Friday, May 29, 2009

Families and eating disorders

This story in the Gloucester Daily Times makes me see red. Literally. For its seemingly complete ignorance of the genetics of not just eating disorders but also personality traits like perfectionism, ambition, etc. The story reads as if whenever something goes wrong it's got to be the family's fault.

We know that it just isn't this simple. Fellow blogger Carrie Arnold summed it up wonderfully in this post. We also know that the blam-and-shame game undercuts families, who are often the best (or only real) resource for someone with an eating disorder.

So knock it off, will you? You're not helping. In fact, you're hurting families and sufferers alike. Do some reading. Do some thinking for a change. Then try your hand at some responsible journalism.


Carrie Arnold said...

I also saw shades of burgundy when I read this but you saved me from organizing that burgundy into coherent thoughts I wouldn't be ashamed of my mother reading!

Ostara said...

ARGH! Really? What causes such an obsessive preoccupation with food and eating?Gee, don't think it could be a society constantly screaming "FAT - BAD! THIN GOOD!"

*facepalm* This article is pure fail.

Rachel said...

My first problem with this article is not the lede, but the sentence that comes after. "Eating disorders are epidemic..." And then promptly followed by stats on obesity.

OBESITY IS NOT AN EATING DISORDERThe DSM recognizes only anorexia, bulimia and ED-NOS as legitimate eating disorders. Binge eating disorder is now being considered in the next edition. But obesity? It just means you're above some hypothetical, generically determined number. In itself, obesity does not indicate behavior at all (although many conflate sloth and gluttony with obesity).

As for the article's stereotypes on eating disorders, I'm inclined to cut the writer a little slack. After all, many of those stereotypes ARE still circulating around in the medical field. Depending on what sources he/she may have read (assuming he/she did read up on it), he/she could have still come to those same conclusions.

Fiona Marcella said...

As Rachel says, such ignorance is sometimes still found in the medical profession, although hopefully less so in anyone who has had ANY modern education on the subject. It doesn't however look to me as if the author here has looked any further than the popular press and some comments by the only individual she has cited - a therapist who is obviously way behind the times

Grace said...

If I am reading the article correctly, it also says: “Dysfunctional family patterns are just one piece of the eating disordered puzzle. There are other contributing patterns as well, such as personality, biochemistry and culture.” So it doesn't seem to be blaming everything on family dynamics.

I'm currently in therapy for BDD. I was bulimic in the past, and my mom was anorexic and sometimes abusive. It seems to me (and my therapist) that my mom's behavior must have had at least something to do with my issues.

I’m just having a bit of trouble understanding why this article is making you (and the folks who have commented so far) so angry. It's not saying that family is the "only" reason for eating disorders.

I'm not trying to be a smart ass, it's just that whatever has upset you is not obvious to me and I'd really just like to understand.


Harriet said...

"It seems to me (and my therapist) that my mom's behavior must have had at least something to do with my issues."


I appreciate the spirit in which you are asking this question. Thank you for that.

Your quote above sums up the problem pretty well. You and your therapist are making assumptions without any real reason to think they're true. Why not question your mother's genetic heritage? That's probably far more responsible for your own eating disorder. EDs run in families. They are heritable.

The strong reactions you are observing come from the fact that for many years families have been blamed as the cause of EDs. And they still are. The seminal books on the subject were written by a therapist named Hilde Bruch, who used her observations of families and their anorexic children to cobble together some theories about what causes anorexia. The trouble is that she presented those theories as fact. Of course, she didn't know much about genetics, and there were no fMRI scans available then, so much of what we now know about neuroanatomy and biological factors simply didn't exist.

And the real problem with attributing blame to families is that it's not helpful in recovery. Most of the time, families are a powerful tool in a teen's recovery. (Families where there was abuse may be another story. I'm certainly not qualified to judge.) The process of blaming makes parents feel ashamed, angry, and very disempowered. And then the teen misses a very real opportunity for recovery.

That's why I'm so furious about assumptions that "families must have something to do with it," whether there is evidence to support this or not (and there really isn't).

Grace said...

Hello again Harriet
Thank you for your response to my question. I believe I understand better now. You’re right, I don’t believe that when eating disorders show up in “normal” families that it is necessarily the family’s “fault.”

