The unicorns are growing up!

So I've been 'at this' for over ten years and that means I've seen countless families face eating disorders and then move on. I now hear from the parents and the children, now adults, of those families and I'm struck by the fact that these kids would still be ill or dead had their parents listened to the popular wisdom at the time. There is a new generation of recovered people and they are different than the recovered people of the past. The narrative of recovery is shifting from tales of victims to stories of family courage and professional skill.

As I get graduation pictures, wedding pictures, and baby pictures I also get Masters' theses and manuscripts: these young people are living rich real lives. I'm hearing insights and witnessing action by a cohort of people who in an earlier era would have been expected to languish in illness and misery. Why? A different professional stance toward family and the biological nature of mental illness.

More and more patients are like my daughter who is now an independent and healthy adult (and one of my closest friends) because of the work of eating disorder professionals who empowered her father and I instead of telling us to let her figure it out on her own. I'm seeing a cohort of young adults who are pursuing or enjoying careers that have nothing to do with eating disorders. I'm witnessing young parents who are lovingly connected with their own parents. There are siblings who have aunts and uncles who are fully engaged and grandparents not consumed with worry for their children's children.

Instead of counting the cum lauds, I hear from parents whose deepest pride is for loved ones who passed on the highest honors to take time for music, or travel, or fun. Moms and dads are telling me anecdotes about family trips and kindness to great-grandma and moving in to the house down the street. In other words, these families are enjoying the benefits of mental health.

People didn't believe in these unicorns 20 years ago -- an eating disorder diagnosis was a shameful mark and there was little hope of normal life. Some people still don't believe that early intervention and parent involvement matter -- they continue to believe an eating disorder is evidence of deep damage and lifelong struggle. Soon, these pessimists will be rare and mythical.

Thank you, Eleanor, for your message last night that reminded me. There's a herd of unicorns gathering and you are so gorgeous!


  1. My daughter just told me about her bulimic behavior that has been going on for about 4 years that I knew nothing about. I feel like such a fool and idiot. The guilt is overwhelming.

    I have been scrambling around the internet shocked and dismayed at the sub-culture on tumblr.

    Your confident optimism is the first ray of hope I have seen, the first voice of parents that I have found so far.

    Really? Recovery is possible? Even when she says that she is "on the same side" as the disease (which she personifies as a 'prasite')? Last night she wrote "But you guys REALLY have to understand that I'm not ready to recover and I won't. Not yet. It's not going to happen. Right now, 'we' are on the same side. And that's not changing."

    I read the article you linked to and, maybe it's just my fear and anxiety, but I see early intervention and family therapy (and Australia). I am in LA, a single father with sole custody, brought up my daughter since she was 8. She is 19 now, just wrapped up a pretty disastrous first year in college and currently overseas at a family wedding. She confessed to my sister after I asked my sister to dig because I started suspecting it a few days ago.

    It seems like things are more solidified. She has one of those secret tumblr blogs that I am trying to find out about.

    Sorry, I am rambling. But, really, is recovery actually possible?

  2. Jay, I am both sorry and overjoyed you found us! Sorry you are facing this but glad you have stmbled on the growing community of pArents who not only bieve in full fecovery we see parents as the difference.

    Stroll over to FEAST at and join us!

  3. Jay

    As the mother of a recovered daughter, my answer is yes yes yes, there is hope and help. Come and join us on the Around the Dinner Table forum, a community of hopeful, helpful Mums and Dads. My welcome message is always Welcome to the forum. Sorry you had to find us but welcome.

    Secrecy is more often than not part of the disorder and you are certainly not alone in the initial foolish idiot thing - me too! However, with help, support, information and empowerment, recovery is possible. It happens all over the world, all the time. I am in the UK but I know a great team in San Fransisco!

    Yes, recovery is possible. I have seen it with my own eyes and witness it every single day.


  4. Thank you Laura for posting this and thank you Eleanor for posting your comment!

  5. Laura, I loved your words and hope they give me. My 16-year old daughter is suffering from anorexia having been hospitalized last fall, in intensive outpatient therapy through Dec'11 and now seeing outpatient therapist/nutritionist team. The team has advocated (and tried to help implement) what they call "intuitive" eating with my daughter; however, she continues to lose weight and we, her parents, are told not to get involved with her eating in this process. It just feels wrong not to help our daughter through this process of choosing the right foods, etc. What do you suggest?

  6. Cathy, I would say that you should ask your treatment providers what evidence they have that an intuitive eating approach has efficacy for anorexia, except I know the answer: none.

    I think you need AND DESERVE an evaluation at an evidence-based clinic using modern treatment methods. Intuitive Eating is a lovely concept - I use it myself, but I don't have a mental illness driving my behaviors. It is not a treatment approach for anorexia, a potentially deadly mental illness with a 10% mortality rate.

    I don't know if your team is advocating IE because they don't know or they can't do other approaches but YOU deserve to know the range of approaches. Feel free to contact me by email and I highly recommend getting on the site where other families understand and can share their experience.

    Your daughter can recover, but not while losing weight - and not without you.


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