Things Eating Disorders Treatment Gets Wrong

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In her article Six Things Eating Disorders Treatment Often Gets Wrong, professor at Newhouse/Syracuse University Harriet Brown raises a mother’s voice to confront issues around healing the eating disorder of anorexia nervosa, which afflicted her daughter.

Her article lays out the dire reality of the disease: “… one of the most pernicious diseases around. People who develop it are sick, on average, for four to seven years. A third never recover. Ten percent die from the disease, either from malnutrition or from suicide.”

Brown names six ways that treatment protocols are outdated or inflexible in established wisdom. (That doesn’t mean some providers don’t get treatment right!) But her points underscore my own misunderstandings which, as I think about it, are drawn from the public education campaigns that haven’t changed in years. That’s not, apparently, because there has been no changes to established wisdom.

Two things are worth highlighting here.

Thing One: Brown emphasizes that physical health precedes psychological health. That would seem obvious. It’s part of her pointing out how, routinely, sufferers of anorexia are moved quickly into talk therapy and similar psychological protocols and medications as a primary protocol — when, as primary protocol, they have been proven not to help.

Thing Two: Brown casts a spotlight on the still-prevailing view among psychologists in treatment centers that the family is complicit or the main problem. That’s why patients are (still) consistently removed from the family. The effect is to isolate sufferers (usually minors or young and vulnerable adults). Without denying a percentage of families are unsafe for a child or teen, Brown points out the higher success rates linked to the full involvement and support of family.

What makes this article worth reading is finding a mother’s compassion mixed with a professional expertise in reporting on an eating disease that thrives in cultures where women, especially young women, are under fit into a sexualized culture as part of perceived success at school, work, and socially.

The importance for those who deal with minors and vulnerable adults in distinguishing eating and body obsessions from character flaws becomes important, as this article emphasizes.

I encourage anyone with children or friends suffering with an eating disorder (which is not uncommon following abuse, but does not suggest abuse!) to read the brief and info-rich full article.

Resource: For a self-assessment tool, chat/help lines, and extensive information about anoxeria, which Brown explains is not limited to underweight young women, see the National Eating Disorders Association website.

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