F.E.A.S.T's Around The Dinner Table forum

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I know, I know: the perfect storm.


I really want to hear your thoughts on the cause from your personal point of view. Why? Because my 12 y/o AN D, diagnosed 5 months ago, 3 months into refeeding doesn't allow me to not blame myself. I don't mean SHE blames me, she doesn't at all. Her going through all this sh*t is what won't allow me to feel like it isn't my fault.

I understand there has to be a biological component. I have never EVER been concerned about weight and never had an ED. I did have a huge OCD that was triggered when I was 16. No history of ED in my family whatsoever.

But I tend to think that the way a fed my D was the cause. We were pretty much ovo-lacteo vegetarians for most of her childhood years. We were basically eating 3 meals a day and a snack. We would have fish once in a blue moon, no red meat, no meat at all, for that matter. Yeah, some ham.

I believe that if we had eaten differently, my D wouldn't have gotten this disease. I feel like had we gotten enough good fats in her, her brain would have been safe with the sudden growth spurts of puberty. I feel like we basically malnourished her brain for a long time.

What I basically and very humbly want to ask you is:

1) if anybody considers they also malnourished their child throughout childhood. If so, can you tell me why?
2) if you definitely DON'T think this is true, and why
3) what your own explanation for your child's ED is.

I'm sorry if this sounds terribly nosey or intrusive. I'm not trying to be either, at all. If you consider this post to be offensive, I'm sorry. I just see something in my own daughter's history that I'd like to see if somebody else has a take on. I also ask that we refrain from "the cause is not important, just feed". I am refeeding and trying to get a better understanding of this damn illness.

I really appreciate your thoughts. Hang in there!!

Love for all
Hi wewillperservere,

First, you didn't CAUSE your d's eating disorder.  You can't.  It's a genetic developmental disorder and you don't have any control over that.

Could you have triggered her biology through the food choices you made for your family?  Possibly.  But how could you possibly know that this could be an outcome??

If you are asking if any of us also feel that we may have (inadvertently) malnourished our child throughout childhood, I can say for myself absolutely not.  We are wide-ranging eaters, from basic traditional meat-starch-vegetable meals to fast food.  We don't label good foods/bad foods.  I never talked smack about my body and never dieted.

But here's something interesting:  my younger non-ED d is highly allergic to dairy.  Like really, really, REALLY allergic.  Her diet has always been a bit different to the rest of the family.  For example, we'd still have regular pizza, but we'd make one for her without cheese, just the sauce and pepperonis.  We had substitutes for milk and butter, but soy or almond milk is lowfat and the only safe margarine in our stores is a 'light' variety.  When I look back I can see that this d's diet was much lower fat than the rest of the family's.  She has also been the skinniest kid in the family, a real stringbean, a little scary.  She is also an anxious kid.  She fits the profile.  If she had the genetics for ED, I believe she would have developed one.  But she doesn't and she hasn't!  

Her sister has the genetics--the one who wasn't anxious, was an easy-going and sociable kid, who was of normal weight, who ate a full-fat diet, etc.  And her lifelong diet wasn't the trigger--it was going without food to raise money for starving children in the third world by participating in World Vision's 30-Hour Famine.  It only took a day of malnutrition to start the brain changes that dropped her down the rabbit hole.  We have seen that with her relapses since, that she has a hair trigger for ED and it's just malnutrition.  Big cognitive and emotional changes if she overexercises, even for one day.  Lose a couple of pounds and kaboom.

One more interesting thing:  now that younger non-ED d is 21, she is starting to fill out a little more.  What's interesting is that her anxiety levels have really dropped as her weight has gone up.  Yes, it could be just maturity.  But she is a calmer, more easy-going person to be around these days, capable of starting new jobs and being in challenging social situations without total witchitude.  It does make me think that she was underweight throughout most of her childhood, and that I should have made sure she had more fats in her diet.

