9 mistakes CBS makes

Since CBS news was kind enough to offer parents a list of mistakes they make that cause eating disorders**, I think it only fair that I offer:

Eating disorders: 9 mistakes CBS News makes

9. Confusing eating disorders with disordered eating. Common mistake. Bad journalism.
8. Thinking that eating disorders are wrong thinking gone too far (ask yourselves whether OCDs are just taking tidiness too far)
7. Believing that you can prevent mental illness by good parenting
6. Showing a wild-eyed mother with food all over her face is somehow not so dehumanizing it would actually help someone?
5. Mistaking good intentions for good results
4. Confusing scolding with advice
3. "child=daughter and parent=mother" is an infuriating but telling mistake (this one is Cate's - thank you - I can't believe I didn't say this!)
2. Failing to consult experts who could have explained the above
1. Putting this facile stuff out to the public and thinking no harm can come from it

To the parents whose kids have eating disorders: ignore this drivel.
To the parents whose kids don't have eating disorders but watch this slide show and nod approvingly: may you never know how sadly wrong and cruel you are.
To the parents who might actually need this advice in their parenting: you aren't reading this or watching that piece so no problem.
To CBS: for shame.

**And make no mistake, when you say that there is something a parent can do to prevent, or "not foster," or "avoid" an eating disorder you are indeed saying that the parent IS causing the eating disorder by doing these things. I'm sick of the weasel wording around this issue. You can't prevent something if you can't cause it.


  1. Speaking of weasel wording, CBS also seems to think that child=daughter and parent=mother. Excellent.

  2. OMG, Cate: YES. I went back and fixed it - THANK YOU.

  3. Laura,
    I wish I had a mother like you who would fight for my life while I am battling anorexia. Instead, she has stepped back and continues to live with her husband and my father. Although a parent can neither prevent nor cause an eating disorder, he or she can create circumstances that foster an eating disorder. As in my case, adding a helping of sexual abuse to the discipline I received for not finishing every bite of dinner. I realize he is the exception. I thank you for encouraging healthy parents everywhere to FIGHT for their kids!!

  4. Laura not sure if this is the same thing that I saw, but I saw a list that allegedly came from NEDA that sounded like what you are talking about! NEDA! I didn't have time to check it out thoroughly and comments weren't allowed but I was shocked!!! How to prevent an eating disorder! As if there were any studies of proven techniques to prevent an eating disorder!!!! Do we also know how to prevent autism and schizophrenia too-I could make a silly list for that too-parents just do what the opposite of the symptoms are! Yikes!

    It's too bad disordered eating is so common and the two problems have the same words in them!


  5. Hear, hear, Laura! Another post so good that I had to share it on FB.

  6. I tried to respond to the CBS report two days ago, but couldn't get on. It may be my old computer. But, its infuriating.

  7. Yes, I checked, this was based on NEDA materials-possibly this link:



  8. Anonymous, I am so deeply sorry that you have been so horribly let down and trespassed upon. It hurts my heart to think of anyone in your situation. Is there someone safe to help you? Is there someone in your life that could contact me and I might help them find resources for your treatment and safety?

    You have a life to lead - no matter what has happened, you deserve to pursue your life. Please don't let the failings (or evil) of others keep you from getting support from people who CAN be there for you.

    I care. Have someone contact me?

  9. Ah, yes. Well, I have tried to talk NEDA and Dr. Levine out of this way of thinking. I bring it up all the time.

    You'll note the title is incongruous with the final line. The title is the only thing that says "prevent eating disorders." The rest is just good parenting advice and the last line is true: we can have an influence on dieting and disordered eating.

    But does that prevent eating disorders? I don't see that it does. Dieting and disordered eating may set a predisposed person into the spiral, but anything could. Dieting and disordered eating isn't good for anyone.

  10. Ugh, I hate, hate, hate almost everything about that slide show and the script, for all the reasons you state, Laura, as well as some others...

    Why, whenever the media (however well-meaning it may try to be) discusses EDs does it always have to equate EDs with a desire for the 'perfect body'? So often the suggestion is that EDs stem from an attempt to develop a 'perfect body' (because we're all surrounded by skinny celebrities and models that make us feel bad about our own bodies). That is so far removed from my own experiences of AN, and that of the EDs suffered by most others I know of.

