Number One Reason for Developing an Eating Disorder

What, I wonder, is the best way to deal with public statements that blame parents for eating disorders?


I look forward to your comments.

Number One Reason for Developing an Eating Disorder

"Early in their lives, people with eating disorders have experienced, on a sustained basis, relentless boundary invasion on every level."


  1. Lately I have been encouraged to see so many good informative articles about eating disorders. THEN, I read this garbage! I couldn't even finish reading it- I was getting too mad!! It is full of blame and inaccurate info. Perhaps the author needs to be educated. It's like she is stuck in a time warp and isn't aware of any of the current research and developments in treatment of ed's.

  2. Part of the miracle that helped us get our son the help he needed, was our neighbor - a Ph.D. down the street specializing in eating disorders and working at a local eating disorder clinic. In follow-up conversations once my son was recovering, I was horrified to find out that our neighbor had never heard of Maudsley or the current research supporting it. He explained to me that psychologist/therapist etc. graduate from their doctorate programs with only very general knowledge. He said that specialization happens away from academia and through internships, mentors, jobs etc. He said they are slow to get current information in the field and slow to adopt it because it really is the older generation teaching the younger generation of therapists away from academic research. Thus, you have a field that changes very slowly.

    He has enjoyed hearing about our experiences and is now more open to the methods we've used. He primarily works with adults and he said that also could affect what information to which he tends to pay attention.

    I think we have a long way to go in educating the upcoming, current, and aging group of psychologists. I no longer view them as having superior knowledge to mine, but rather see them as having limited knowledge which is just a result of who taught them what.

    Maybe I'll become a therapist myself someday. It breaks my heart to see blame perpetuated. I want to make a difference and sometimes I think that may be the only way.

  3. I f'ing can't believe this. We have so much work to do...

  4. I could barely read that blog either. I am composing a reply, but first am going to a bakery with my D (who is recovering from an ED) and her friend! My D will testify to anyone who will listen that she had an ideal childhood. Grrrr.

    Laura, I think we need to respond and protest!

  5. De-lurk here. Hello!

    I don't know how to put it. Maybe: Whoah, that was heavy! I felt like someone was punching me in the stomach with every sentence that I read, and I have to admit I was so disturbed by it to feel the urge to comment – and believe, I almost never sound as furious as this.

    Way to blame not only the parents, but also the sufferers themselves! I mean, boundary invasion on parts of my mother, I could sing a song or two about that, but my siblings never developed an ED, they're not overly anxious or suffering from recurring depression or any of that stuff, and I feel really, truly enraged that all this gets blamed on a few choices in parenting style when there is so much research to back up that the sources lie mainly outside anyone's sphere of influence.

    Thanks for putting the record straight and not leaving me with stuff like that as the only resources available.

  6. Oh boy did I have to comment on this article. It provoked me to comment, but also make me drop my jaw and the be amazed how some people think. I guess I have been reading evidence based scientific articles and not the self proclaimer ones. Thank you Laura for enlightening us on what is out there.

  7. Laura--horrible, horrible, horrible, was my initial reaction. So bad, that I almost didn't post a response. I guess, there have been enough times that engaging has led to at least a tempering of the "bad parent" message that I still give it a try. I think silence is the worst.To ignore this kind of mis-information makes me feel as if I am condoning the behavior-like not speaking up if someone makes a blatantly racist or sexist joke.

    But sometimes it is just so tiring and discouraging--thank God we have you.


  8. And the sad part is...she's a 'professional'...her opinion impacts the people that she treats. If this woman were just a stupid neighbor or an ignorant co-worker, big deal. It breaks my heart that not only does she damage the clients she's trying to help, but the internet gives her access to the rest of the world (where my stupid neighbor and ignorant co-worker can pick it up and say, "A-ha! See? What did I tell you?"

  9. I found the article to be shallow, opinionated and lacking critical thinking. There were no references cited which weakens the validity of her case.

    Patients will tell a therapist what they want to hear. It's also common for people to have "false memories"of bygone incidents and replace information with ideas that are more appealing or fit with their beliefs (either intentionally or unintentionally).

    I noticed Joanna failed to engage, respond or even answer every comment (Cheforexic).

    So in answer to your question. I think it's important to engage, if only to bring a different perspective to the author and hopefully clarity to her thinking.

  10. Hopefully the author has been enlightened by the comments made in response to her article. It may be that she is jaded by her experiences with adult sufferers coming to her with their "reasons for being sick" already set in stone. I do think we ought to expect the well person to lead the sick one, not the other way around. Questions about boundaries are leading.
    I know of parents who have lost communication with their adult children with the "help" of bad medicine. It wasn't hard to convince them that their parents were controlling and the cause of all their problems. Yes, damage is being done in some places and they need to be held accountable.
    I believe a good T will help dissolve or resolve the past issue, if any, so a person can learn to move forward with all the baggage dumped....or at least their excuses for being well. A better T will make sure that eating and restoring health comes first.
    I do think that it helps to have a loving family if this disease happens to strike. There is strength from a sure, strong, and loving support. If a person was unfortunate enough to be beaten down or abused along the way, and at risk for an ED,it makes for a much harder fight and this is sad. We all need to be of the same mindset...recovery the goal for everyone we can help.

