Welcome to Mom Please Help

This blog is for all eating disorder sufferers, where they can get help and useful information. It is run by William Webster BA. For Karen Phillips.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Do Parents Cause Eating Disorders in Their Children?

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the roll of parents causing eating disorders in their children, is this the case or not? It is very sensitive topic because it is painful for families to even think that they are a possible cause of their daughter/ son bulimia and/or anorexia.

I am a medical doctor and suffered anorexia and bulimia for over 15 years. Also I have been involved in the treatment of hundreds of eating disorder sufferers. Personally, I don’t know a family who wishes to foster eating disorders in their children. I would say that parents and the family do not cause eating disorders directly.

However, I know firsthand that the family atmosphere, parenting style and undiagnosed mental and emotional problems in parents contribute a lot to the development of eating disorders in their children.

There is a lot of research around about the roll of genetic predisposition in eating disorders. Yes, eating disorders do have a genetic component as well, but it is only the vulnerability to develop an eating disorder not the disease itself that people can inherit.

People can also inherit certain personality traits that make them vulnerable to developing eating disorders: like perfectionism, tendency towards anxiety and depression, competitiveness, impulsivity and extreme stubbornness. All these can make people vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

It is the environment that turns people’s vulnerability into the disease. The way people live their lives from their birth that can make genetic vulnerabilities become an illness.

The first and most important environment people have is their family. Often people with eating disorders describe how in their childhood they had a tense family environment where parents very strictly and controlling. Children in families like this don’t have much space to experiment and to be free. These types of parents don’t let their children find their own way in life, turning them into puppets that are forced to be followers and controlled by strict rules.

In families like this children turn to eating disorders as a way to control their lives the best they possible can and to find emotional escape in the space of their eating disorder.

The other type of families is the overprotective one. Their protective behaviour puts onto the child so many limitations that the child is likely to seek her/his freedom and escape in things like eating, non-eating and manipulating their own weight. These parents cannot let their children be different than what their mental image of them is or the way they think the child should be. They look at the child’s achievements only from the angle of their own desires and opinions.

Most of parents in these types of families still want only the best for their children and don’t even realize that what they are doing is bad for the child. Many parents have their own emotional issues to deal with, which are still unresolved and deeply rooted in their own childhood. Some parents maybe even have undiagnosed mental disorders like OCD or personality disorders. Because these disorders have never been diagnosed parents are not aware of them and continue to put enormous pressure on their children and other family members.

Many doctors and therapists consider that blaming parents for their children’s disorder is not a good idea, because parents may feel guilty and shameful for the way they are themselves. These feelings of guilt and shame can stop parents from helping the child to recover and parents may even refuse to participate in the child’s recovery program.

Nevertheless, it is proven now that if the family atmosphere remains the same a non- loving, demanding, restrictive and an overprotective one, the child has little chance of getting better.

The purpose of writing this article was not to put lots of blame onto parents, but just to warn the families of eating disorder sufferers that certain changes need to made in the family atmosphere if the family wants to help their loved one recover.

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