    There is no mention that semi-starvation itself leads to many symptoms of EDs and is instrumental in 'locking' the person in a pattern of dangerous behaviours around eating, exercise etc., and that body dysmorphia, when it does occur (and it doesn't always occur in, or 'drive' EDs...) is usually a product of a starved brain... There is also no mention that most people with EDs are almost invariably anxious people who readily develop OCD.

    I haven't much time for NEDA. They seem far too obsessed with 'pop culture' as the cause of EDs, when actually there is virtually zero evidence to support this taken-for-granted-but-unfounded assumption.

    Oh, and that photo of a woman without a mouth will give me nightmares forever more...

  11. I received an email from b-eat today about training in eating disorder prevention. I wasn't aware that it was possible to accurately identify children who have the right biological make-up to predispose them to eating disorders, and then change their biology. Silly me.

    I saw the CBS article a few days ago - I'm glad you posted a counterpoint to it.

  12. Whoa...CBS just got the beat down. Great post Laura and I might add that they could have avoided this if only Steve Croft had taken me up on my offer of an introduction to you 4 years ago.


  13. It saddens me greatly when a site like ned a, even in it's title represents the Ed community could allow the kind of distorted beliefs to flourish. Why are those 10 things just rules all parents of any child should be cognitive of?

    How could neda not know that stressors that are often out Antibes control can trigger any of hundreds of illness. The relevance of this associated with eating disorders just feeds the misconceptions about the illness so sad and makes me sooooooooooooo mad!

  14. Laura, I almost always agree with your posts. But, this time, i have to say that I don't. I didn't read CBS's article as blaming parents - I saw it as empowering them. I don't think the article implies that parents cause EDs. Rather, it tells them some things that COULD a) decrease the chances of the child engaging in behavior (dieting) that might trigger the ED, and b) increase the chances of the child having more robust mental health and a stronger sense of self (which could also decrease the chances that the child engages in activity that ends up triggering an ED).

    Also, as for your list... it's kind of depressing. No, parents can't necessarily prevent mental illness - but that doesn't mean parents shouldn't do things to encourage mental health (and the CBS list does encourage mental health. Parents should still set reasonable goals, talk openly with their kids, enhance self esteem, etc.)

    And, lastly, I was a sufferer - and I have gotten a lot out of things Dr. Levine has written. He was also a professor at my college, and is a great man (I'm sure you agree that he's a great man - I just wanted to add that)

  15. Hi, Laura. (Same anon as above). Just out of curiosity: What would you say parents can do to decrease the chances of their child getting an ED. And just for the record: I STRONGLY believe parents don't cause EDs and parents aren't to blame for EDs (even though there are some awful parents out there). I STRONGLY believe that if a person has and ED that tell you nothing about what type of parents they are. I would say that parents can a) watch out for periods of malnutrition (brought on by sickness or increase in sports or traveling or whatever) b) help child understand their own temperament and learn to manage it. 3) Model normal eating 4) Model body acceptance. What would you say?

  16. i hate when eds are presented this way! For many people, this is what they think they know about eds. And it is why they treat me and my husband and my daughter like crap now that they know she is dx with an ed.... Everyparent already knows in their heart that these things are good things to encourage or model for our children. Some actually do, some don't. But whether they do or don't does not equate to "Now your child has an ed." What bs. And sad it is all or most of what people hear about eds. UGH

  17. From one anonymous to another, there is very little information on "best methods" of parenting and therefore to make recommendations so strongly and specifically seems out of place to me. I do agree in theory that parents should promote good mental and physical health in their child, but there really isn't a lot of evidence that certain parenting techniques can prevent mental illness.

    One problem with this is that no one knows what a child would have been like if a different parenting technique was used. Everything is based on the premise that if mental illness develops, the parenting was a problem. This means that the idea is that mental illnesses are 100% preventable.

    For example, my brother had emotion regulation problems similar to my AN daughter. He never had an eating disorder (that I am aware of) but he had big problems with drugs and alcohol, depression, anger management, law breaking and eventually committed suicide. In contrast, my daughter has an eating disorder and she is doing relatively well in recovery but with some little bumps along the way, not as severe as what happened to my brother but I can see so many similarities between my daughter and my brother in their temperaments.

    So, in this situation, I could think either that parenting skills were what triggered my daughters genetically based AN, or I could think my parenting has been good enough that my daughter has a milder illness than my brother. Or, perhaps the medical care has improved such that my daughter had effective treatment whereas my brother did not. Or none of the above.

