Why it matters

Why does it matter whether or not parents cause/trigger eating disorders?

Cause leads treatment approach. Assuming parent pathology leads to marginalized, demoralized, ineffective parents - no matter how good their parenting was before. These assumptions lead to treatment that validates distorted views of family and relationships and undermines parental trust. It means ruining the confidence of good parents, and worsening relationships with poor parents. It creates lifelong sibling rifts, strains marriages, and reframes family histories.

Treatment that assumes parents are unnecessary or harmful to recovery replaces family with what? Therapy? Recovery done in isolation from people? Repeated inpatient stays? Chronic illness? I ask because I wonder what the alternative is: we don't get generally get a second family to choose from.

During the active illness, most patients believe their parents are pathological - that is a symptom of the disorder.

For the minority of parents who are indeed harmful to their children, the eating disorder is only one of the problems to address. For the majority that are not, marginalizing parents at the very time their children need them is an irreparable harm. I am saddened at how many out there are willing to take that risk.


  1. That's what I've been struggling with--and trying to mend fences with my daughter now for a long time.

    I would just love to have a conversation with to tell her all I've learned over the past few years. How I'm sorry she lost us in the process of an illness where she should have had us more. She's still a closed door. I'm trying patiently to wait until she can hear it.

    Here's my take. Even when a inpatient facility says they don't use the word 'blame', but substitutes the word 'contributes', it still feels like being blamed to me. And actions speak louder than words. When you separate an ill adolescent from her family for a prolonged period, telling the family "not to come" because it's "easier for the child", that's blame. That's exclusion.

    The litmus test: would this happen if a child had cancer, or diabetes, or autism? In these instances, a cot might even be rolled out for you to stay alongside your ill one. There'd be a Ronald McDonald House.

    As it is, you're asked to basically step aside and let others take over completely--including what feels like parenting.

    When you're desperate to get your child well, you'll do whatever it takes.

  2. I just had this conversation with my recoverying AN child. We were discussing her inpatient stay last year and how she felt about parents staying away or not allowed to visit as a " motivation" for her to eat. Eat and the patient could see her parents. I at the time, and still feel, that this was parentectomy at it's finest. Is this right? I was not included in the whole refeeding process until the last day, where I was "trained on the technique" of calorie counting" As Anne post stated, I was desperate, and wanted to do whatever it takes to make my child well. Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I of course would do it differently. Bottom line, I am in charge now and we are doing well. Just reflective and my d doesn't see it as a problem, she accepted the inpatient process.

  3. Once again, Laura, I find that your comments get to the heart of the matter and explain everything so clearly. Anyone with a mental illness needs all the support he/she can get. When mental illness severely impacts the physical health of all of its victims, as it does in eating disorders, and stunts the proper growth and development of child victims, support becomes even more important.

    You are right that "cause leads treatment approach." And assumptions that parents have caused mental illness leads to less support from parents for all the reasons you mention. Back when my child was in the depths of anorexia, I would have given anything for the evidence-based information we have now that shows how successful Maudsley and family-based-treatments are. Over a decade, the many attempts to help my daughter, most of which involved trying to "talk sense" into a mentally ill person, never brought her anywhere near physical or mental health. With Maudsley, there is a very good possibility of both.

    And for this treatment, the family must be supported and celebrated as the bringer of health to an ill person, not as the denigrated cause of the illness, an entity to be shuffled to the sidelines. ED sufferers need enormous amounts of help to get healthy, stay healthy and to learn to recognize and avoid the triggers that can cause them future relapse. Families are the ones who are there, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year. Let's do everything we can to HELP the parents, not blame them.

  4. I believe it is sad and wrong to blame parents or make them feel guilty. I also believe it is important for parents to be open to hearing it if some of their behaviours or approaches are not helpful to recovery.

  5. I completely agree. This illness requires a family to make some serious self-inventory and put everything aside that gets in the way of recovery. We have to do that with any disease diagnosis, or a grave injury - and even more so with such a serious crisis as an eating disorder.

  6. For a very fair and full comment on this see the following link:

    See page 135 for a brief look or read the whole ED section.

    There are a lot of triggers for ED's but the important thing is that the ED sufferer gets the help and support that they need.
    As well as the family.

    I agree 100% with a no blame policy.
    If family members are willing to deal withthe situation the correct way then they are invaluable to recovery.
    A child needs a supportive and healthy family unit.


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