If you're asking if somehow parents may have been contributing to the child's ED throughout their lives, I don't think so in general.  There are lots of ways into ED--deliberate dieting, illness, overexercising, 'healthy eating,' etc.  Vegetarianism and veganism can trigger ED, but since we can't predict who will develop ED--and because even among ED professionals there's probably not a consensus that vegetarianism might be a risk factor--there's no way that you could be responsible for your child developing ED.  There are many, many families out there who choose to be vegetarian whose children do not develop EDs.

You mention that you had OCD at about the same age as the average onset of ED.  EDs are biological and highly heritable, and they are often accompanied by other pre- or co-morbid disorders such as depression, anxiety and OCD.  It's possible that there may be a genetic link there.  Again--not your fault!!

Helping your child recover from ED is hard.  If you can absolve yourself of any guilt that you feel, please do!  If you need absolution from someone else, geez, I'll give it to you.  You need all your emotional energy headed in the right direction--toward going forward to free your d from this.

Out of curiosity, have you added meat back into her diet?
Colleen in the great Pacific Northwest, USA

"What some call health, if purchased by perpetual anxiety about diet, isn't much better than tedious disease."
Alexander Pope, 1688-1744
Colleen, I just teared up finishing your message. Thanks so much: maybe it is absolution what I need. It's so hard not to blame oneself, as if us parents could avoid our children of all suffering. Thank you so much for sharing so much of your story, it really helps to see other ways this has developed.

And YES, she's eating everything from pepperoni pizza to breaded fish, so that's that!! She's gained 22 pounds in 3 months, going for more!!

Hugs (and I hope others also share their thoughts!!)
Hi wewillpersevere

I can only say that you have done an amazing job getting your daughter to gain. We have really struggled and have had to admit our son to hospital. He is gaining slowly there so hopefully it is the kickstart we need.

I like to think that we are pretty normal eaters. One of my sons can't eat much dairy so I cook and bake a lot from scratch. I'm careful not to buy products with hydrogenated fats or too much stuff I don't recognise in the ingredients but if I buy them by accident or for convenience now and then we eat them anyway. We do have a veggie garden so lots of our fruit and veg is fresh and without chemical residues but we buy veg without worry in the winter. So I always felt it was pretty balanced.

Of course, I have learned so much since like; my husband eats mostly out of habit and doesn't have strong hunger cues although he never had issues with under weight. I now weigh and measure height for the two non ED kids. My eldest eats like a horse and grows like a weed; with him I know a growth spurt is coming by how he eats (it's a real pleasure to see from our new perspective, let me tell you)

My youngest, however, has been growing but for 3 months lost slightly. I notice he can also take or leave food, he doesn't seem to feel too hungry either. So I am being very careful to guide him to eat more at meals and to bring him snacks. He is now gaining weight. I wonder if something similar happened to my ED kid. Looking back he was never an instinctive eater either.

I wonder but I don't feel guilty. We aren't computers and haven't been programmed with early warning signs for all possible things that can happen with our kids. My 3 are dyslexic and I had a learning curve there too. Also have regrets that I trusted the teachers and not my instincts for too long. In fact, I am still learning because a diagnosis is only a beginning and all kids experience dyslexia differently and need different supports.

I think regrets are different from guilt. With both we would change history in a flash if given a chance but only in one are we unforgiving of ourselves.

Hope your heart and soul can believe what your head knows - you cannot give someone ED.

2015 12yo son restricting but no body image issues, no fat phobia; lost weight IP! Oct 2015 home, no progress. Medical hosp to kick start recovery Feb 2016. Slowly gaining at home, seeing signs of our real kid.

