Genetics Or Environment?
As someone who works in the recovery field, I have a front-row seat for the ongoing “nature vs. nurture” debate. Modern science considers addiction and eating disorders to be products of both genetics and environment. Furthermore, we’ve discussed some of the elements of both sides in previous blogs concerning both substance abuse and eating disorders. However, I’ve rarely come across such an eloquent and moving description of the environmental component as I did recently in the Washington Post. Kate Willsky is a freelance writer based out of Brooklyn who has had a 22-year struggle with anorexia. She is also an expectant mother who worries about passing some of her behaviors on to her child. Anyone who has struggled with eating disorders should read the article in its entirety. However, I’m going to provide some background and highlight some passages here.
Fear in the Face of Science
The article centers on Willsky’s fear that her daughter will inherit her anorexia. However, she immediately attempts to paint those fears as absurd. She states that, “Of course, parents don’t cause eating disorders” and that “increasing evidence suggests the real culprits are things such as altered neurological function, certain personality traits (including perfectionism, rigidity and tunnel-vision toward goals), and the way semi-starvation changes the brain.” She goes on to point out that “the Academy for Eating Disorders released a position paper firmly stating there is no evidence that certain parental attitudes or family patterns could be ‘anorexogenic.'” While this is a slight misrepresentation via omission (the paper actually states that the “family/parenting factors that precede [anorexia and bulimia] increase the risk for psychopathy in general” and that the stance taken is against the family being the primary cause), the primary point is her fear in the face of science.
The Power of Words
And Willsky knows those fears are reasonable. She mentions a study by the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University that shows maternal modeling can negatively impact girls’ body image concerns and behaviors. Willsky states that she’s currently in a stable place with her disease. However, she’s also aware that she’s still guilty of many of these negative behaviors. The most heartbreaking passage, though, as a recollection of an offhand comment her father made:
Once, when I was 6 or 7, I remember my dad helping me button my jeans — my stubby little fingers lacked adequate dexterity — and he said, “You’re getting pretty big for this”. He meant, of course, I was getting a bit old to have my dad button my pants. I, however, [took] it to mean I was literally too big. That my stomach was growing too monstrous to be contained by my L.E.I.’s.
It’s a completely innocent comment. However, Willsky gives this an example of gears beginning to turn in her head. She began her struggles with eating disorders just a few years later.
Nature Vs. Nature…or Both?
Willsky’s story is an all-too-accurate representation of the web that eating disorders weave. Because of genetics, as well as other factors omitted from the articles, a statement that would have been forgotten by most kids becomes another step on the way to anorexia. Trying to get a handle everything alone while dealing with an active eating disorder can be like trying to find which grain of sand made the heap. If you’re considering treatment, this is why we suggest you find a center that advocates a holistic approach. A facility that treats you as an individual and which addresses the problem from all angles. Ocean Recovery is proud to feature a holistic approach to healing. We believe that this creates the most conducive environment for success. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder, give us a call today. Start building your foundation for hope.