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Chapter 10: Unique Situations: Developmental Disabilities and Eating Disorders

What is the impact of parenting responses on eating disorders/ anorexia?

I attended your workshop and, as a therapist who works almost exclusively with folks who have eating disorders, would have liked more specific information about this. On the positive side, I really enjoyed the day and got some good insights for the parenting of my own children. – Diana E.


Dr. Cline’s Answer:  

Dear Diana,

I remember your questions about anorexia and am sorry we ran out of time to address them. It is such a complex issue that we could do a whole workshop just on eating disorders (and, maybe we should!). 


Everything that you learned in the workshop is applicable to eating disorders, specifically: sharing control, teaching children good coping skills, and maintaining a loving but firm parenting approach. Our ideas about anorexia (which are outlined in the book on pages 231-240) are that there are many factors (both known and unknown) with eating disorders that are "uncontrollable" such as genetics, environment, etc. But there may also be contributing factors, both familial and societal, that are potentially "changeable" with awareness. We discuss how unhealthy family patterns might possibly increase the odds that "the genetically loaded gun will be fired."


The unhealthy family patterns we specifically mention are: Smothering and over-protective families; controlling and critical parents; a chronic feeling of being abandoned and misunderstood; a family system that over-emphasizes appearance and/or performance; and/or having rigid parents who don't model good conflict resolution skills. All of these unhealthy family patterns are the anti-thesis of the Love and Logic parenting model which you learned about in the workshop. Experts on eating disorders are unsure of which family dynamics are most prevalent and whether or not they even need be present.


We do not maintain that using Love and Logic will "cure" eating disorders or will even prevent them but we do believe that Love and Logic tools will at least not exacerbate an already difficult situation (as unhealthy parental responses so easily can). Healthy parenting responses can help when situations become more urgent and stressful whether dealing with eating disorders or other serious illnesses. Our hope is to bring awareness to this important point and to give parents and providers the tools to instill healthier parenting behaviors into homes affected by both eating disorders and other medical issues.


Thank you again for your interest in the program and for your honesty. Thanks also for all you do to help those who struggle with a very difficult health issue. 



Dr. Cline and Lisa Greene


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