    Many members of my family have had these same debilitating problems to varying degrees. I see clearly that there is a genetic component and I don't know if the environment has helped or hurt in any given situation, I just know this is a bad problem that runs in my family. Before my daughter got sick, I actually thought that my parenting was protecting her from these familial problems!

    I do think that perhaps if there was a test to say that my d had emotion regulation problems as a baby, and she may develop AN, there perhaps would be the possibility of therapy for her as a young child, parent coaching in very special techniques (not just eating and wearing swimming suits in public) that might have helped her learn to regulate her emotions. However, I can also say that she was able to manage very well during childhood and it was only during adolescence that everything erupted like a volcano that was out of control before anyone knew what was happening.

    So, I think more research is needed before sanctimonious lists such as this are passed on to the general public in an authoritative manner.

  18. I missed this on CBS so don't have access to state an opinion. However, I am shocked to read that NEDA promotes the views that you've presented here, Laura, and I need to get back to the NEDA source, as well.

    I also just wrote a post about the need for the family to enhance the environment for their loved one, who is struggling so much. Again, this isn't a "blame" thing. One never knows if these kinds of tools would make a difference; at least I don't because my daughter left our household to be on her own a long time ago. I do know that changing my behavior and understanding hers better has helped a lot.

  19. I think I did everything this list recommends to doing. My daughter still got a serious ED. Where does that leave me, as a parent, in my thinking? It feels like a chastisement to me. Of course these are good things to do for all parents. But, they don't necessarily guarantee an ED free life for your children.

  20. Okay, I looked at the CBS slide show and the accompanying comments as well as found and read the NEDA list. As was mentioned, I think NEDA needs to change the title of Dr. Levine's list; otherwise, I don't have a problem with it. I really do not know how much environment affects the development of eating disorders. I do think it does, however. The mind is an interesting thing - ideas have a way of developing a life of their own.
    On the CBS thing, I think the photos (some anyway) overly dramatize the points being made yet I know I grew up with a lot of this and it _did_ bother me a lot and _did_ affect how I looked at my own body (I had bulimia for a long time).

    Incidentally, I went on out of curiosity to look at the depression piece and again was not happy with the photos. They overly dramatized the points being made.

    However, the photo of the skeleton on the treadmill certainly had an effect. Wow.

  21. My happenny's worth.

    Would they write a similar list for parents of schizophrenic children?

  22. From one Anon back to the other anon: good response. Thanks!

  23. Charlotte, I think that part of the problem is that our kids with EDs can seem so sensible when they are not spouting ED's vile dictates or engaged in ED behaviors. Another reason that CBS isn't specifying OCD, for example, instead of EDs is because anorexia nervosa sufferers arouse enormous concern and interest in other people due to how their affliction eventually shows in their bodies, and it is horrifying for emotionally healthy people to see the results.

    CBS was trying to do something good, but they didn't know how. I have been watching the ravages of EDs on a loved one for years, read dozens of books, thousands of articles and studies, talked to many clinicians and other parents, and it is still hard for me to wrap my brain around the reality of it. An ED is so destructive, so counter-intuitive, so just plain backwards from a normal healthy life that it is hard to fathom. I do believe, however, that if a news outlet is going to do such a piece as CBS did, they should do much better research in preparation. They reach such a wide audience and have a capacity to do such good that they should get it right. They didn't.

  24. To the question about a list: yes, there is such a thing for schizophrenia and you can read more about it here:

  25. Jen thanks for posting that it was very interesting, it was some information for parents on how they can help their child who is affected by borderline personality disorder and I thought there were some very good ideas about setting limits for mentally ill adult children in general.

    I wonder though if Charlotte was asking for a list of ways that parents could prevent schizophrenia rather than help with parenting once a person already has a problem?

  26. Jen

    Thank you for that link.

    I agree with you that it is vital for families to enhance the environment that their suffering child lives in - and indeed that the rest of the family live in. However I don't think that the evidence is that by doing so they can PREVENT eating disorders because we can't prevent something if we don't know what causes it, and we certainly can't if we don't really know (as some of the best researchers admit they don't) what it is.

    The link about BPD is very interesting and helpful, but it is for people whose loved one is already diagnosed with the condition.

