Q: Is it normal for everyone in the family to have a eating disorder?
A: Eating disorders are serious and often life threatening diseases and there is scientific evidence to show that they do run in families. It is not “normal”, however, for anyone to have an eating disorder.
There can be an hereditary source for the problem or a biochemical reason such as too much serotonin, a neurotransmitter frequently involved in depression,or cortisol,a stress hormone. People may become anorexic or bulemic as a response to psycholological stress; poor family relationships, sexual abuse, or bullying for example as an attempt to regain control of their lives. Adolescence in certain activities such as sports,gymnastics or dance can be at particular risk because of the pressure to maintain a certain weight or body-type.
Eating disorders are rarely just about food or being thin,but are rather a response to biological or environmental factors and a desperate effort by the individual to feel better. Of course, this maladaptive coping only makes things worse. Families which stress physical appearance and talk about dieting and losing weight may put other family members at risk as well.
People can have an eating disorder and look to be a normal weight but they may be constantly comparing themselves to others and feeling ashamed of their eating habits or appearance.
If you think that you or someone close to you has an eating disorder it is important to get help as soon as possible. early intervention is essential.
Susan S. Woods, Ph.D.
700 McClellan St ♦ Schenectady, NY 12304 ♦ (518) 372-0166