Eating Disorder Advice, From Causes To Prevention Help


Hi, I’m Dr. Lucene Wisniewski,
I am the clinical director at the Center for Evidence-Based Treatment, Ohio.
I am a clinical psychologist, and I’ve been working with eating disorders for over
the past 25 years, and people, parents in particular, often ask me, “What
causes an eating disorder and what can we as parents do to prevent it from
occurring?” And I think the first really important thing that I think parents
need to know is that parents don’t cause their kids to have an eating disorder.
There’s really no research suggesting that it’s the “parents fault” as I think
used to be believed. You know, sort of in previous times, we as a culture blamed
parents for everything, and eating disorders was one of those. But now we
understand that the development of an eating disorder comes from a combination
of biology, psychology, and culture. And we know, so you know in terms of parents
“fault”, I would say you know your parents, as parents, give children their
genetics, they give them susceptibilities. And those susceptibilities might be to
perfectionism, to rigidity, to emotional lability, to you know being someone who
holds weight differently than others, and those are things that can make someone
vulnerable to an eating disorder, but again just having any one of those
things doesn’t usually cause an individual to develop a frank eating
disorder itself. Then we have the social issues right? We all live in this
culture where we are expected, you know, what is deemed to be “beautiful” is very
specific and really unattainable for most individuals. But truth be told, we
all live in this culture, and we all don’t develop eating disorders. And so
then there are psychological factors. So they’re you know the things, the
psychological factors, that are associated with eating disorders are
issues like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, sometimes substance use,
but again, just having one of those things does not make someone
develop an eating disorder. Generally it’s a combination of many things. The
biological vulnerability, the cultural pressure, and the psychological issues
that go with it. And those things together, in combination, result in an
eating disorder. So then parents will say “Okay, so how do I prevent my child from
developing one?” And there’s no foolproof way to do that, but if you think about
the three factors that I just described, there may be interventions or things
that parents can think of or can use as skills to be able to bolster and protect
their child from the development of an eating disorder. So let’s talk about
biology. You know, we know perfectionism and lability, so lability meaning
‘mood going up and down’ or ‘reactivity going up and down’, are both things that make an individual vulnerable. So if you have a kid that’s more
perfectionistic, sort of helping them to learn to be more flexible. If you have a
kid who’s more labile, helping them to learn to manage their emotions may help
them, which are just really great things in general, but may also help protect
them from the development of an eating disorder. Culturally, we know that some
kids are particularly susceptible to images in beauty magazines and fashion
magazines. So not having those things around your house, not having them easily
accessible, being able to talk to your children about, you know, how how many of
the images we see and we’re presented with in magazines are not actually
attainable, and aren’t, for many of them, not actually even real, because of
airbrushing. And helping kids to be more savvy consumers of media may be another
way that you can help protect your child. And then finally psychological pieces. So
if you have a child with low self-esteem, or with anxiety or depression, and you
think that that’s influencing their relationship with food and eating,
perhaps getting some coaching from a professional about how to help your
child manage those issues will again help you to prevent
the development of a full-on eating disorder. So I think that the final thing I would like to say to parents, though, is that
when you have a concern, talk to someone who knows. So if you see any indications
of an eating disorder or disordered eating, because those are not the same
thing, right? You might have disordered eating, or what I call funny eating, you
might see show up in your child, you’re not sure, you have some concerns, you have
some questions, that’s usually the beginning of the path to having
an eating disorder. If you notice those things in your child, get a consultation
from an expert right away. There’s no harm in you going to talk to someone, to
be able to float out the symptoms or the problems that you’re seeing, to see
whether or not alarm is warranted. I’ll often get calls from parents who don’t
want to bring their child in because they’re worried that the notion of “I’m
bringing you in to see if you have an eating disorder” is too either shaming or
too anxiety provoking or they’re not sure it’s a problem, then parents, YOU go in
and talk to somebody first, and then decide what the next step should be. But
don’t wait because in my experience these are not things that just go away.

1 thought on “Eating Disorder Advice, From Causes To Prevention Help

  1. Hi Dr Wisniewski! How are you? This is George Oshust. We used to play alot of basketball together in Bayonne NJ. I would love to talk to you and catch up with you. Let me know if you are interested.

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