight, and it got progressively worse, not better, for me. I've found a stable point for me, which is not my 'optimal' menstruating weight, but it is a weight and calorie intake where I don't feel hungry, I eat how much I want and what I want (yes, that's not as much as I should, of course, but I don't feel restricted), I don't obsess over calories, or my weight, nor do I want to lose weight.

    I'm definitely not recovered, just very functional. I don't want people to think I'm recovered, either. I'm not. I don't want to be a role model for how people can be functional and have an ED, too. That's not the way to go if you can avoid it. I'd rather be at a suboptimal weight and not eating as much as I should, but be much more functional, much happier, much less ED-related thoughts, than at an optimal weight, where all I could (and really can) think about, is bulimic and anorexic behaviours. My bulimic compulsions are ridiculously high at normal weight, and almost non-existent at a somewhat suboptimal weight, as is my desire to restrict. My desire to look thinner is the worst at higher weight. It is almost unbearable, but at lower weights, not so much. I don't want to look even thinner, at all. This wasn't the case when I first got sick (when I had no body image issues or desire to lose weight, really, and when I got thinner, felt "fatter" and wanted to lose even MORE weight.) When I am at a suboptimal weight, lately, as an adult, I feel fine: I don't want to lose more weight, at all. I'm not nearly as obsessed with it all as I am now, at a bulimia induced "normal" weight. That's just me. I don't want to sort of defend my personal goals, in terms of minimizing the ED-thoughts. I don't want to be apologetic about it. You know? I don't really want to speak about recovery on the blog because I realize most people don't want to hear about "living with" an ED. They want to be recovered and free of it. I am tired of defending why calorie counting is not obsessive or compulsive for me: it helps me know I'm eating enough, because over long periods of time, if I don't do it, I don't stabilize and eat normally, I still end up falling into eating less and less, because I just don't want to eat. My experience with the ED, where I am now symptom-wise, and recovery-wise, is so, so, so, different than what it was when I first got sick. Then, the thinner I got, the fatter I felt and the more I wanted to lose. Now, it is not like that at all. Meh, I don't know. I'd rather write about science and peer-reviewed papers, than talk about my own experiences and recovery. I get very defensive and knee-jerky when I feel people try to push their concept and idea of recovery on me. It is frustrating. I'd rather defend the science than defend my choices and ways of going about minimizing this crazy ED-ridden state.

  10. Tetyana, you have nothing to defend or to explain. It worries ME to engage someone about science when I feel all energy should be going toward recovery - I worry that it is enabling to distract or look away from anything but the most important thing: full recovery.

    Just reading your description of they cycle you experience my thinking is that you are managing your eating and behaviors in a sustainable way that keeps you from facing and treating your overall mental health. Finding that spot at which you're not getting worse but not actually experiencing and treating the enormous anxiety and lability of "normal" isn't the same as managing. I don't know that I'd call that harm reduction, either. I don't feel right about discussing science and not using it.

  11. Laura, I understand your perspective. And maybe when I'm doing more things I like and less things I detest, it will be easier to maintain recovery and a healthy weight. I don't doubt that.

    One unintended consequence of starting the blog, is that it is really helpful in recovery. I feel like people appreciate it, which is really really cool and it keeps me busy doing things I like, which means less time being symptomatic.

    The circumstances in my life right now make recovery somewhat difficult, so, I'm doing the best I can.

    But, the most important thing I want to get across: I am interested in science education and science literacy. Not really eating disorder advocacy, or education, as much as just science education. The only reason I picked to write and focus on EDs is because I thought it would be a nice niche area, that I haven't seen blogs that focus on it the way there are blogs that focus on like PTSD (same type of thing, writing about peer-review literature). I just wanted to write about science papers. I picked EDs simply because I thought it was somewhat unique, and in the area I feel comfortable doing. It is also a nice break for me, because the work I do in the lab, is much more genetics-focused and developmental biology, even, focused. So I get variety in the papers I read.

    I would love to write about other things, but I don't feel like I have sufficient background (my main interests are really invertebrate sensory systems). So, finding myself in the online-ED world is odd. To be honest, I've never heard of this blog, or Carrie's blog, or Carrie herself, until Saren mentioned it to me. I have never been to an ED conference or anything, but I've been to a science and scepticism conference, and plan to go to more.

    I'm a scientist, and really, a skeptic first. My primary goal is science literacy and science education. Picking apart bad science, bad methodology, thinking about the mechanisms, neural circuits, whether something can stand up to the evidence. That's stuff that interests me. I picked EDs because my background in undergrad is more in human/mammalian neuroscience, though my current interests aren't. That's all.

    The blog is not enabling, it is the opposite. I found focusing too much on recovery made it worse. Some focus is necessary, but, the best thing for me, has always been doing more of things I like, and that's science writing, science education, editing, science outreach, etc..

    I do basic science and I like basic science, that's kind of why I thought the addition of Saren to the blog would be nice, cause she has more clinical interests. I don't, really. I realize that's what most people are interested in, because that's what is important for recovery. But, I just like science. Basic science for curiosity's sake. Like I said, I picked ED's because of the niche area and background. And yeah, it happens that I have one. But, I am skeptic and scientist (at least scientist at heart) first, someone with an ED, second. You know what I mean?

    To me, full recovery just isn't the most important thing in life. I don't know, it just isn't. Minimizing the ED so that I do all the things I want to do in life, that's more important to me.

  12. If I spent all of my energy focusing on recovery, I'd get nowhere. I've come this far in recovery ONLY BECAUSE I have many other things in my life outside of my eating disorder. I get fulfilment and a sense of being appreciated and valued, for those other things. If I had a "team", and been in treatment, and was behind in school, it would, for ME, make recovery much harder. It is easier for me to recover when I feel better. And I feel better when my data looks good, experiments work, people appreciate my writing for all the various things I write for, tutoring that I do, etc..

    If I focused 100% on recovery, I'd be even sicker. One cannot generalized their experience as a parent with someone who had an ED to everyone else. That's why blogging to me about my personal ED is boring. It is just like everyone else's. I just like science. I can just as easily blog about work I do in the lab, which is studying neuronal development and polarity in a nematode. I can dissect those papers, or the workings of an NMDA channel, but I already do that, in journal club and in class. This is something different. I wish to disconnect my blog from my recovery. My recovery is personal, it is between me and those around me. My blog is more about me as a scientist and skeptic. I don't have an ED-related tattoo, but I do have a science-related tattoo.


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