    That's the difference I see between BPD which is seen as a disorder or illness and eating disorders (and addictions) which seem to be seen as some kind of bad choice.

    There is plenty of literature out there accusing families of causing BPD. There is other stuff that doesn't. What I don't see in BPD is that half-way house of "you didn't cause it but you could have prevented it" Whether that's because the writers genuinely believe that BPD is an illness which can't be prevented, or whether it is because they believe that the kind of families who cause it wouldn't be reading papers anyway probably depends on the writers.

  27. Anonymous First,

    You ask good questions, fair questions. Since we agree on the basics, I know the space between your thinking and my thinking isn't that far - and may not really matter. I do believe that parents SHOULD do the things on the list, that this would prevent some dieting and this might keep some EDs from happening even in those with a predisposition. Might.

    But that's not the premise of these lists. The premise is that eating disorders are caused by the ideas they are getting from the adults around them. The mediating event is not dieting, it is thoughts.

    In that way of thinking, disordered eating is just a mild form of an eating disorder and negative thoughts about one's body are just a mild form of body dysmorphia.

  28. Jen,

    I find those messages harmful myself, and believe parents do harm to ourselves and our kids when we buy into them. I even think that fighting these ideas is helpful to recovering patients (they were for our daughter). What I don't believe is that these better messages are a good treatment, or that the absense of these messages can prevent mental illness.

    It's not that I disagree with you, but more that I think the emphasis is wrong, if that makes sense.

  29. I hate these lists. They make me defensive and angry. I am an older mom. We waited to have children until we were really ready. I have a lot of life skills and love to offer my children and I do it generously and with pleasure. I have been not a 'good mom' but a really great mom. My husband is a hands-on, active, loving father. I KNOW this.

    I resent being told these basic parenting skills--I feel like I am being patted on the head and told how to do my job. By CBS? By NEDA? They think I didn't do these basic things? I did all these "preventative things" and MORE. We didn't have fashion magazines around the house; we didn't watch commercial TV; we didn't even have Barbie because she has such an unrealistic body type. We talked about body image and expectations regularly. My husband and I set a good example of balanced eating and moderate exercise. My kids all have very healthy self esteem.

    My d didn't develop AN because I didn't do my job well. She developed AN because she has the genetic wiring for it, and because I allowed her (in my role as a good parent) to participate in what I thought was a fun and altruistic activity: World Vision's 30-Hour Famine. Everything that happened after that--the poor eating habits, the depression, the social withdrawal, the low self esteem, etc--were symptomatic of ED and not a result of bad parenting or a failure to set a good example. So please--DON'T tell me how to be an averagely decent parent. Don't tell me I didn't cause this BUT.

    My daughter doesn't have AN because I am a bad parent, but she is recovered because I am an extraordinary parent.

    Thanks for lending me your soap box, Laura. I'll step down now.

  30. Yea Colleen! I also hate this condescending parent-blaming bull. And I could have written just the same as you except where you wrote "30 Hour Famine" I would insert "a healthy activity--competitive swimming"... uh oh, but we DID allow Barbie in our house and our daughter loved them....OMG could it be Barbies fault??? (note heavy sarcasm here). Plueease! She had the wiring, lost the weight, and that is that.

    She is still recovering and doing well...because we, like you, are and always have been terrific parents!!!!

  31. I think someone (me?) should email this column to Dr. Michael Levine. I think he works at Kenyon College. Maybe he'd care to respond? I do think sometimes people write columns with very good intents, but don't always see the real life people they impact.

  32. You know, one more thing. I was very aware--hyperaware, actually--that my daughter, the one that went on to develop AN, was acutely sensitive from a young age. I think I compensated in some ways for that knowledge when raising her, and that was 'pre-ED'. We never had fashion mags in the house (I don't like or read them anyway). She read New Moon for Girls (and was the only one of my kids that did so or liked it actually). I never dieted or talked about dieting. I always encouraged their individual talents. You get the drift. I think I did these things even more so with her because of her inborn nature.

    So, please...no retroactive, "You should haves", "could have" prevented this. Its like telling a parent who's child got cancer that they shouldn't have lived so close to those power lines, or let their kid use cell phones, or given them X-rays, or whatever, you name the possible environmental trigger. It just isn't fair to heap guilt on basically conscientious parents when causes aren't known. And its unfair to assume that the parents of ED patients "on the whole and as a group" are somehow not doing a "good enough" job.


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