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Surefire ways to piss me off

Posted Jan 27 2013 6:56pm
Like I've said before, keeping up on the latest writings about eating disorders is both the apogee and perigee of my work here at ED Bites. Reading other blogs like The Science of EDs is definitely a high point, the apogee. The perigee? Stuff like this article, title " Surefire Ways to Give Your Kids an Eating Disorder ."


The suggestions, according to the blog's author Michelle Lewis, are things like
  • Be critical and abusive
  • Expect perfection
  • Nurture your own eating disorder
  • Be emotionally distant
  • Use food as a reward or punishment
In contrast, here's what the scientific literature says about "surefire" ways to give your kid an ED:

That's right--nothing. The research literature indicates no definite cause of eating disorders. The links in both biology and environment serve to increase or decrease risk. This is true even for other diseases like cancer. A 10-pack-a-day habit certainly dramatically increases your risk for developing lung cancer (as does baking in a tanning bed and skin cancer), but it's not "surefire." Lots of smokers don't get cancer, and plenty of people who do everything right DO get cancer. 

In her defense, Lewis later said that she meant things that would promote body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, not eating disorders. It's something that never fails to piss me off and get me spluttering, this conflation of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Most people I know are dissatisfied with their bodies. As long as it doesn't really interfere with your quality of life, I don't consider it pathological. It would be great if people looked in the mirror and were reasonably satisfied with what they saw, but cringing at your reflection does NOT an eating disorder make.

The other thing that irritates me about this post is how it assumes that parents play a major role in determining whether a person will develop an eating disorder. If a child has an eating disorder, the feeling is that, ipso facto, they had bad parents. Family therapy, for me, resembled nothing more than a witch hunt. It was a harmful waste of time, health, and money.

Truth: every parent is flawed.
Truth: some people with EDs have bad parents.
Truth: some people with EDs have good parents.
Truth: an ED tells you nothing about the quality of the sufferers parents.

It's nonsense, utter nonsense, to assume that a parent can single-handedly cause their child's eating disorder. Dr. Julie O'Toole of the Kartini Clinic has remarked that she has treated children whose parents DID try to give them anorexia. Their parents were suffering from Munchausen's by proxy. When the children were hospitalized, they resumed eating normally (well, as normally as one would expect for a starving child). They didn't have eating disorders. And their parents were actively trying to give their child anorexia.

Part of me cringes to see information like this still published (and shared on Facebook and Twitter, mind you, by MEDA , a national eating disorders association) in this day and age. But I'd rather see it published and brought into the light, rather than have it fester below the surface. Have it be the mindset that everyone has but no one is willing to admit to.
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