Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Eating Disorders: Yesterday's Theories are not Today's Knowledge

As a community devoted to advancing the cause of true and current awareness surrounding eating disorders it is always frustrating to read articles which perpetuate outdated myths and stereotypes.

There are those who think calling out such pieces is unfair and that due to the lack of 100% consensus in the field on certain points, considerable latitude should be given, especially pieces related to environmental influence.  Others wonder why make a big deal out of it—if you don’t like it, move along.

The administrative team of IEDAction believes that perpetuating societal misunderstanding of eating disorders as having to do with choice or vanity or being caused by family dysfunction is a damaging practice with far-reaching implications.

Research shows that people—and politicians and governmental research funding decision makers are people—are more likely to support spending money spent on disorders they don’t perceive as being caused by modifiable environmental factors. Don’t want lung cancer? Don’t smoke. Don’t want your kids to have an eating disorder? Don’t be a dysfunctional family. Don’t expect taxpayers to save you from your own folly.

IED performs a watchdog/rabble rouser function at times – alert for opportunities to push back on careless or false “awareness” pieces.  Today we read a piece we feel typifies the casual approach to disseminating relevant and up-to-date information; reading such a piece is doubly painful when it is posted on a site that generally provides solid information. This post on the blog at Eating Disorder Hope titled, “Family Dynamics at the Dinner Table” is one such piece:

The qualifiers “may” and “some” do not excuse that this piece is a rehash and mish-mash of outdated research findings and beliefs lacking in citations and written by someone whose Internet footprint does not show specialized training in eating disorders. 

The bottom line is current research, whose findings are agreed upon by most top eating disorder clinical and advocacy groups, in the Academy of Eating Disorders 9 Truths about Eating Disorders, shows eating disorders to be a complex interplay of genetics, biology and environment. As the AED 9 Truths affirms, that there is an environmental influence in no way means “families cause eating disorders.” We DO know that early intervention and prompt access to evidence-based treatment is the best hope for a fully, lifelong recovery from an eating disorder. 

Are there families with the issues outlined in this post who have kids with eating disorders? Without a doubt.  Are there families with the issues outlined in this post who have kids without eating disorders? Yes, and they are by far the larger number. Might families who have been dealing with a sick child with inadequate knowledge and resources (more common than not) become dysfunctional? Assuredly so. To portray families of kids with eating disorders as COMMONLY having these issues is a gross injustice to both those families and to those who receive treatment delivered under such antiquated beliefs.

One of our own administrators, Julia Fuentes, who developed her eating disorder after the negative energy balance that resulted from chemotherapy for osteosarcoma and spent years suffering under treatment that expected her to identify the “underlying cause” to her eating disorder says, “The talk about attention seeking annoys me because I can promise that if attention was all I wanted I could have found a thousand more productive ways to get attention. It all comes down to neurobiology—that’s the missing piece.”

Celia Robicheau, the mother of a young daughter in recovery with a master’s in counseling psychology and a certificate of advanced graduate studied in mental health, summarizes the feelings of many: “I think family dynamics may result in many “messy” interactions, but they don’t cause eating disorders, bipolar or schizophrenia and when these type-of unscientific, uneducated, ‘feelpinion’, myth-perpetuating articles are shared by reputable sites, we are fighting an uphill battle against those who purport to help us.

We have expressed to Eating Disorder Hope in the past, and want to reiterate that message, before posting a piece ask these questions:

1) Does recent research support this?
2) Does it reinforce outdated stereotypes and myths?
3) Does this help families and those affected?
4) Might this hurt those affected?

Our opinion is this piece fails all tests; we once again ask Eating Disorder Hope to follow an editorial policy that doesn’t stand behind a disclaimer, but one that makes EDH a valued partner in saving both the lives and reducing the suffering of those affected by eating disorders.