My situation is a bit different in that my mom constantly told me growing up that I was fat (even though pictures prove otherwise). I think my ED and BDD are directly related to that. Maybe there is a genetic predisposition in my family, but there was definitely an abuse component too. When you are young and impressionable, and even though you are not fat, you’re told you are, it really screws with your mind.

Anyway, thanks again, your blog post has given me an additional angle to consider and discuss with my therapist.

Ostara said...

Graciela, I have to say in some ways I kind of agree. My mother was quite physically abusive and mentally manipulative. She spent most of my childhood mourning over the fact that she was never popular or looked exactly like your typical beauty queen and so took it out on my sister (who later developed bulimia) and me (who developed a pretty disordered pattern of eating that was pretty damn near anorexia). It can't have helped that my dad was pretty fat hating which strained my parent's marriage (my mother was fat, you see) and that I wound up being sexually bullied into doing a lot of things for someone I was supposed to trust for seven years of my childhood.

I don't for a second think that my home life didn't have a crapload to do with my development of self-hate for my body at a young age. However, I think it's pretty irresponsible to overlook the fact that society also has a lot to do with it. Sure, they mentioned it but the fact is, I don't think parents/guardians/family members would be putting so much pressure on their kids to begin with if TV commercials, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and government officials continually shouting "FAT-BAD!" just because so damn much floats on the ludicrously profitable weight loss industry.

I'm not saying I didn't get the message from my family coupled with a lot of other crappy circumstances that did shit for my self esteem. But I AM saying that it's just possible I might've liked myself a little bit more, maybe enough to keep from limiting myself to eating only dinner with my family and working out six hours a day.

I'm not meaning to jump down anybody's throat on this, I just really feel this is similar to a lot of the same sort of individual blaming we find in dieting to begin with. You know the "You mean you can't lose weight? WELL THEN IT'S YOUR FAULT YOU BIG FATTY FAT LIAR!!!" instead of actually admitting that hey, the weight loss industry is making billions off of something most people are genetically designed to fail. It's like playing the lottery only hella lot more expensive and way more invasive in our culture's thinking, not to mention in a lot of ways, much more misleading.


Grace said...

Thank you, Ostara. I know what you mean about the fat hatred that society pushes on us. My hubby is quite overweight, and it angers me so much how he is so disrespected for this one aspect. I've been with him when people in cars will yell disgusting things at him; and even people we know (acquaintances, definitely not friends) who for some reason think that they have the right to say snide things to ME about his weight. Like, what the fuck do they expect me to do, agree with them???? I usually just tell them that he has twice the heart and personality of someone who is skinny, and I wouldn't trade him for anything. That usually shuts them up. And I know it's not his "fault" that he is if being overweight is somehow "bad" or shows a lack of character. Stupid assumption. I think we need to be more accepting of people for who they are, and just as they are.

And, no, I don't feel that you've jumped down my throat. I appreciate the honesty that I have encountered in the blogging world. That's the only way we are going to learn to love each other as the spiritual beings we are.

Well, enough of my philosophizing. You're probably all tired of hearing from me... just know that I'm enjoying the give and take from all of you. Thank you.

Ostara said...

Glad you didn't think I was yelling at you. The article just really touched a ranty nerve. However, the comments about your husband from acquaintances is really pretty crappy. I'm really sorry, I know that's tough to deal with. My friends are really a pretty accepting bunch across the board but I've heard comments about my boyfriend's weight from my family and it hurt but well... see above to get why it barely even phased me because it wasn't at all unexpected.

Someone once mentioned on another blog (I believe it was the F-word -f-words?- Food, Fat, Feminism - apologies if the name is wrong! The blogger is called Rachel) that people seem to still cling to the old ideology that women are somehow to be held responsible for what/how their boyfriends/fiances/husbands eat. So if "your man" is fat and you cling to the fat=gluttonous slob ideology too it's not hard to see how people can (idiotically) deduce that you're cooking up terrible junk for your hubby. Which is not only, you know, STUPID but uh, pretty darn sexist too.

However, it might not be a bad thing to mention next time someone thinks it's their duty to bring it up ;) I'm envisioning an "open mouth, insert foot" kind of situation, especially if the acquaintance considers him/herself to be pretty progressive *daydreams*

Rachel said...

@Ostara -- It's The tagline lists f-words, but the title is singular in a play on the expletive f-word.