Why parents aren’t to blame for eating disorders
One of the most common questions I am asked is: what causes an eating disorder? Unfortunately the only honest answer is that nobody really knows. Scientists are still in the middle of trying to figure it out! As a field of study, we know that eating disorders have something to do with “nature” (genetics, neurology, personality/temperament) and something to do with “nurture” (life experiences, culture, social expectations).
Are parents to blame?
When I am talking to parents, however, there is often a nagging and shameful concern behind asking me about what causes an eating disorder: “Did I do this to my child? Did I give them an eating disorder with my parenting?” The most truthful answer is a firm “NO!”. Let me be crystal clear: PARENTS DO NOT CAUSE EATING DISORDERS! Again, I will repeat that to really drive it home – PARENTS DO NOT CAUSE EATING DISORDERS !
What ties these families together?
How do eating disorder therapists know this? It’s actually pretty simple. After years of treating people with eating disorders, there is no one single family or parenting factor that has been shared by every person that has an eating disorder.
Across the spectrum
I have talked to people from extremely abusive families that were torn apart by conflict; moderately close families where everyone got along but sometimes argued; and extremely tight knit families where there was open communication and positive feelings between members. The only thing these families had in common was one of their children had an eating disorder.
It’s not your fault – really!
If parenting caused eating disorders, scientifically speaking, only the abusive first example should have a child with an eating disorder. The other two general examples of families also have children with eating disorders and they had relationships that were much better than the example of the abusive family. That means that parenting and family style alone can not “cause” an eating disorder to begin. See! You’re off the hook!
Guilt makes matters worse
Not only is parent-guilt over the cause of an eating disorder unwarranted, but it is also unhelpful to the situation. This is because it causes even further tragedy in already bad circumstances: it prevents a parent’s full involvement in finding the solution to the eating disorder. Ironically, mistakenly believing that you are already a bad parent can cause you to do less for your child, when what is really needed is your full participation in the treatment process. When parents feel excessive guilt, there is such a waste in recovery potential!
Why families are the solution, not the problem
In my experience, the most powerful force for recovery is not me or what any professionals have to say. The most powerful force for recovery is the love of my client’s families. I can give the most evidence-based, effective, ethical, and sound advice possible, and a simple “I love you no matter what” from a mom or dad can motivate more change than my professional advice ever could. I have seen truly miraculous shifts in those I serve after working through difficult, but meanigfuk, family therapy sessions.
Now that you’re not to blame, here’s what to do next
If you’re stuck with your child and not sure how to move from where you are, to a place where an “I love you no matter what” can make things better, reach out and talk with me. I am available to consult with you, often shortly after you call, on how to transform your situation from desperation to recovery.