You have anorexia nervosa and at least one young daughter. Have you considered the possibility that your condition significantly raises the chances of your daughter also developing this eating disorder?
When a mother has anorexia nervosa, she is typically very preoccupied with food intake and body image, so a fair question is how much do women suffering with anorexia worry how this psychiatric disorder will impact their kids?
“This is a topic that is often discussed with women in treatment,” says Beth Rosenbaum, LCSW, Primary Therapist at The Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential treatment facility and largest network of eating disorder treatment facilities. I interviewed her specifically for this article.
The Renfrew Center has a program called Thirty Something and Beyond (TSAB). In this therapy group, says Rosenbaum, the topic of how children of women with anorexia might one day develop the disorder comes up often in discussion.
“Women express strong concerns about their children developing eating disorders,” explains Rosenbaum.
“Patients often recognize that they observed their own mother’s disordered eating when they were girls, and are aware of the impact that had on their own body image and eating behaviors.”
Consequently, the patients in the TSAB setting often express worry over how their eating disorder behaviors might negatively affect their kids, adds Rosenbaum. Children are often products of their environment, with their developing minds being very impressionable.
“We have also found that some women in midlife – mothers for example – may be more successful in treatment because they are more motivated and devoted to their recovery,” explains Rosenbaum.
“This is likely because they have been dealing with the disease for 20-30 years and don’t want to pass unhealthy behaviors onto their children.”
According to womenshealth.gov, a female who has a mother — or sister — with anorexia is more likely to develop the condition. However, just how much of this is genetic versus “learned behavior” (for lack of a better term) has yet to be determined.
From an intuitive standpoint, it only makes sense that when a girl (and maybe even a boy) grows up in an environment where food intake, counting calories, frequent weigh-ins and comments about weight loss, etc., are part of everyday living in the household, that a heightened risk of developing anorexia nervosa looms, regardless of genetic makeup.