Yep, dysfunctional families ARE dysfunctional

"If parents of an ED patient are dysfunctional then that must be part of the reason for the illness."

No, sometimes parents are dysfunctional and their kid develops an eating disorder. And that REALLY sucks for all of them. Parents who are bad at parenting, mentally ill themselves, or genuinely bad people aren't as likely to be great caregivers. This should surprise no one.

Yet somehow this has gotten tied up with the idea of cause and meant that all the perfectly average and even stellar parents live under a cloud of suspicion. There is a dogged conviction that the majority of ED families are dysfunctional when that is clearly the exception. People cling to these ideas with an evangelism that is frightening, as if questioning it means one is condoning abuse and the torture of kittens.

If you suck, then cause is assumed and let the games begin. And if you seem normal? There's an answer: you're TOO perfect or we need time to figure out what you did to "contribute to" your child's life-altering deadly disorder.

Don't kids need good parenting ANYWAY?

Sucky parents aren't good for anyone. And even great parents need all they've got to respond well to this crisis.


  1. do you believe that nature is the cause of all eating issues -- anorexia, bulimia, compulsive eating? or just anorexia?

    i ate to soothe. and ate and ate. after much misery as an obese child, i starved to lose weight and kept starving. then i started bingeing and purging.

    it never felt anything but psychologically based to me. but then again, i did become a drug addict and alcoholic, so maybe it was biology.

  2. I don't think it is as straightforward as that, myself. I think we are all wired to have a range of ability at regulating food and emotion and it involves complex interactions between our wiring and experience. To me, "psychological" is more than just experience: sometimes our thoughts come from the way we're wired to respond to certain situations. Dieting and binging have different effects on different people and for some people they seem to be wired to start thinking and acting in a certain way when they diet (or take drugs, or drink).

    No two people have the same biology but there are distinct patterns in how some people fall into an eating disorder and we know that has a lot to do with brain function. Just as a depressed person isn't choosing to think negative thoughts and lose interest in life, someone with an eating disorder isn't choosing to struggle to eat enough and feel satisfied with enough.

    The key here is that the current thinking is that eating disorders are not simply a series of choices and experiences. They are distinct brain disorders. What this means in practice is that we need to stop blaming people for choosing their disorders, stop finding blame period. We need to understand how difficult but TREATABLE these disorders are and get people appropriate treatment.


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