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When Food is Family and Family is Perplexed

Posted Jul 03 2011 1:29pm
At the risk of bringing more pre-publication buzz to a book I will not be promoting , it would be silly to ignore the very telling furor that When Food Is Family has created. I'm delighted to see this tumult - I really believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. These ideas need to be aired and discussed. There's a reason this promotion is making some people SO angry and others so defensive.

A few years ago this kind of melee - on the Academy for Eating Disorders online forum, Around the Dinner Table Forum, another private professional forum, on blogs and on Facebook simply could not have happened. A book would get published, people might grumble, people might cheer, but those on different sides of interpreting it would neither meet nor hear the other side. Or, in this case, sides - as there are a few. When this book is published and media stories come out, that social networking will no doubt follow it: these are indeed controversial ideas and SHOULD BE.

This unpleasantness has been good because it has reached people who consider the premise and pre-publication materials "shocking" and also those who were shocked by the shock. The author herself got involved. The conversation keeps feeding back into former arguments - making those conversations have more meaning.

My opinion of theories of eating disorder causation that focus on parenting are well-known. I think they are nonsense, demonstrably so, and do more to tell me about the science and history and training education of the theorist than anything. I'm not distracted by the code words "contribute to" or "trigger" or "help explain" or "can be prevented by." I'm not even offended by them - I'm past that. What I do feel is deep concern for the families who encounter these ideas without the benefit of a larger knowledge of the field and eating disorders. The unprepared parent - and most of us are - can be not only distracted but genuinely crippled  - leaving them disempowered to find and use the information and support they really DO need.

Here's what's great, though. The debate is maturing. People with whom I've debated these topics before have come forward and their arguments have developed and changed - more progress. Unfortunately, most of this debate is not going on in public. I wish I could show you the comments on the Academy for Eating Disorders website, in particular, but I can't. I believe the parent community would be apoplectic to hear what is being said about families on that forum - not only that it is said but that the AED membership and administration find it acceptable. I think you would be furious. Yes, there are dissenting views - several professionals have come forward to speak clearly and cogently against attachment theories and dysfunctional families and "what the majority of clinicians know to be true."  The backlash against those comments has been bitter and filled with affront and not that great a grasp of the issues.

These theories would never be tolerated on a professional forum about autism or schizophrenia or depression - but they are there because they truly aren't controversial there, but objecting to them is.

I wish the conversation was going on in public so we could really clear up some mistaken ideas about what people like myself believe. If I could really engage these people and get them talking to the professionals I know best we could defuse some of that reactivity and get a real conversation going - and I might learn more. Now, thought, the distortions and misunderstandings of the argument against parent causation of eating disorders are so many and so often repeated that I hardly know where to start.

Yes, I do. I've been doing it for years. The difference is that those of the other point of view just weren't listening or deigning to discuss it. I'm happy to report that is starting to happen. I'm sure one or two of you reading this now are only doing so out of anger at what you've heard I said. Welcome to the community. Meet some of my friends and really hear them, too. We're not the chronically angry, misguided people you may think.

I welcome you to truly hear what I and others are trying to say to you: "attachment issues" where they exist are an expected effect, not necessarily a cause of the phenomena you are observing. You are, very often, making it worse and leading families away from the help we really need to help our kids recover. The witch hunt to find reasons to hold on to parent-blaming needs to end. Patients die for lack of appropriate treatment. It's not a matter of opinion, it's life or death decision-making.

When Books are Wrong
Around the Dinner Table Cicada calls
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