One woman says she struggled with a three-year eating disorder. And her mother is to blame.
Recently, writer Joanna Chakerian published a controversial article in the Washington Post about her lifelong battle with an eating disorder -- that she blames squarely on her mother.
Chakerian describes how at age 20 and at a self-described "normal weight," her mother said, "You would look so great and would be happier if you lost about 15 pounds." According to Chakerian, her mom's words resonated and for the next three years, she battled bulimia, binging and vomiting.
Can one person (much less one comment) really be responsible for creating an eating disorder? Were there other issues Chakerian was struggling with that contributed to her illness? Or should weight become a hands-off topic within families?
And while many experts say people with eating disorders often have other obsessive-compulsive tendencies and that food is just a way to establish order and control in life, others say parents obsessed with their own weight can trigger the illness in their children.
Like mother, like daughter?
According to the American Dietetic Association, when a mother is dissatisfied with her body, daughters will learn to base their self-worth on their appearance. In fact, a study published by the Association showed that girls as young as five are likely to try dieting simply because Mom has.
"One day in March, when I was overwhelmed by the loss of my grandmother, Jillian caught me throwing up. I never meant her to see me like that. She burst into the bathroom without knocking and found me on the floor in front of 'the potty.' She ran to wrap her arms around my neck. Her voice was full of concern as she repeated the words she's heard so many times from me: 'It's okay. I'm sorry you don't feel good,' and she patted my back with her little hands. I wanted the floor to swallow me whole. I didn't deserve her."
Sager continues: "A week later, I heard her leaning over the toilet bowl coughing, and I could tell the cough was fake. I could hear her giggling while she told my husband, 'I'm sick, Daddy. Have to throw up, Daddy.' I sank against the door in the next room. What have I done?"
Miles Goldstein, a therapist at the Eating Disorders Center of Potomac Valley, in Rockville, MD, says parents should steer clear of weight issues around their children to avoid a situation like this from occurring.
"For all of us, our weight fluctuates," he says. "You've got to take into account what's going on on a psychological level, on an activity level, and there are certain years where there's going to be a lot more stress. If you're uncomfortable with your child's current weight fluctuation, I would definitely say ride out the wave: Don't bring it to the individual's attention."
How do you know if your daughter is suffering from an eating disorder?
"Today we are seeing a really broad range of eating disordered behavior, including extreme dieting, over-exercise, and skipping meals. While not all teens reach the point of having an anorexia or bulimia diagnosis, millions of them do fall into those gray areas," says Claire Mysco, author of Girls Inc. Presents: You're Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self. "The bottom line is that if your child's thoughts about food and weight are preventing her from feeling good about herself and enjoying her life, that is enough of a sign to seek help from a professional."
We spoke with Dr. David B. Herzog, author of Unlocking the Mysteries of Eating Disorders, momlogic friend Counseling Mom, Roseanne Tobey, L.P.C., and Claire Mysco, who is also founder of Inside Beauty, for important warning signs that parents can look for in teens who may be suffering from bulimia or anorexia.
5 Top Signs of Anorexia or Bulimia:
1. Extreme food restriction: The teen has a drastic change in her eating habits. For instance, she is only willing to accept really small portions and then pushing them around the plate instead of eating them.
2. Perceives her body or parts of her body as extremely large when that is not the case: This may result in a change in clothing style. A daughter who has lost a lot of weight and is now wearing baggy clothing.
3. Disappearance of food from refrigerator or pantry: Bingers usually binge in secret, so keep an eye out for pantries or fridges that have been emptied of their contents, as well as large amounts of empty food wrappers either in the garbage or stashed in some out of the way place.
4. Excessive, compulsive exercise: An obsession with exercising--for instance several times a day, or to the point of complete exhaustion.
5. Extreme weight loss or marked fluctuations in weight: Dramatic weight loss can be a sign of anorexia, but it is important to remember that not all eating disorders result in weight loss. Many bulimics are normal weight and they can even be overweight. That doesn't make their eating disordered behavior any less dangerous. Watch out for frequent trips to the bathroom after meals and excessive exercise (specifically increased discussion about needing to burn off calories). If you find any evidence that your child has been abusing laxatives or diet pills, confront her immediately.
The earlier a patient is diagnosed and treated with an eating disorder, the more likely they will recover completely. However, according to Walden, one of the country's leading hospitals for treating eating disorders, prolonged bouts with bulimia and anorexia that go untreated can result in osteoporosis, retarded growth, kidney problems, ulcers and heart failure and even death.
What do you think -- can moms cause eating disorders in our children?