Not One More: McCallum Place
There are so many thoughts that come to mind when brainstorming a meaningful “Not One More” statement because, well, eating disorders truly rob people of so much. Not only do eating disorders affect individuals, but they can also have a devastating impact on their loved ones. The consequences of eating disorders tend to be obvious for the individual that is suffering through it, but often what is overlooked is how this illness can also influence the lives of their family and friends. That’s why I wanted to take some time to acknowledge the domino effect of destruction that eating disorders often instigate and how loved ones are impacted, with particular focus on parents. Thus, I came up with the statement “not one more parent will blame them self for their child’s eating disorder”. This is by no means meant to belittle the excruciating distress that an individual with an eating disorder experiences, but rather is meant to illuminate the pain that may not be as easily seen in their family members.
As an adolescent dietitian for residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programming at McCallum Place, I have worked with several children and families in what some of them would call their “darkest hours”. While it is challenging to work with any child battling a debilitating eating disorder, for me the cases that are particularly difficult are those of the youngest children, the 10-12 year old age group. A lot of these children have never attended sleep-away camp, let alone moved out of their parents’ homes (sometimes across the country) into an unfamiliar house full of strangers for residential eating disorder treatment. Our hope is that “not one more parent will have to embark on a cross country trip in order for their child to receive specialized eating disorder treatment”.
It is hard to watch parents sharing tearful goodbyes with their child, especially those families that live far away. Due to the nonlinear nature of eating disorder recovery, families have to prepare to be separated for an unknown amount of time, unsure when they will see their child again. Prior to becoming a parent, I didn’t truly understand the magnitude of how much pain was involved in these farewell hugs. One day, “not one more parent will have to put on a brave face at the doorway of a residential treatment facility”. Since having my son, I can now only imagine how scared these parents must be. So terrified for the life of their child that they know professional care is necessary, even if it means being separated for an undetermined amount of time. Some local families are fortunate enough to visit their child regularly and attend weekly family sessions in person. More realistically, many can only make monthly visits, if that, and have to utilize their phone to take part in family sessions and communicate with their child.
The one thing that seems unanimous of all the parents, regardless of their ability to participate in programming in person or virtually, is that they almost all seem to blame themselves for their child’s eating disorder. We are hopeful that when talking to providers “not one more parent will feel the need to monitor what they say or avoid asking questions they desperately need answers to due to their fear of being judged”. Some parents harbor shame for believing that they have somehow given their child the idea that they need to control their intake or body size. Others feel extreme guilt for not recognizing the warning signs sooner. I have probably seen or heard over 90% of my patient’s parents crying at one time or another about these very topics. Most of these parents are extremely receptive and more than willing to make necessary changes in their own lives to help their child heal. They are ready to admit their faults and embrace education on how to better support their child through their recovery and beyond. Despite how they feel or what some of them had been told, these parents are not responsible for their child’s eating disorder thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
Unfortunately, when it comes to eating disorders it seems that people are often looking for a source of blame rather than focusing on what is really important, which is how to work towards recovery and move forward. It seems, especially for younger patients, parents often become the scapegoat and get scrutinized for their child’s battle with an eating disorder. I can almost guarantee that nine times out of ten these parents are already criticizing themselves and do not benefit from judgement or comments from outsiders. A lot of education and destigmatization is needed to remove this shameful burden from parents, whether the guilt is coming from others or themselves.
I don’t know who originally said it, but a common analogy we use to help many parents understand the complexities of developing an eating disorder is “genetics are like a loaded gun, but ultimately the environment pulls the trigger”. We try to highlight that not one single factor is responsible for the development of an eating disorder and in turn, not one single person (or parent) can accept full blame for this terrible disease. We could all benefit from so much more eating disorder awareness and education. We need to work together to remove the stigma of shame associated with eating disorders for both those afflicted and their families. “Not one more parent should blame themselves for their child’s eating disorder.”
Courtney Kerr, RDN, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian, as well as a certified yoga instructor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Dietetics with a Dual Emphasis in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology in May of 2017. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Missouri Dietetic Association, SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition) dietetic practice group, and the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitian Association. Courtney aims to assist patients in restoring flexibility, balance, and variety in their diets. She is a firm believer that everything fits in the diet in moderation and wishes to confront common misconceptions about what a “healthy” diet really looks like. Courtney joined the McCallum Place team in 2017 and works with patients in residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient settings.