Can An Eating Disorder Be Blamed On A Parent?

In today's Washington Post, Joanna Chakerian discusses her three-year battle with bulimia, which she claims was triggered by someone close to her: Her mother.

Chakerian writes:

When I was 20 and a normal body weight by doctors' standards, my mother told me, "You would look so great and would be happier if you lost about 15 pounds." Her advice stuck.
[…]
Not all eating disorders are triggered by parents, but experts increasingly recognize the dangerous role of thinness-obsessed adults.

What's irritating about this piece is the title, which one can only assume was written by an editor and not Chakerian herself: "An Innocent Word Can Be a Heavy Burden." What's "innocent" about telling your not-fat child she needs to lose a few pounds? Aren't your parents the ones you desperately want to please, the ones whose words have — no pun intended — more weight than anyone else in the world?

Well, some would argue: No.

Ten years ago, psychologist Judith Rich Harris wrote a book insisting that it's not what parents do or say that determines who their children become. And she still believes peers have more influence. In a new interview, Harris tells Time:

One of the things children have to do while they're growing up is to find out what kind of people they are. Am I smart or dull? Pretty or plain? Strong or weak? They find out the answers by comparing themselves to their peers.


As for making them into "good" people, the evidence shows that parents cannot do this. A child who is well behaved at home - who doesn't lie or steal, for instance - may lie or cheat in school if that's what all the other kids are doing. It works the other way, too: some kids are terrible troublemakers at home but little angels in school.

So which is it? Do your parents have an impact on your life or not? (And what about Jeanne Sager, a recovering bulimic, who wrote on Babble.com that her toddler caught her purging?)

An Innocent Word Can Be a Heavy Burden [WaPo]
Why Parents (Still) Don't Matter [Time]
Am I Passing My Eating Disorder On To My Daughter? [Babble]

Earlier: Sometimes It's Mom - Not Media - Who Gives Girls Eating Disorders
Intervention: 6-Year-Old Girl Diets To Emulate Her Eating-Disordered Mom