flies in the web

I have about 30 blog posts in my 'draft' file that I want to finish - so much wonderful research and thinking going on out there. But frankly, it would be weird NOT to post about some online stuff that has been going on this week.

I can't really do the issues justice by running down all the twists and turns of it in a one-sided post. A lot of things have been said this week online that I'd love to have the satisfaction of an open discussion about, but I'm pretty sure that isn't going to happen. There seem to be some blind spots - either mine or in others - that make real conversation impossible. A lot of apple vs. orange stuff, a lot of vocabulary issues of all sorts. And a few bullies.

The arguments in the eating disorder world about cause and treatment remind me so much of other social movements I've seen personally. Racial equality, for example.

I'll illustrate with an anecdote. I was once at an elegant dinner party with new acquaintances - I had recently been elected to the board of a religious organization with the husband. Sometime between appetizers and the main course the host complimented his gardener by noting that he was the rare exception of an intelligent person of that 'race.' Eyebrows were raised, and an explanation ensued, referring to the Bell Curve theory of race and intelligence.

The others in the room began a lively discussion of the issue in a jovial and intellectual banter. My husband was silent. I was dumbfounded. As it became clear that the host was not joking and the other guests found this conversation stimulating and not stomach-turning I rose and said to my husband that I was ready to go home, and we did, without another word.

Turns out the host and his wife and the rest of that organization thought I was "oversensitive" and had been rude to leave. I was asked to apologize to the host. Why didn't I want to debate this issue? Was it because I am of mixed race? Was I calling my host a racist?

Look: someone has to stand up. Some things are simply unacceptable. It is not closed-minded to say that some ideas simply don't have merit and are harmful. It is not insulting someone to tell them they're wrong and they've hurt me. The affront is not coming from the one who says "stop."

I'm not sure why it is still unacceptable to say "Parents Don't Cause Eating Disorders." That argument is done. If the head of the NIMH, the APA, NEDA, NICE, and B-eat can say it, it is time to move on. We shouldn't have to keep re-establishing this, or be considered "extreme" or "black and white thinkers" or "attacking therapists" or "judgemental." Saying parents don't cause eating disorders doesn't mean I have an "agenda" or that I'm just self-serving. Saying this doesn't have anything to do with Maudsley, or feminism or any of our favorite causes. It doesn't have anything to do with me, personally, or people who I associate with.

It is time to move on to loving and protecting and effectively treating eating disorders. It is time to stand up from polite dinner tables (and online forums) and let the burden of proof be on those who still believe these things, and let us associate with those who help and not harm. Good intentions are not enough when the consequences are so very dire.

Real change will come when the people standing up from that table are not just those personally affected. Some day the only one still sitting will be the one called to account.


  1. I spoke about your blog with a friend of mine that also has an eating disorder.

    She brought up a point I think you might find interesting, if you have not already pondered it.

    If it is parents, bad parenting, and no boundaries that cause eating disorders then why don't more people that have horrible childhoods develop an eating disorder?

    It's because eating disorders are more than just a coping mechanism, people that develop them are predisposed since they're genetic and a mental illness.

    On the diet thing my friend Sharon Hodgson (founder of a post-pro ana forum We Bite Back) brought up the fact that people that go on diets, no matter how sever, wouldn't cut themselves or absolutely loathe themselves for not following it 100%.

    I think those that have been immediately impacted by an eating disorder - whether it's ourselves or someone close to us - can see the difference. Those that don't understand what it does to your frame of mind.. could not possibly... because it skews it so incredibly, almost unimagineably.

  2. "In 1974 a small group of parents became the first in the nation to publicly refuse blame for causing their children to have schizophrenia. They formed Parents of Adult Schizophrenics and their activism led to parents around the nation demanding changes in how the disease is understood and treated....[T]hese families launched one of the fastest growing grassroots movements the nation had seen to date, ushering in an era of dramatic advances in understanding, treatment and brain research." Said the founder of Parents of Adult Schizophrenics, Eve Oliphant, in a 1977 speech to the World Congress of Psychiatry, "We failed to understand why parents of a child with leukemia were treated with sympathy and understanding, while parents of a child with schizophrenia were treated with scorn and condemnation." These quotes are from a film documentary, When Medicine Got it Wrong, that was shown recently on PBS stations around the country.

  3. Laura,
    Way to stand up for what is right! The ignorance of the people must be so frustrating.
    With eating disorders, your public stance is noticed and is making a difference. Thanks again for helping all of us parents stand up for what is right and works for our children.

  4. Yes, Kat, I believe that is the theory that is bearing the most fruit right now. Some people are genetically predisposed to develop this particular mental illness when malnourished.

    Anonymous, thank you for the reminder of why this is important and why we're going to keep on fighting!

    And Anonymous (2), I'm glad you think so. We'll have to work on some other people!!

  5. I'm all for taking blame off parents, but honestly I think it's kind of offensive to compare the eating disorder cause argument to racism. They're not nearly the same thing. One is thousands of years of horrific oppression, the other is a half century of people who genuinely care about the patients just trying to find out what happened.

    I do think that often the answer is as simple as a genetic predisposition and a trigger, but I also think the cause of eating disorders is often not as simple as people would like it to be. Not everyone with a genetic predisposition to EDs and exposure to triggers gets an ED -- look at identical twins.

    I think you're doing a great thing. More people absolutely need to learn about the genetic basis of EDs, and I definitely think that is the most important thing to focus on when it comes to causes. I just hope that more information won't be missed because people are happy to stop at the "eating disorders are purely genetic" view.

  6. Laura, your bravery amazes me. I am so inspired by your hard work and selfless willingness to be the name and face of families suffering with eating disorders. Keep fighting the good fight!

  7. I'm the anonymous who posted above Erica and I thought I'd clarify a few things. I shouldn't have said it was offensive to compare the two. I had seen a bunch of racist stuff that made me feel really sick and I didn't think eating disorder causes and racism were the same at all, but I also don't think there was anything offensive at all about your sentiment, so I'm sorry for saying that. (Too bad I don't have an edit button, eh?)


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