  11. When someone generalizes about ED with such a blanket statement, I tend to proceed with caution. (did I just make a blanket statment about blanket statments?!;)

    What I've come to know thus far is that many people with eating disorders have indeed had this 'total boundary invasion' that is mentioned in Joanna's blog. It is severely traumatizing and devastating and very real. And it can feel like the cause of the eating disorder to the patient, because that's truly their experience. I don't deny anyone their experience, even if/when can't personally relate to it. What I can help them to see is that without nutrition, we can't work through their experience(s) that, in their eyes, "Caused their ED".
    I never had total boundary invasion (--thank God), so I can say that I'm at least one exception to the blanket statement of "Number One Cause of ED". Sure, I see clearly the reasons I began my eating disorder, and some of those reasons were d/t the cliché 'control/boundary' issues, etc.; but my official eating disorder didn't begin until after I made the decision to skip a meal. Shortly thereafter my brain chemistry, being denied the chance to function from lack of nutrition, went by the wayside and I was then anorexic. Up until that point of my brain shifting, I consider myself to have been in the phase of 'exhibiting signs and symptoms of ED'...the precursory time period prior to the bastard taking over my brain/body/life. ~ The psychological, spiritual, emotional, relational, etc., components of my life that led to my eating disorder developing were no doubt just as necessary to deal with in my recovery journey as the nutrition components of my eating disorder. However, I know now that no matter the causes that led to my behaviors that resulted in an eating disorder, without nutritional rehabilitation first and consistent, I would not have recovered in all areas. In fact, because I failed to have nutritional rehabilitation for so long, I stayed stuck in my recovery/relapse hell for way too many years.
    We cannot yet say that there is a number one cause of eating disorders; we can't even say that about 'genetics'. Putting eating disorder sufferers in a box of number one cause does a disservice to the patient, and to those caring for them. Doing the same to parents, putting them in a box, also does a disservice to everyone involved. We cannot forget that everyone who suffers from ED is a unique individual and we cannot forget that every family affected by ED is a unique family. We cannot say that every sufferer's ED was not caused by their parents. We cannot say that every suffer's ED was caused by their parents. Even though everyone with ED needs nutrition to recover, we can't offer only one meal must be uniquely tailored to that individual (on many levels)...
    This discussion is one example of why the FREED Act is so important to pass! With the FREED Act we will have the capabilities to do more comprehensive research on Eating Disorders, and hopefully bridge the archaic gap between sufferers, treatment providers, and those we blame for being the number one cause (typically parents/the family).

    I think Joanna P. was coming from the best place she knew from where to come given her experiences of Eating Disorders, which appear very real and valuable. However, I think she might have shared her experiences with a broader more inclusive approach, and that might have caused less stress on her readers.

  12. This is unbelievable... but thanks for sharing this with us. Definitely looking forward to more of your insights and resources.

  13. Boundaries are a necessity for everyone. Unfortunately our society and governments are the worst offenders of boundary invasion. So if we are looking towards role models who do we watch?
    Boundaries to a developing child (anyone from 0 to 18yrs) provide safety and security. They help establish cultural expectations around acceptable behavior. Venturing beyond them will prompt the authoritative parent (or authoritarian government) to step in and redirect. To the developing child, 20% of the time, the boundaries and accompanying rules may feel like a violation of their emerging autonomy.
    For some ED patients true violation of boundaries may have occurred, an unfortunate and sad reflection of inadequate support for those most vulnerable.
    "Boundary invasion" is a simplistic and inadequate explanation for the metabolic disturbance seen in ED.

    I wonder if Joanna's biased beliefs may be influencing the stories she hears from her clients?

  14. Good grief! Even Freud pointed out that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    (I've not even yet read the comments on her page, or the ones above, for that matter.)

    I can only guess at how very victimized her long-tern clients must be by now. That was appalling.


  15. While there are parents out there that do care. That are in no way responsible for their children's eating disorder... there are parents that were a large contributing factor to their child's development of one.

    My parents were certainly the largest contributing factor to mine.

    The reason I like your blog is because it has shown to me that some parents do care about their children enough to want them to get help for their eating disorders...

    My mother used to call me a fat ass day after day, among other actions and words.

    When she found out I was abusing diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives... she didn't get me help - she asked me if they worked and started taking laxatives herself. She was and is still overweight.

    It is because the stories of girls like myself are more interesting (thus more publicized) than girls not in this pattern that this belief that parents violating boundaries is what people assume is the number one cause of eating disorders...

    I myself don't think it is the number one cause.. I think it's the catalyst... I think it's what sets off the course... for quite a few girls... myself included.

    I actually think, based on some girls I've been in treatment with, that we're all searching for something(s), but since we don't know what/where they are it leaves us lost.

  16. It's been quite a week over this issue...

    Thank you to all who have commented and joined in the conversation all over the Internet.

    My blog post today gives an update and some thoughts.

  17. I could not access the article but will continue to attempt to do so.

    I do think that peoples response to Joanne, who is obviously well meaning and respectful in her responses, is defensive and at times almost bullying.

    I would agree that it is wrong to generalise in such a way but as someone who is working with ED's she will have access to a lot of experiences that most of us would not have. She at least deserves to be respectfully heard.

    I for one did suffer such boundary invasions. I do not blame them as a definate cause for my ED but can unequivocally say that my ED improved enormously after addressing just this factor.

  18. I agree that some of the responses to Poppink were intemperate and unhelpful. They were based in a pain that I understand, though. I don't know how to adequately explain the dismay of being wrongly blamed for your loved one's potentially fatal illness. It is not something I wish on anyone. It is not something that should be done lightly, either.


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