Posted by: cindy | September 10, 2008

Do Parents Cause Eating Disorders???

It seems everyone has one, an Eating Disorder story and I have heard thousands and they all get me. I feel the pain of the patient and their family and as the good co-dependent I am, I want to help them all. Jeanne’s story caught me off guard however and I found myself thinking about it for days after hearing it, causing me to question whether or not Parents Cause Eating Disorders.


Jeanne tells her story, “One day in March, when I was overwhelmed by the loss of my grandmother, Jillian (her young daughter) caught me throwing up.  I never meant her to see me like that.  She burst into the bathroom without knocking and found me on the floor in front of ‘the potty’.  She ran to wrap her arms around my neck.  Her voice was full of concern as she repeated the words she’s heard so many times from me: ‘It’s okay.  I’m sorry you don’t feel good,’ and she patted my back with her little hands.  I wanted the floor to swallow me whole. I didn’t deserve her. A week later, I found Jillian and my husband in the bathroom preparing for the nightly bath ritual. Jillian was leaning over the toilet bowl coughing, and I could tell the cough was fake. She giggled as she told my husband, ‘I’m sick, Daddy. Have to throw up, Daddy.’ I retreated to my bedroom and sank into a weeping mess on the floor.  What have I done?”


Of course parents do not cause eating disorders. Eating Disorders are brain disorders and research tells us they are a brain disease with severe metabolic effects on the entire body.  While the symptoms are behavioral, this illness has a biological core, with genetic components, changes in brain activity, and neural pathways currently under study.


 What about the idea that rather than either blame or exonerate parents we look at both the “hard-wiring” (nature) and the “adaptive learning” (nurture) aspects of the development of eating disordered behaviors? That we acknowledge that parents are the most important teachers of learning how to live in the world, more than other caregivers, schools, peers, or the media?  That we take a comprehensive approach to understanding the development of eating disorders as involving both underlying physiological components as well as learned behaviors that are used as ways to manage living?  In this way, we are able to engage medically, psychologically, nutritionally, and with family dynamics to help a person with an eating disorder to heal.


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