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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
About the Show
Our Experts

Patricia Fallon, Ph.D.

Dr. Fallon is a psychologist and researcher who has been treating eating disorders in Seattle for 20 years. She is currently the President of the Academy of Eating Disorders, as well as a Clinical Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Washington. She has published numerous books and articles on the treatment of eating disorders. The following are some of her thoughts on eating disorders and their treatment.

On getting better
In order to recover from an eating disorder, some profound shifts need to take place in perspective. Most importantly, the person needs to move from seeing the bulimia or anorexia as a solution to personal problems, to viewing it as the problem, or a hindrance to moving forward in life. Only then can the individual shift from denial of the negative impact of the eating disorder, to understanding that eating disorders really get in the way of having close personal relationships, and the kind of life most people want. When you move from a need to be disconnected from others, to wanting and appreciating healthy connections with people, real recovery begins.

Parents noticing
Sometimes parents are very absorbed in their own lives. Perhaps their marriage or their relationships aren't going well, maybe their job is consuming them, maybe they're taking care of a parent who is in a nursing home --- there are all sorts of things that can take up space ... This may mean that their antenna isn't up for any of the subtle clues that an eating disorder is becoming a way of life for their child. It's as though they look aside from the pressure of life and see that their daughter looks okay. And because life is engulfing them from another angle, they may not have the energy or time to really see what is going on for their child.

It increases your risk of developing an eating disorder if you come from a family that is chaotic, perfectionistic or very patriarchal, which encourages rigid role models. We as parents have to be very careful about not trying to reinforce to our daughters, "You are great! You are getting straight A's, doing three sports, you look beautiful, and you are performing in the ballet this season, as well!"

It is part of our job as parents to notice when our kids are getting tired or overwhelmed, or when they are feeling depressed, or sad. However, it is tricky sometimes to figure out, when your child is doing well, enjoying life, having fun and doing well at school, that they may be feeling this inner drive to always have to do everything, and to do everything right. These distinctions can be hard to sort out and sometimes parents don't have the emotional resources to notice or intervene, until their child is firmly entrenched in the eating disorder.

When I see families, I'm always curious about what they think the eating disorder is expressing in the family. So I frequently ask, "If the eating disorder had a voice, what would it say? What would it be able to tell us that we don't hear or recognize? What is the anorexia or the bulimia saying about what's going on in the family and in her life?"
-From Perfect Illusions and additional interviews

Joel Jahraus, M.D.
During the making of the documentary, Joel Jahraus, M.D. was the medical director at the Eating Disorders Institute (EDI) at Methodist Hospital in Minneapolis. He is now Director of Primary Care Medicine at Remuda Ranch Eating Disorders Treatment Center in Arizona.

Dr. Jahraus has been actively involved in patient advocacy issues, specifically mental health reimbursement. He co-authored the EDI book, How Did This Happen?, which is now being used in programs throughout the country for patients, families, and educators, and won a national award for mental health initiatives.

The deepest, darkest secret
"Eating disorders become the deepest, darkest secret that somebody could have. A person with an eating disorder rarely wants to let someone know about it. Unless she or he happens to have a friend who also has an eating disorder that they feel they can trust and share that information with, it will continue to be, much of the time, a deep, dark secret."
-From Perfect Illusions

On the path to recovery
"It takes a lot of work by families who are willing to face some very tough issues. Opening up as a parent, recognizing your impact, and saying, 'I'm willing to work. I'm willing to do whatever I can do, and work with you to do exactly what you say will be most helpful to you.' This can be totally therapeutic in itself. I've seen some very dramatic results from this that lead to good recovery."
-From Perfect Illusions

Dr. Pat Falon
Pat Fallon, Ph.D.
Joel Jahraus, M.D.
Joel Jahraus, M.D.
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