May 2017 Hovering around WR. Mood great, mostly. Summer 2017 Happy, first trip away in years, food variety, begin socialising. Sept 2017, back to school FT first time in 2 years. 2018 growing so fast hard to keep pace with weight. 2020 Off to university, healthy and happy.
  • Swedish proverb: Love me when I least deserve it because that's when I need it most.
  • We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence Recovery, then, is not an act but a habit. Aristotle.
  • If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goal.
  • We cannot control the wind but we can direct the sail.
I feel the pain of your guilt WWP. I too have struggled dreadfully with blaming myself. But just to reassure you my d was the total opposite. She absolutely loved her food and couldn't stop herself eating any food that she saw. When she was younger she would forever be raiding the cupboard for treats. Our meal times have always been 'serve as much as you like' onto your plate kind of set up. We had to stop our d from seriously overeating. In addition, the whole family are big eaters. We have a big culture of snacking in the evenings but this is coupled with a fairly healthy amount of weekly exercise. So like you i have guilt issues that we should have been more controlled in our own eating or not have so many snacks in the house or should have just let her eat as much as she liked at the dinner table and when she was raiding the snack cupboard.
So maybe our polar opposite journeys into AN is somewhat proof that neither of us helped cause our d AN. Like you said, as a mother we question everything and want to save our children from all harm. Maybe in reality of life this just isn't possible.
I also question if we had been too strict, too lax with discipline, too supportive, not enough support. I know deep down that rationally they can't all apply but I still struggle with such feelings. I'm sure most of us do. But I'm definitely sure that we would feel a tonne better if we didn't over think and over analyse it all.
Maybe we just need to tell ourselves more how we always tried to do the best for our child.
Yes, we probably would have done some things differently if we knew they would develop an ED. But we didn't know and couldn't have known that that was in their genetics. So we did what we thought best at that time. We need to learn to not dwell over the past I suppose n just deal with what is in our present now. Hope you are able to put the guilt demons to bed for good.
Hi Wewillpersevere,
I'm new to the world of EDs but I'll offer my thoughts. That's a huge burden to feel like you caused it. I know because I felt like I triggered my son's (not my ED child) inflammatory bowel disease by letting him eat Eggo Waffles every day and I feel like I should have been able to see my D's anxiety and perfectionism before she broke down and couldn't go to school and then couldn't eat. She also has a late diagnosis of scoliosis and I beat myself up constantly for not seeing it when she could have had a non surgical treatment. I should have been able to save her. How could I have not protected her? Thing is, we have no way to know what could have happened if we did things differently and it holds us back from being in the moment. There was no way to predict these misfortunes.
How do I think my d got an Ed? Perfect storm: anxiety and social and school stress and perfectionism and biology made her vulnerable. She got used to skipping lunch at school, started losing weight, realized that her anxiety decreased when she was starving and a vicious loop started. But I don't really know. I'm still stunned.
I think you can give yourself a pass on causing the ED with your diet. It was a perfectly healthy diet and you could never have predicted an ED. I would go back and change things too. Maybe my son would still have IBD, maybe my D's scoliosis would have progressed even if I noticed it sooner, maybe she'd get an ED anyway if we didn't let her anxiety get so high. We don't know.
It's so hard though. Give yourself a break.
Hope it's going well in recovery.
I don't think you can cause ED either - not that easy.  I think there is a genetic component to it.  However, having said that, I highly recommend you read the book "Answers for Anorexia" because that doctor believes that zinc deficiency is a factor in anorexia and a factor to helping gain the weight back.  He has a whole section about how a lack of zinc can be also involved in vegetarianism.  Some kids also have trouble metabolizing (absorbing) zinc and can become deficient.  Good research has shown that supplementing with zinc actually does help anorexics gain the weight back.

I really think it is fuzzy science in general (like we don't know about chicken/egg causality) - but I know for sure that zinc is an issue with our daughter (who ate meat and everything in sight like a horse since she was little, btw).  But, when she is supplementing with zinc, she is pleasant and rational and eating and she sometimes goes off it to experiment and within two weeks, I get the old stuff back.  within days of giving it to her again - different person - literally.  There is also a disease called "pyroluria" which effects a person's ability to absorb zinc, b6, and omega 6 fatty acids (that is not in his book - but is a real genetic disorder).

