This is not Rumplestiltskin

There is a statement in the ABC article I mentioned yesterday that has people grumbling.

"The illness is biological, but the triggers are social: trauma, divorce, even a throw-away comment like, "Aren't you a chubby little girl," said Grefe. "You are born with the gun, but life is the trigger -- and there are a lot of them."

I hear that and I think of magic spells and mythical curses. Rumplestiltskin and secret spells. The idea that a child is one statement or one life event from horrific mental illness is, well, not supported by the science. It's not supported by the rest of the article! This is a Hollywood vision of mental illness and it is time for us to stop promoting it. It isn't true, and it causes harm.

It says "Your child has a life-threatening delusional terrifying mental condition and SOMETHING DANGEROUS triggered it. Suspect everything, just to be sure. Regret everything. Put your energy into that and don't think your child will get better until you've made the world perfect and you've apologized for everything."

What's really going on is that the evidence for a biological basis for eating disorders is no longer being denied it is simply being misunderstood and re-packaged to suit the same old same old blaming we have always done around eating disorders. If a "throw-away comment" can "trigger" life-threatening mental illness and expected life events like divorce and "trauma" can too then maybe the idea of "trigger" is absurd and needs to be revised to "life."

Life "triggers" eating disorders, and I don't think we're going to prevent life so probably better to work on treating eating disorders instead.


  1. Laura, I love this! I frequently use a tanning bed analogy that goes like this:

    Tanning beds are bad. They cause wrinkles, dry skin, premature aging, and in some extreme cases (those who are genetically predisposed to it), cancer. It is sad that many women feel so pressured by society's standards of beauty that they subject themselves to tanning beds.

    However, do you see cancer doctors spending millions on campaigns to end tanning beds? Absolutely not. They are spending millions on research, physical interventions, and treatments.

    So sure, it is good to spread awareness about the dangers of tanning beds. However, legitimate cancer treatment providers would never in a million years focus their efforts on eradicating tanning beds; that would be ridiculous.

    Obviously not as well-put as you, but I find it effective!

  2. This is a really useful analogy - I like it!!

  3. I've heard the 'trigger' thing over and over and it always drives me batty! Genetics, my personality, and my brain compounded to give me an eating disorder.

    Crappy things that happened in my life made it easier and more necessary for me to turn to those genetically pre-programmed responses to deal with it. I didn't develop an eating disorder BECAUSE I was abused - but because I was abused, the already-there capability (is that the right word?) to use starvation as a means of emotional regulation and to numb myself - I needed it more, and so I got sicker.

    It is important for eating disorder sufferers - particularly those with traumatic backgrounds - to recognize and deal with those traumas and triggers, because NOT dealing with them helps the eating disorder thrive.

    That said, that still doesn't give me an eating disorder. Trauma can't teach my body to react to hunger in an unnatural way. Things like "Aren't you a chubby little girl" aren't going to cause an eating disorder either. It may - MAY - give someone the idea to restrict their eating. It is the RESTRICTION that triggers the eating disorder. I've known lots of folks who developed eating disorders because they were really sick, or were travelling, or something where they weren't eating enough for a significant time period - and that triggered the button in their brain that reacts positively to starving. Am pretty sure the science is leaning that way too - our brains are just wired to react this way.

  4. I observed yesterday that the late Hilde Bruch's 'seminal crap' and parent-blaming book, 'The Golden Cage', is now updated with an awful introduction by Steiner-Adair and has five star ratings on both and This is not good, IMHO. Perpetuating myths, methinks.

  5. Sara Lynn, I completely agree on the way you see the relationship. I can't figure out how people can't make that distinction. Well, I can: lack of intellectual vigor plus an investment in the other way of looking at it, plus a facile idea tha tif something is bad (abuse, societal expectations, bullying, bad parenting...) then all bad things that happen flow from that.

    Cathy, I'm happy or sad to report that version is from 2001. It was the first book I saw (I well remember the cover) back when my daughter got ill. It was the WORST book for me to read. That it was newly reissued and so lauded, and seemed to be so logical, that it sent me into a tailspin, naturally. Bad stuff.


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