your grandparents make you sick

In case you grow weary of blaming yourself and your child for his or her eating disorder, here's a fresh target:

OK, a review: self-reported familial problems are a common symptom, not necessarily a cause of mental illness. Mental illness, being genetically-transmitted, runs in families and therefore a family with an ill child would naturally have relatives with similar illness. Give grandma a break.


  1. Yeah, Laura, but you've never met *my* grandmother! :)

    No, the only family influence for my eating disorder that I've really found is genetics. So in that case, granny ain't off the hook yet!

  2. I just finished reading the full text of this study and must say it is extremely weak. The researchers gave self-report questionnaires to a very small number of anorexia patients in two hospitals asking them, and their parents, to rate eating disorder symptoms and parenting styles using very controversial, arbitrary numerical ranking schemes. What they found were associations so weak that they ended up tossing out many of their preconceived hypotheses and finding extraordinarily weak associations along some criteria that, because the populations were not randomized or controlled, and were very small, have no statistical significance. Moreover, as the authors admit, they cannot say whether the patients' ratings of their parents, and the parents' ratings of THEIR parents (the grandparents of the patients) reflect actual, rather than perceived parenting styles or instead the effect of the eating disorder on perceptions. As the authors ask: Does the eating disorder bias the individual's perception of her parents, and does the disorder change the parents' behavior?
    Consequently, while the paper admits it cannot conclude parents or gradparents "cause" eating disorders, it then jumps to the recommendation that therapy for anorexia include counselling parents on issues of control, overprotection, independence, closeness, affection, and empathy in the parent-child relationship. The capstone for me was the citation of Hilda Bruch (1973) as a leading authority on anorexia. What were the editors of the Journal of Clinical Psychology thinking? Was this article actually peer reviewed?
    When my daughter was ill with anorexia and the therapist pulled out and based therapy on these ideas, my daughter's condition got no better; it got worse. Our daughter had no patience for therapy based on these outdated, empirically unsupported ideas. (They called this resistence to change.) It was not until we focused on nutrition and full weight restoration rather than a supposed family psychopathology that she was restored to health and happiness. Friends of hers with anorexia who got bogged down being treated with this Old School style are still battling anorexia years later, while our daughter is home free and living a happy life. I agree with Laura; give grandparents a break. And let's focus on evidence-based treatment and rigorous science in dealing with this dangerous illness.


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