Anyway, girls in particular, need almost twice the zinc at adolescence to develop normally. "Enough" zinc in childhood can suddenly not be enough during the massive growth and development that occurs in teen years (which may help explain why this is the age/gender most likely to become anorexic).  A vegetarian diet may have a lower level of zinc in general.

Zinc (and b6 and b vitamins in general) are necessary for really important functions in the body:  making brain chemicals, sense of smell and taste and appetite, stomach acid production, etc.  - can really do a number on a person mentally and physically.  Again, when the body is ready to go from childhood to adulthood - it may simply need a lot more nutrients than usual.

Zinc, and to a lesser extent b vitamins, are not something to go crazy with - make sure you talk to a doctor about what the dosage should be because you can overdose on it and cause new problems - especially in someone young at low weight.  But, look into it.  You may find it is part of the equation.  -
One day at a time...

daughter diagnosed 8/15 when she was 16,
wr through maudesly method 1/16,
currently in potential first relapse
I truly feel for you on this issue and went through (sometimes continue) the same thing.  Initially I felt guilty about encouraging her soccer and school (was I too demanding?  was I forcing unrealistic expectations?)  Then, allowing her at such a young age to be involved in 'adult' issues (she was with me on a Justice for Trayvon march among other things - was I putting too much pressure on her?).  Her sister (my oldest daughter) struggled horribly with obesity (my AN daughter heard the stories of bullying and humiliation that she went through - had she decided that just wasn't going to happen to her)?  My husband had a heart attack - for months all we did was talk about health, diet, changing our ways....blah blah blah.  The only one that 'modified' her eating was my AN daughter (who was actually showing signs since she was six).  I clearly have issues with food (more along the SED side, but still).  My mom suffered addiction and depression most of her life - had she inherited it?

As you can see I really looked for everything that made me responsible.  How could I not be - she's my baby daughter.  The truth is, yes and no.  I have three other daughters and two sons - all the same MOM here and only one has AN.  Did I single one out for this horrible condition?  No, of course not.  Heck I even tried to blame myself for my oldest son's ADHD. 

My child is ill.  She got ill because for whatever reason her nutrition was not keeping pace with her brain development momentarily.  Then it 'latched on'.  Not my fault.  Not her fault.  Not anyone's fault no matter WHAT is said. 

I do know this however.  I will keep fighting, keep feeding and keep advocating for research.  She is 12 now and is still not fully weight restored (I don't think) but she is starting to develop and show signs of puberty so we're closer.  Still trying to get her to eat more, but I'm not always successful.  Sometimes I get mad - at me, at my husband (when I think he's not taking it seriously enough), even at her sometimes.  It's not right, but I'm human.  I just try not to obsess and move on.

Your doing a wonderful job feeding your daughter.  Keep it going and look forward not back.

Dear wewillpersevere,

The science is clear & all the worlds leading ED clinicians & researchers all agree & always state in their presentations ""Parents Don't Cause Eating Disorders"". I understand your thoughts as I too wondered what I had done wrong. I now concentrate on what works not what I thought/think about the past.

Our D really enjoyed her food & especially her Nonna's cooking & her mums cooking yet she  ended up being diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at 16 & on the verge of a feeding tube when first admitted to IP.

The very same worlds leading researchers & scientists also all agree parents are an essential ingredient/part of the treatment team & recovery. FBT has a very high success rate. Even where FBT does not fit for that person having parents who are ed educated & skilled provides great/essential support to the person when they are at home.
ED Dad
I'm just going to say this: if parents " cause" eating disorders... Then there are a hell of a lot of people I know who should have kids with eating disorders well before me.

I did weight watchers and lost 30 pounds and exercised a lot. I didn't teach D to starve herself. We didn't eat red meat pretty much ever before Ed and we don't eat much now. I didn't teach D to exercise for 4 hours in her closet at night. That's her brain misfiring.

I know people who don't let their kids have sugar, eat dairy, are gluten free nut jobs, limit food in general, push their kids in sports etc... And their kids don't have eating disorders.

