20/20 vision - into the past

My husband and I watched the segment on 20/20 last night about adult anorexia with dismay and disappointment.

In 2008 to spend 3.5 minutes on national TV discussing eating disorders without mentioning genetics, neurobiology, and the physiology of malnutrition is unconscionable. This family’s story was used to perpetuate antiquated -- and damaging -- ideas about the illness and to serve as a free advertisement for a specific treatment clinic.

Ms. Harootunian is made to look like a victim of society, her husband, and her parents. 20 years of malnutrition are considered stabilized in nine days of re-feeding -- enough to begin the psychotherapy that is the real reason for her recovery. From malnutrition to full meals appears, on TV, deceptively simple. The overall impression: that this patient needed to find her "voice" in order to recover.

Shame on ABC for creating a “news” item with content that belongs more in the 1970s than 2008.


  1. This was a hideous and foul production; a level of shallowness staggering even by the lowest of standards.

    No doubt parents and families all over the country watched this manipulative tripe and took hope that all they needed to do was send their loved one to a specialist where they would find their "voice" and uncover hidden "issues".

    I'm furious about this. But, as angry as I am at the producers at 20/20, I really can't blame them. Their job is to get ratings so they can sell advertising. That's it. That's how they earn their salaries and drive stock price.

    What I am only now beginning to get angry about is the lack of effort in the scientific community at popularizing their findings on ED. Perhaps it's too much to ask them to do science and be activists as well, it probably is, but it grates nonetheless.

  2. I feel your pain, Irascible.

    My sense of the clinicians is that they would tell the full story if they could, but no one is listening.

    I think it is up to us, the parents and caregivers, to become activists against the misinformation out there.

  3. Exactly why we fended off some media inquiries, Laura. We wuz right.

    I agree with both irascible and you. That's a big reason why maudsleyparents.org is so important--to disseminate the information the clinicians can't or won't or don't know how.

  4. I saw the piece too, and I had much the same reaction. I think I'm going to write 20/20 and give them an alternative view. It *might* hold a little more weight (ha ha) that I was there for 2 months back in 2001.

    It might not, but hey.


  5. I have suffered from Anorexia Nervosa (in varying degrees of severity) for more than 25 years, and let me tell you I HAVE found my voice and I've spent YEARS in various therapists office learning how to use that voice and identify the "issues" et al. Guess what? I'm still Anorexic. All the talking and "voice" in the world hasn't made a bit of difference to that fact. Ahhh if only it really were that easy. *rolls eyes*

  6. This is the problem with programmes about AN - because it is such a 'visible' illness, it offers such an easy way of showing a 'happy ending'. Ie, severely underweight and ill patient enters a treatment centre and - wahey! - a few months later is at a normal weight, has had some therapy to work through 'issues' and is 'recovered'. What a satisfying ending to such a tragedy! The patient is magically cured and everyone watching goes to bed satisfied.

    If only it were that easy.

    There are rarely programmes like this which focus on bulimia, possibly for this reason. Less 'customer satisfaction' after watching a programme where there really is no drastic visible improvement...

  7. That is what is really disgusting about most people's views of AN...

    When one appears so desperately sick, it is so easy to justify that the illness is serious. However, once nearing or at a normal weight, it is difficult to see that the individual is NOT 100%healthy.

    Weight gain is such a simply straightforward part of recovery. Eat eat eat.

    Maintaining the change so ED symptoms are not an option in terms of coping with stress or relieving anxiety is much more difficult.

    This program obviously just reinforced the belief that to have AN, you must be emaciated.

    This also bugs me because it is in the current DSM critiera. Am I any less sick at 86% of my normal body weight than 84%?


  8. Ms. Harootunian's case actually seems to support basic principles of Maudsley treatment. According to the ABC News website linked to Laura's article, Ms. Harootunian was only 67% of ideal weight when she entered Renfrew in the summer of 2006. At Renfrew she gained 25 pounds and when ABC News "caught up with her" a year later, she had gained 40 pounds and was a "healthy" 120. Sounds like the restoration of nutrition and maintenance of a health weight for about a year repaired much of the damage to her body, including her brain. That's what the Maudsley theorists expect would happen. On the other hand, how do ABC News and Renfrew know that it was the "demon-based therapy" at Renfrew and not the long-term nutritional rehabilitation that caused the recovery? Personally, I think the former is more likely than the latter, for the reasons explained by some of the world's leading researchers and that the readers of this blog are very familiar with. And to blame the husband, father, and society for Ms. Harootunian's "demons" will only cause lasting damage to not only Ms. Harootunian but also to her whole family, including their poor kids. After all, how would you feel as a kid if people who claim to be experts said that your dad's inattentiveness to your mom's needs is what caused her to suffer a life-threatening medical condition? I really feel sorry for the whole family for how they have been exploited.
    a concerned dad


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