I thought I would feel better

Comes up frequently among parents of eating disorder patients: we work like crazy to get things to a better place and then just when things are on an upswing instead of feeling better we feel worse. MUCH worse. Broken.

I felt this deeply. Like something was permanently broken, irretrievable, and I envisioned the future as filled with loss and worry. I hear parents talk about this a lot and now I see it as a natural stage of family recovery. We are built to do the heroic work of parenting in a crisis and we save the pain for later - oh, what pain. It helps to have role models during this completely natural falling apart after the most brutal parts of caregiving. We have to keep our strength, and keep our focus, because ED may have abated but he's going to take advantage and come back if we allow ourselves to be so permanently damaged and therefore unwilling to stay the course ALL the way and when needed.

My role models? The parents on the ATDT forum, who so movingly describe that collapse after crisis and then the repair: I thought I would feel better.

Are you falling apart even though things are better? You are not alone, and it will get better!!


  1. The best support in this regard is surely other parents. The F.E.A.S.T. team has been genius in this regard--what would parents across the international spectrum have done without you?

  2. Hi Laura. I think it's difficult to communicate thru email. I definately believe their is a biological component to eating disorders including ocd. However, eating disorders are not an individual problem. It is a family system problem and is best treated as a family if possible. Looks like we're going to have to agree to disagree. : )I sent it this way because i had trouble with fb and you do not have contact on yourwebsite. I watched your video and I agree it's a brian disorder but it's not as simple as that, in my humble opinion.

  3. I don't know the greater conversation here, but I wonder how a brain disorder could be something classified as something simple? I like the little saying, "If the brain were so simple we could understand it, then we'd be so simple, we couldn't"

    And, I also wonder, in the age of science and medicine, why it so often comes down to "believing" in biological components of mental illnesses? Is finding a treatment akin to finding a church? It depends on what you believe? I don't think it should be that way.

  4. Ilissa, I am afraid your approach to Eating Disorders and their treatment -- though, no doubt, well meant -- is misguided and outdated. To see an ED as a brain disorder is radically to change the approach to treatment within the family. Immediately, it is clear that the family (or 'family system') is not to blame for causing the disorder, but that the family, with the right kind of information and support, can be the key to treating it into full remission. This has been proven in real families time and time again. Unfortunately, the message still has not got out in the way it should. In part, this is due to people in the treatment field holding onto unfounded, fundamentally illogical theories about dysfunctional 'family systems' being causes of EDs, when they should be using their therapeutic skills to assist families through the terror and hellish disruption that this particular kind of brain disorder brings, and out the other side. All families are complicated, no family is perfect, but the scientific evidence is clear, 'family systems' do NOT cause eating disorders.

  5. Here, here Polar Bear! There is a huge difference between recognizing a family in crisis that is dealing with an illness that even by the Ed field professionals standards is complex and extremely difficult and looking at family dysfunction as a necessary part of treatment. It actually is infuriating as parent, as most of us parents have searched for professional help with our beloved children willing to do whatever it takes to help our children recover and be told to either back off or be told that somehow our relationships with are children are broken. This is far different than being given effective tools to cope with the behaviors and needs of our Ed disordered children.

  6. I think the important thing to note is that patients don't choose their eating disorder and parents don't cause it. It is impossible to "give" someone an eating disorder, just as it is impossible to "catch" one. A genetic predisposition and a glitch in the brain wiring. What causes that glitch is different in every case but it should be noted that the onset of puberty seems to be a factor in the majority (not all) of eating disorder cases. There is a second brain trimming in puberty and this may account for the onset of the disorder at this particular time. It should also be noted that the brain does not fully mature until around the age of 24. There is no doubt that there is an environmental element in this mix-up.

    The majority of parents of eating disordered children are good people. None of us are perfect but, as a general group, the majority of us are not abusive (either mentally or physically), refridgerator parents, over-protective, mad, have Munchausen's by proxy or are neglectful. There are exceptions to this but not every child from an abusive, mad, refridgerator, neglectful background gets an eating disorder so we can pretty well rule out that as a causation. A contributing factor maybe, but not a cause.

    The majority of parents can also be the main cornerstone of their child's recovery. We go on loving our children long after the insurance money runs out.

  7. Ilissa, we do disagree, and I beg you to consider your approach. While families are an important part of the treatment team that is not because they are broken or that the system caused the problem.

    The idea that an eating disorder is caused by family systems problems is one that Ivan Eisler (in that video) says is outdated. Enlisting the family to help is a far cry from thinking the broken family caused the problem This idea is deeply, deeply harmful to families facing a terrible, difficult time where their hard work is so needed.

  8. Ilissa,
    Your website link on blogger has a typo that you may want to fix. From your website I see that you are in recovery. I wish you the best in your practice, but I hope that you will continue to educate yourself as a therapist so that you can provide current, evidence-based treatments for your patients.

  9. Dr Sarah Ravin has a rant about a new book which appears to put the ED blame on parents' shoulders... http://www.blog.drsarahravin.com/eating-disorders/when-books-are-wrong/


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