There HAS to be some biology and genetics mixed in there. Otherwise doesn't it seem that half of the country would have eating disorders?

It's irrational to blame ourselves. This is not our fault. We all do our best.
Persistent, consistent vigilance!
If you try to give a person an eating disorder and they are not pre disposed to it - the brain function way - then there is NO WAY they will get one.
Just saying.
NELLY D 20 bulimic since age 12, diagnosed in 2011. 20 months useless CAMHs,7 months great IP, home March 14..... more useless CAMHs.now an adult & no MH services are involved. I reached the end of my tether, tied a knot in it and am hanging on. ED/Bulimia treatmentis in the dark ages in West Sussex.
I tell my daughter that I have been dieting since I was 12 years old, and have lost the same 20-40 pounds dozens of times. But I never developed an eating disorder.

We can all use our wonderful 20/20 hindsight. In my hindsight, I now see that my daughter turning to vegetarianism in middle school was a sign of restricting. All her friends were veg and she loved animals! It seemed fine. She eventually added back turkey and chicken but still does not eat red meat. Then she went gluten free, which I supported and did as well, because we both had IBS issues. I think that was a deeper fall into the abyss of restriction. We both stopped eating dairy for awhile too, for the same stomach reasons. Bad idea.

Now, I could limit all those foods and not become anorexic. It isn't in my brain. But those restrictions set my D on the path to her ED, and I see the signs back to her little 12 year old self, the tiny little gymnast. It should have been clear that she was malnourished when she didn't have a period till age 15. So many signs that no one attended to, including me and her pediatrician. We just didn't know then what we do now (I think her doctor should have known, but that's another story)

My D's current doc says that she worries when kids eliminate any food group, whether it is dairy or wheat or meat or sugar, unless there is a medical reason to do so. It's just a good piece of advice that I know now, but did not know then. 

But we cannot feel guilty. We didn't cause these illnesses. Lots of families eat no meat or gluten and their kids are fine. It's just that ours had the mental wiring that put them at risk. We did not know.
Oh goodness, no.  I don't think I caused my child's ED.  She was always a voracious and adventuresome eater.  One of her favorite foods was bone marrow....yes, isn't that strange.  But, if you know anything about bone marrow, not only is it very nutritious, but also VERY high in fats.  We are a family that used butter liberally, and eat meat as a regular part of our diet.  When we were eat out (pre ED),she'd order a burger (1/2 pound, LARGE bun, with cheese and bacon)  and fries and dispatch with them with no problem at all. Other people used to comment to me what a great appetite she had.  

Anyway, something changed.  Not sure what.  If I were *guessing* (and it's only a guess), her trigger was anxiety brought on by simultaneously taking high school classes as a 7th grader, AND being cast as the lead in a high school play (crazy).   But, did I cause it?  Nope. She just drew a bad set of genes, and wham, down that rabbit hole she went.

This journey is hard enough without beating yourself up with blame.  At least that's the way I looked at it.  I threw all my energy into helping her get well, and not "why."

And, like others have said, I could NEVER become anorexic.  Even if I tried as hard as possible.  I've fasted a couple of times for medical appointments, and it is torture for me.  I can't wait to eat!  LOL.  
D, age 18, first diagnosed March 20, 2013, RAN, at age 13 Hospitalized 3 weeks for medical stability. FBT at home since.  UCSD Multi-family Intensive June 2015. We've arrived on the other side.  :-)  D at college and doing great!
Ahhhh!!! I wish I had enough time to answer each of you, but I'll just say a big THANK YOU for all of this. It's really silly, because I was totally convinced of what you all are saying since my daughter was diagnosed, but I think that the self-doubt has grown. Of course, OF COURSE you're all right, of course there is something wacky with our poor children's brains. It really breaks my heart to know that so many children are going through this sh*tty illness. 

Thanks so much for all your input, it is absolutely invaluable. 

Hugs to all, may we all win this fight!!